How to Write a Vision in a Strategic Brand Plan

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In this video from one of our live training workshops, Kevin teaches how to write a vision/objective in a long-term strategic plan (a.k.a. brand plan). Get more information on our training programs for brand managers, and be sure to subscribe to receive updates when we post new videos, articles and frameworks for brand management.


Transcript:

The question you need to answer in the Vision or Objective section of your strategic plan can be framed a couple of ways: Where are we (the brand) going?… or where could we be?

At this point in the strategic brand plan, you’ve already given a business update and outlined the current situation. So now you need to look forward.

CONSIDERATIONS WHEN WRITING YOUR BRAND’S VISION

What’s the potential upside?

Senior management will often ask this question. Do you know what your brand’s upside is? Especially if it’s an infant business or a younger business. Senior leaders need to know what to expect, and it’s your job to set an appropriate expectation for them.

Is this going to be a $10MM business? Or a $100MM business? What is the total opportunity size.

What’s the category shift we will create?

If your brand is bigger or farther along, the upside of doubling or tripling your business may not be an appropriate goal. But you could still have a significant impact on the category.

What’s our brand’s big aspiration?

Fill-in-the-blank exercises are great tools for writing, and here’s one I like to use in this case:

Envision a future where ___________________.

It’s almost like those movie trailers with the overdone voice at the beginning… “In a world where…”

What would you be happy to achieve in five to ten years?

I like this question when I’m writing a new strategy from scratch. I will usually talk to senior management and conduct interviews with them. Talk to people and get a sense of their expectations. Ask them, “What would you be happy with?” in terms of the size of the business or what the brand could accomplish.

You can then judge if their expectations are realistic or not. And now you know when you walk into a presentation room if what you are sharing is going to align or disconnect from what’s in the audience’s minds.

BEST PRACTICES WHEN WRITING A VISION IN YOUR STRATEGIC BRAND PLAN

Choose something aspirational.

You want to inspire. I’ll share some examples in a bit.

Paint a picture of the future.

Pictures are worth a thousand words. Again, examples coming up shortly.

Use numbers and data to support.

If you just pull something out of thin air and make it up, you won’t get a good reaction. The audience won’t believe you. So, you need some sort of support—how you got the numbers—without getting too far into the weeds. Show them you did your homework.

WATCHOUTS WHEN WRITING A VISION IN YOUR STRATEGIC BRAND PLAN

Here are some of the most common mistakes when writing a vision or long-term objective.

All fluff and no substance.

If you don’t do your homework, your vision can feel disconnected from reality.

Non-binary goals.

This means you can’t tell if you accomplish it or not. You want to be able to tell if you actually achieved a goal.

Being too conservative.

Sandbagging is not good. You might be tempted to set an expectation that next year your brand will only grow 5%, when you actually know you could probably get 10%. I know, you want to get your bonus. 

But there’s also a risk that you’ll underwhelm senior management. Why would they invest in your brand if you’ll only deliver 5% growth? Their likely reaction will be that your target number needs to be way higher.

It’s a balancing act.

VISION VS. OBJECTIVE VS. GOALS – WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

Depending who’s using these terms, they can each mean different things. One person could say vision and mean objective. Another person could say goal and mean vision. 

And I haven’t even mentioned yet things like mission, purpose, and other things that people will tell you that you need nowadays, which I don’t think you need.

So, I’m going to tell you the way I like to think about it. This is not right or wrong. You might look at this and thinking there’s another way you like to think of it. That’s fine. I’m just telling you that this is how I’m using these terms.

Vision

I think of this as an aspirational stretch. It’s the ideal future state far out into the future. And I think really long-term when I think of vision, so it’s meant to be a big leap—not something that’s going to happen in the next year.

You’re basically answering the question, why does our brand exist? What is it here to do or to fundamentally change?

Objective

In contrast, I like to think of the objective as being closer in. About five years from now is a good rough number. It’s a long-term business accomplishment that’s a bit more tied to the business.

For example, if a vision is “bring happiness to everyone in the world”, that’s pretty lofty and you might never actually achieve it. But the objective is about five years out and can still be long-term but more tangible. I’ll share an example in just a moment.

Goal

Goals are quantitative milestones that tell us we met our objective. Numerical goals like revenue, share and profit.

I think a lot of times when people serve up their strategy, they are confused between vision, objective and goal. None of them are right or wrong, but you should know what you’re showing and what your point of view is. 

If you want to go after a big lofty vision, fine. Just know that’s what you’re doing. Or you might want to make things more tangible for people.

EXAMPLES OF STRATEGIC VISIONS, OBJECTIVES AND GOALS

Example Visions (lofty, very far out)

  • End world hunger
  • Make people happy 
  • A computer on every desk in every home
  • Bring in separation and innovation to every athlete in the world

Example Objectives (long-term but more tangible accomplishments)

  • Establish our brand as a household name
  • #1 in every category we compete
  • 100MM people served
  • A protein snack for every millennial occasion

Example Goals (numeric targets that indicate we met our objectives)

  • $500MM sales
  • 50% gross margin
  • Top 3 share
  • Reach 2 new markets

For the exercise of writing a strategic plan, I like to use objectives. You might feel like your brand needs a bigger vision, and that’s OK. But be aware that if your vision is too big and vague, it will be hard to write a strategy that outlines how to get there.

You want your objectives to be tangible enough that you can build a roadmap of how to get there. That’s my point of view on it, anyways.

Editor’s note: Be sure to watch the video if you have a few minutes, as we show some examples of “vision” slides in the live session.

For more in-depth training, check out our course on How to Write a Strategic Plan and get motivated to lead and produce great strategic work!

TEACH YOUR BRAND TEAM HOW TO WRITE A STRATEGIC PLAN

If you need help teaching your brand team best practices in strategy & planning, media & communications, or research & innovation, check out our brand management training and development programs:

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