Dear CMO:

There are times in a career when things hum along smoothly. The machine is well-oiled, the team works together like a veteran kitchen staff, customers are happy (enough), and management is looking towards the future and not the back end of the current quarter.

I’m not here to talk about times like these. I want to talk about those ‘other’ times, when a slight course correction isn’t enough. Times when you hear the roaring of the waterfall and see what looks like the end of the earth appear a stone’s throw from the bow of your brand.

Let’s take a moment and talk about what happens just after you stand up and say, “We Need to Turn the Ship Around. Now.”

I don’t want to exhaustively go through the minutiae here on the blog — too much detail for a quick drop in, after all — but I’ll post the beast here in a Squidoo lens. Suffice it to say that brand resets are serious heavy lifting, not just for you but for your extended team, partners, customers, and management. Because without each of these groups actively acknowledging their communal ownership of not just the inputs but their responsibility for the outputs, the boat doesn’t turn. This leads to your name being etched in the halls of the ‘honored departed’, who disappeared over the falls.

In my experience, which spans a few companies that needed course correction, I’ve seen a number of processes that have worked to some degree. All, however, have certain characteristics, which I’ll list here:


Any redirect needs to start with customers — the people who buy and use your stuff. They pull inventory off shelves, talk to friends, and even blog once in a while. Do you know with any certainty how your customer base is made up? What meaningful segments comprise the whole? Understanding what they think you are, what you do, how (or whether) you’re different, and whether you listen to them or not is critical input in understanding whether you’re in the right spot or not.

Here’s a good piece of advice: when you want to know what consumers think, watch them. You can ask them all day long and they’ll tell you what they think they think. Watch them, though, and you’ll understand what they do. Which is the real point.


What does the rank and file think of where you are and where you’re heading? How does this compare to what sales, or management, or engineering thinks? All on the same page here? What about a candid look at your core competencies — what you do that is utterly unique in the world? My friends at Plantronics know how to hang wearable technology off of a human ear better than anyone else on earth. That’s a core competency. How do you stack up against industry best practices? How does your company’s logo, website, and outward facing marketing match up with your positioning?

Another good piece of advice here: does your company have the strategic capacity to deliver the goods? This has been a painful lesson of the past. Developing a dynamite plan to lay waste to your competition is great, unless your company just doesn’t have the horsepower to do the work. Implementation is all. Can you do it? Be candid with yourself.

Channel and Influencers:

Benchmark yourself against competitors and alternatives with the people who can help, or hurt, a lot: the people in the channel and in the press. How do your channel merchants feel you stack you up against Brand X? Who do they recommend? What do your analysts say about you? Your industry watchers? Their perspective is different than what you’ll often hear.

A good catch here is to get a street level understanding of where you stack up. Talk to the channel sales people in the stores — the people who sell face to face to your consumers. What do they think? Are they seeing returns of your (or your competition’s) products? Which ones have the most problems? Do they know how to sell it? Is the competition stealing customers at the point of influence? Find out.


Yes, stack rank them by revenue and units, look at their growth rates, read their letters to shareholders. Do something important here: do a really thorough SWOT analysis. Don’t short change yourself here. Be brutally honest with yourself. Give them the benefit of the doubt. You’ll have ample opportunity to get channel and end user feedback, which will fuel this fire. Understand what they do really well, where they are failing, what has their eye, and what they fear the most. Not what you hope they fear the most. Find out.

Which leads us to the very interesting world of competitive intelligence. Do yourself a favor here. If you’re going down this path, be very careful. (Did someone say HP? I thought someone said HP. No? Sorry). Do your homework — there’s plenty of secondary sources out there — but if you’re going to get under cover, find a highly reputable agency that is a member of SCIP, and be very clear about methods. Make sure management and legal understand what is about to happen. Then sit back and enjoy the best data you’ll ever see in your life.

* * *
Key Takeaways:

> Making an impact in a new role, or saving the ship in an established one, takes more than firing the ad agency and picking a new tag line. Level checking your brand and changing the course of the ship is the intellectual capital behind all the outer trappings that get the press.

> Don’t do this alone. You must have all your stakeholders on board with you. When you come out with findings and next steps, you need everyone ready to do their part.

* * *

What I’ve described above are all inputs to rebranding your company. All require serious thought, execution level planning, questionnaire or discussion guide development, lots of emails and face to face meetings.

It also means weeks of synthesis, extracting hidden meanings, and connecting dots that don’t look like they fit together. More on that elsewhere.

If things aren’t going right, it isn’t about firing the agency. Listen for the sound of rushing water.


Copyright (c) 2007 Stephen Denny