As storytellers, our team is always hungry to discover the ‘why’ that drives the brands we work with. When we approach a new project, we follow an in-depth analysis framework to extract as much information from our client’s brand DNA as possible. The tools we use allow us to learn everything we need to know about the organizations we work with; who they are, who they want to be, and the space they operate in. One of the first tools we utilize to determine market fit and positioning is a good old fashioned SWOT analysis. The tried and tested tool has been used for decades and still holds up today. Below, we’ll get into why the SWOT analysis tool is used, examples of how we apply it to the brand development process, and why it has become a mainstay in our toolkit.
What is a SWOT analysis?
While the true origins of the first SWOT analysis (sometimes referred to as a SWOT matrix or SWOT analysis table) are debated, early versions of the tool can be traced back to the work of Albert Humphrey, an American business and management consultant, who developed the technique during a research project he led at Stanford University in the 1960s and 1970s. Humphrey’s goal was to identify why corporate planning failed, and as a result, came up with a tool to explore key areas of business categorized as:
- Satisfactory (good in the present)
- Opportunity (good in the future)
- Fault (bad in the present)
- Threat (bad in the future) (Morrison, 2016)
The original acronym, SOFT, was later changed to SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats) to more accurately reflect the categories.
Nowadays, the SWOT analysis is widely used across industries to help users get a wider view and understanding of the changes, challenges, and potential growth opportunities they face. By definition, the SWOT analysis allows companies to achieve a more holistic understanding of their businesses without getting lost in minute details. The SWOT analysis breaks the four categories down into two sides; internal and external. Internally, we look at Strengths and Weaknesses; factors that a business has control over. Externally, the Opportunities and Threats showcase the extrinsic conditions that can impact a business. By consistently checking your company’s status in relation to these four factors, you give yourself the ability to evaluate internal resources, your company’s capabilities, external opportunities, and potential threats (pestleanalysis.com, 2015). Companies typically complete the SWOT analysis when they are moving into new territory (a new product or service launch), experiencing stagnation, or are developing their brand.
Creating a SWOT analysis should be comprehensive.
No matter what stage your brand is in, regularly completing a SWOT analysis will help you analyze what is going on behind the scenes of your brand and determine how to go about presenting your brand to the world. When conducting a SWOT analysis, it’s a good idea to include individuals from every aspect of your company; marketing, sales, operations, shareholders, CEO’s, and even sometimes customers to get the most holistic idea of your company at every level. Be as organized and comprehensive as possible when putting together your analysis, and feel free to dig deep into your company’s assets, liabilities, threats and potential new ventures. Finally, be honest and objective. You want to make sure that you’re not misrepresenting vital information with biases or personal interests. Once you determine your company’s competencies and vulnerabilities internally and externally, you can set an action plan to redirect you in the right direction.
Leveraging the SWOT analysis
The SWOT analysis plays an important role in our brand client discovery process. As Skyrocket Director of Strategy, Mo Dhaliwal puts it:
“SWOT is such a tried and true framework, it’s almost considered old school and is often bypassed for that reason—like it’s a cliche. However, it’s so simple, so effective, and so clear in developing the situational awareness for a client that’s kind of indispensable. The fact that it’s so useful is also why it’s a cliche.”
When working with a brand, regardless of whether it’s new or established, we use tools like the SWOT analysis to immerse ourselves in our client’s unique ecosystem right from the start. Our account strategists start by interviewing our clients, guiding the sessions with several standard questions and following up with questions that encourage stories and ideas flow organically. From these interviews, we pull key insights like differentiating factors, company history, culture, and unique product or service information which we use to establish value, which then serves as the foundation of the brand strategy. The discovery process takes 3-4 weeks on average. Our team uses this time to conduct stakeholder and customer interviews, research the industry and competitors, collect information, and to begin synthesizing ideas. The SWOT analysis is one of the first tools we use to organize all of the information we’ve gathered, and, since a SWOT analysis can be completed in an hour or two, it’s an effective tool to return to regularly. You can read more about how we dive into our clients' brand before developing their identities here.
Putting theory into practice
How does Skyrocket use SWOT analysis in our brand development process? Allow me to illustrate with an example SWOT analysis we completed for a strategic consulting firm based in Toronto, ON. This client facilitates connection among creators, entrepreneurs, and VCs to accelerate growth for emerging businesses. It consists of 4 businesses - Fund, Advisory, Network and Institute. This client aims to accelerate the process in solving their clients’ toughest problems through exceptional people, platforms, and capital. Early in the brand discovery, we learned the following:
- how the company provided unique value to their customers by delivering in areas where their competition could not
- their concerns—both internal concerns related to the company itself and team and external concerns related to the market, customer perception, competition, etc.
- the challenges they were facing
- their priorities in regards to their brand direction
We organized all of the information in a SWOT analysis, which would clarify the company’s current state. We also identified gaps and opportunities, which would reveal potential directions for the brand. Below are a few points we extracted from our analysis.
The SWOT analysis is a great place for us to start as it ensures our strategists are considering all of the angles when approaching any brand development project. We’ve been successfully developing brands for our clients for over a decade and a big part of that success comes from our desire to seek deep understanding during discovery. Time-tested tools like SWOT analysis aid the process. Our brand development process is comprehensive. During the process, we define brand positioning, value propositions, what differentiates the company in the market and use all of that information to solidify the “why” that will guide future messaging and content. Once we complete the SWOT analysis, we’re able to move on to the next part of our brand development process, where we define the brand’s core ideology through determining their core values and core purpose.
When the going gets tough
Brand development is done best from an external lens. Oftentimes, brands will come to us when they feel like they need fresh eyes to map out a new direction or market position. We thrive on storytelling, and we wholeheartedly enjoy the process of communicating value for the brands we work with. It’s our job to uncover the truth and, from that, to create an authentic brand that represents your organization. We use many of the same tools and frameworks as other agencies; however, it’s our thinking and approach to brand development that really sets Skyrocket apart. If your organization is considering developing a brand or a brand refresh, we’d love to talk to you about our approach and give you some advice on how to move forward. Reach out to us and we’ll schedule a call to explore the possibilities together.