Stakeholder Interviews Set the Stage When Embarking on Brand Positioning
We kick off our brand positioning projects with one-on-one stakeholder interviews. Why? Because getting an understanding of how organizational leaders perceive the promise of the brand and the needs of the target audience is critical to success. In addition, these interviews help to paint a picture of what is “blue sky” possible for the brand in the future. And it doesn’t hurt to get that extra touch of buy-in to the project at the onset.
Whom to talk to
A cross-functional perspective is ideal. Someone from finance may perceive the long-term opportunities of the company as very different than does the head of sales. It’s wise to speak with some people who are more customer/client engaged and some who are less so. We also recommend talking with individuals of varying tenure levels. Those new to the organization may bring a perspective not shared or known to those who have worked there for some time.
There’s never a magic number of interviews, although we would appreciate that! If pressed to state a number, we probably average six to 10, depending on the size of the company and the leadership team. Some of the things we take into consideration when making our interviewee list include:
- Who will be charged with executing against the new or evolved brand positioning?
- Who has the deepest understanding of client/consumer needs?
- Who may not agree that positioning is a worthy endeavor? Hearing from the naysayers can be very helpful.
- Who knows the most about future product or service development opportunities?
- If previous brand evolution has taken place, who was part of that process?
- Which customers or clients, if any, might have valuable perspective?
- Are there key outside partners or stakeholders who strongly influence decision making?
Areas to explore
For a brand positioning project (“Soul Purpose Brand Positioning” in our lingo, but that’s a different blog topic), we have a number of subjects we delve into during stakeholder interviews.
- What are the core business challenges your brand faces today?
- Will those be the same challenges in five to 10 years?
How we use this: Provides insight into the barriers this new positioning will have to overcome in the marketplace. This has also provided a sense of boundaries and stretch objectives for the brand (e.g., if a brand is struggling to hire people, we may choose to downplay customer service)
- What is the state of your industry/category (e.g., new competition moving in, consolidation of brands)?
How we use this: Gives us an understanding of how tough it will be to break through with new messaging
- What’s the competitive set? Within that, what does each brand stand for?
How we use this: Shows us what brands we need to be most differentiated from
- What makes your business/brand unique?
How we use this: Focuses in on possible points of differentiation
- Describe the ‘ideal’ customer or consumer. What do they wish for from the brand, in what ways could the brand disappoint them? What could they learn about the brand that would be most compelling?
How we use this: Details the problems to be solved by the brand for the customer
- What is the tone and manner your brand uses to communicate?
How we use this: Presents another opportunity for brand differentiation
A few best practices
Prep the interviewee: Ensure that your interviewees know why these discussions are taking place, and give a quick overview of the types of questions they will be asked. Preparedness equals higher comfort levels and better discussions
One-on-ones are optimal: People can be more forthcoming in a one-on-one than in a group setting. And it ensures all people get equal attention
Keep it short and sweet: Our interviews are never longer than one hour each. Establish rapport, then dive into the meat of the discussion
Don’t focus on taking notes: Give the interviewee your full attention. Either record your conversation or detail your observations in writing after the meeting
Give them all the airtime: While it’s totally fine to ask clarifying questions, don’t turn this into a conversation. Keep the spotlight on the expert in front of you.
Leverage your learning from your previous interviews: You become smarter about the business and the brand with each interview you do. Use that knowledge to get more out of subsequent interviews. For example, if Rob mentioned that Company A is a key competitor, but Maddy doesn’t reference it, ask Maddy, “I’ve heard from another coworker that they believe Company A is a key competitor. What’s your take on that?”
There are various courses of action following stakeholder interviews related to brand positioning. On some projects, these discussions provide the jumping–off point for us to embark on qualitative or quantitative research with the relevant target audience(s). In other instances, we then go into a brand positioning work session with a broad client team to work through positioning alternatives. Regardless, we are 100% smarter entering the next phase than we would have been without this initial data collection.
So, our parting message: Don’t ignore the power of stakeholder interviews for brand positioning efforts. We’d be happy to be of assistance to you and your team.