How Amazon illustrates the importance of developing long-term strategy

Amazon has been trying to find a sustainable route into the worldwide grocery market for 10 years since launching Amazon Fresh in 2007.

Their recent purchase of Whole Foods demonstrates their continued commitment to breaking into this market, having so far explored routes such as Amazon Fresh, Amazon Pantry, Amazon Go checkout-less stores and most likely a host of other options.

But what does this have to do with developing long-term strategy?

Well, in today’s interconnected world where everything seems to be moving at an ever-increasing pace, it’s easy to take the view that there is simply no benefit in developing strategy beyond an 18-month horizon.

After all, who knows what latest app, device, US President or trend (fidget spinner anyone?) we’ll be experiencing by then?

But, I’d argue that in a fast moving world, where it can sometimes feel like we have a lack of control of the macro environment, defining your long-term strategic direction is more important than ever.

As Amazon have demonstrated with their commitment to finding a route into the grocery market, the aim of strategy isn’t to define the specific tactics you’ll use…It’s to define the ambition you have and the commercial goals you’d like to achieve, underpinned by the strategic choices and steps you’ll need to take to get there.

I’ve previously written about developing your 12-18 month brand plan, but in this post I’ll share how to approach the development of a 3 – 5 year brand strategy.

In essence, it follows a similar approach to an 18-month plan, but in looking further out there are some differences as highlighted below.


Brand Purpose & Ambition

Your purpose should underpin everything about your brand.

For example, BrewDog’s purpose is to ‘make other people as passionate about great beer as we are’ and in championing craft beer and campaigning against mass-produced beer they do this pretty consistently.

When developing brand strategy, use your insight, purpose and the issues/opportunities facing your brand to define your ambition.

This should be stretching (as you’re working over a longer time frame than 12-18 month brand planning), but must be achievable and rooted in the consumer behavior you’d like to achieve rather than a vague fantasy.


Define Objectives To Measure Success

Having defined your ambition in words, you need to put some tangible objectives around this.

I recommend doing this top down. Build a picture of the level of sales growth you’d like to achieve and sense check it against your key marketing metrics, considering past performance to project how your sales, share, penetration etc could grow.

Don’t be tempted to go into infinite detail on these numbers. You’re looking to sense check that your projections are sound and you’ve considered reality, rather than being overly optimistic.


Addressing Issues and Unlocking Opportunities

From your brand planning process, you’ll know the big issues and opportunities facing your brand.

In your brand strategy, identify the key activities that will enable you to address these issues and unlock opportunities. Within a 3-5 year plan, you can lay out the steps you need to take each year to achieve your ambition and commercial objectives.


The Importance of Innovation & NPD

Nothing stands still.

Your customer will always welcome a more convenient and more pleasurable way of experiencing your brand. Your competitors will jostle for attention and share of your customer’s wallet, and you have your brand ambition to fulfill.

So innovation and new product development are likely to form an important part of your plan, as upgrading the customer experience of your brand is often best delivered through your products or services.

Product development, no matter how small, also enables you to keep your brand top of mind for customers as well as clearly signaling what your brand is about and how it fits into their lives.


Investment & Return

Similar to a 12-18 month brand plan, you’ll want to assess the level of investment required and the return your brand strategy will deliver.

You’ll have your own ROI measures to work to, but remember – investment greater than the additional profit you believe you’ll generate isn’t a winning strategy!

3-5 year brand strategy planning also enables you to review the performance of different marketing activities and campaigns over time.

As a guide, I tend to commit 70% of investment to well proven mechanics that I know deliver a return for the brand, 20% to activities that I’ve run before but need further tweaking to optimise and 10% to new activities I’ve never run before but would love to test out.


Pulling It All Together

I’m a big fan of getting strategy and plans onto one page.

Only by doing this can you see how it all hangs together and it forces you to be succinct.

After all, you may have the greatest plan in the world, but if you can’t remember it or communicate it clearly…you’ll struggle to achieve it!

This doesn’t mean you should play small. The ambition and challenges in your strategy can be huge. Just don’t make the plan overly complicated or noisy – keep it focused!

I’ve not seen Amazon’s strategy, but it wouldn’t surprise me if somewhere it simply said ‘disrupt worldwide grocery market and gain significant share’!



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