Most of us know what a S.W.A.T. team is. When we hear the world “S.W.A.T.,” we think “Elite,” or “Best in Class.” When there’s a crisis, a S.W.A.T. – Special Weapons and Tactics – team of highly trained specialists is called in to defuse a critical situation. S.W.A.T. teams are highly trained in specific tactical situations, those times where conventional methods are insufficient or inadequate.
In marketing, there is a similar acronym, with some similarities in terms of objectives. Its acronym is S.W.O.T., and while not quite as ominous in nature as its acronymic partner, a S.W.O.T. analysis in business is used to help deflect and defend against what can be considered a critical and unique situation or competitive market condition, at least from a brand marketing perspective.
First things first. What does S.W.O.T. stand for? Strengths – Weaknesses – Opportunities – Threats. Now, let’s look at why a S.W.O.T. Analysis is a critical step in a successful brand marketing strategy.
A S.W.O.T. Analysis is essentially a structured market insight method and approach formalized within a quadrant, with each section of the quadrant representing one of the core analytical components of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.
Why is a S.W.O.T. analysis desirable for brand marketing planning? Let’s illustrate that with a current and very timely example of how a S.W.O.T analysis can help. It’s a reference to a current market condition that has many marketers puzzled over currently. It has to do with Facebook, and a change in Facebook’s re-marketing program for brand advertisers.
Facebook recently announced an extremely disruptive (for brand marketers anyway) change to its newsfeed. At the heart of this disruption is a tweak to the algorithm Facebook uses to decide what posts show up in your newsfeed – the main piece of real estate in the Facebook ecosystem. An algorithm is an ever-evolving piece of code that creates conditions for how a digital ecosystem works.
Facebook made the algorithm change to address what it deemed as valid feedback from users (of which there are billions in the Facebook ecosystem) regarding a user’s personal newsfeed being cluttered with brand advertisements and boosted posts.
These Boosted and Sponsored posts are essentially advertising, aka pay for play tactics that, thanks to Facebook’s robust backend interface and ROI tools, provide extremely valuable real-world insight into the impact of a brand advertiser’s boosted post or ad.
To be sure, this is (was) an extremely risky and calculated move on Facebook’s part, considering the fact that, historically since its launch, the advertising platform has been providing a lion’s share of revenue for Facebook (and an enormous advertising opportunity for brand marketers). While the full impact of this change has yet to be felt or analyzed, many specialized Facebook advertising agencies are already wondering what’s going to happen to their business now that the value and visibility of paid advertising and boosted posts has been affected. Theoretically, a change of this magnitude in the world’s leading social media platform has the ability to completely shift the point of influence in the social media landscape.
So what does this scenario have to do with a S.W.O.T. Analysis? Well, let’s say you’re one of those specialized Facebook advertising agencies. And that, as Facebook has continually rolled out new features and options for its advertising program, revenue at the agency has been clicking along at a strong pace.
By definition, a key benefit of a specialized agency is that you become known for doing one thing — really well. But, what happens when an unforeseen dynamic in the market, one you have no control over, shifts the prospects for survival almost overnight? This is an example of how planning for the “T” (Threat) in the S.W.O.T. Analysis can have a significant benefit.
But we’re jumping ahead. Let’s start with an explanation of the components of a S.W.O.T. Analysis in linear order.
S.W.O.T. – Strengths
In the “Strengths” section of a S.W.O.T. analysis, you take an objective (and objective is an important word for this process in general) look at what makes your brand or product stand out above the competition. I use the word objective because taking a look at the Strengths portion of the analysis is not a time to pat yourself on the back from a Power of Positive Thinking perspective. When establishing the list of Strengths in a S.W.O.T., only focus on those components you can authentically qualify to be valid and tangible strengths, not brand or product ideas you hope to achieve someday or hope that the market believes.
S.W.O.T. – Weaknesses
Objectively identifying weaknesses is an extremely critical step in creating a S.W.O.T. strategy that can help build a brand. Far too often, brand marketers leave this section bare or identify “soft” challenges that really don’t have much to do with the ultimate success of a brand or product. Unlike the “Strengths” section which can be easy for brand marketers, identifying (or better yet — acknowledging) a brand’s weaknesses can easily go awry. This step in the analysis really requires a step-back, objective view. And a recognition of the fact that every brand strategy, no matter how successful, has room for improvement. Identifying those areas where you are falling short is a healthy step in a brand strategy.
S.W.O.T. – Opportunities
Opportunities relate to a brand’s vision for the future. This has to do with how a brand or product will evolve in the near term, but not just in a vacuum. In order to really have the Opportunities quadrant provide a springboard for growth and success, brand leaders need to not only look forward in terms of what is possible and desirable (in terms of growth), but especially in terms of what is realistic and do-able. Plans/opportunities that have no foundation in reality or realistic fall under the guise of “pie in the sky.” An obvious place to look for Opportunities is to the competitive landscape. Where are your competitors succeding where you are not, and why? Identifying growth areas can often result in a strong shot in the arm for a lagging or underperforming brand.
S.W.O.T. – Threats
Threats take an objective look at the potential for disruption in the market. This is where three essential points of view must be considered: We Know What We Know (the realities of the market conditions based on research and customer data points); We Know What We Don’t Know (as an example competitive market proprietary insights and plans); and We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know (“out of the blue” developments not foreseen, such as Facebook’s unilateral change to the newsfeed algorithm). Let’s circle back to the Facebook example.
In the context of a S.W.O.T. analysis, a smart Facebook advertising consultant would have identified early on the fact that Facebook, at any time, has the right to change the way it does business, and changing the algorithm to demote paid ads is a perfect example. A strong S.W.O.T. analysis would have recognized and set in motion a plan to address the disruption.
Steps to a Successful S.W.O.T. Analysis
So where do you start? There’s no magic here, simply put, the best approach is to create a matrix and start filling in the boxes one by one. Resist the urge to do complete lists in each individual quadrant before moving on. Try to balance out each quadrant evenly, starting with an item in the “Strengths” quadrant, then an item in the Weaknesses, etc. By staggering and evening out the input for each quadrant, you’ll have a more developed and flexible planning tool in your arsenal of strategies for successful branding.
Bill Threlkeld is president of Threlkeld Communications, a content digital marketing and public relations advisory based in Santa Monica, California. Threlkeld Communications specializes in content ecosystem campaigns, also known as the Content Distribution Ecosystem, a unique content approach that synchronizes and integrates PR, Social Media, Blogs, Audio, Video, Email Marketing and other content marketing components for systematic distribution and measurable results.