A SWOT Analysis is a straightforward (but effective) strategic planning technique that analyzes an organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. You might be having flashbacks to business school – but when done effectively, with the right people in the room, there is a reason it has been a part of successful business planning since the 1960’s.
In our experience, here are some key ingredients to ensure your next SWOT analysis yields the best results.
1. Get the right people in the room.
First thing’s first, bring together a diverse group from your team. Include team members from different levels within the company and different departments to give a variety of perspectives. Executives often have the greatest strategic knowledge of the company and the vision for where they want it to go, however employees who are directly involved with day-to-day operations and those who are in customer service positions will usually have the most direct understanding of the company’s strengths and weaknesses.
Make sure that you also look outside of your immediate team for input. A fresh set of eyes and ears to facilitate and contribute helps to give an objective view without any subconscious bias. When we host a Vision Fest session, we always make sure to include a mix of strategists, planners, creatives, and analytical thinkers from our team to provide the greatest range of insights and benefits to our clients. For example, a member of the interactive team will likely come to the table with a more analytic viewpoint and will be able to identify weaknesses from a technical perspective that could go over the heads of everyone else. This could open up a completely new set of opportunities in the digital space that would have been left on the table otherwise.
Personality type also plays a role in making the most out of your strategic planning. We utilize the Enneagram assessment for ourselves and for our clients as a part of our Team Optimization Program, and have learned through first-hand experience that each Enneagram type views the world through a distinct lens and approaches problem solving in their own unique way. Certain Enneagram types are more attuned to “what could go wrong” in any given situation, making them excellent at spotting potential threats, while others are wired to focus on seeking new and exciting experiences, which naturally allows them to spot (or create) opportunities to pursue.
2. Utilize sticky notes to avoid intimidation.
It’s important to make sure that all voices are heard equally. If there are concerns about a dominating personality taking over the conversation, or team members being afraid of offending their boss – we recommend using sticky notes. Sticky notes allow everyone to freely (and confidentially) share their unaltered thoughts and ideas. They also allow you to see how aligned the team is on what they perceive to be strengths and weaknesses of the company. It’s always interesting to see how many people give the same answers completely unpromted! Another benefit of using sticky notes are that they help to keep ideas straightforward and brief, making it easy to develop a list of bullet points without too much extra detail.
3. Set expectations.
Let everyone know from the very beginning that brutal honesty is required from everyone involved. Set aside any corporate ego when identifying weaknesses and threats so that you can get the most out of the exercise, and keep in mind that by being honest about where you are falling short, you’ll be able to generate more opportunities for growth.
4. Come prepared, but keep an open mind.
We’ve found that the greatest insights come from a mix of research, preparation, and in-the-moment inspiration. When looking into external opportunities and threats, try to think beyond the obvious. This is where we lean on market research. Doing some research ahead of time allows your team to identify opportunities and threats in the market early and act on them before your competition. Any data-backed information that can be brought to the table will strengthen the insights that come out of the SWOT. Market research tools and Google alerts for your industry and competitors are a great way to stay on top of the external factors that could affect your business.
Another tip that is often overlooked when determining your strengths and weaknesses is to read through your customer reviews. This will allow you to see where you’re succeeding and where you might be falling short, right from the mouths of those who matter most. We also sometimes see clients struggle to come up with specific threats beyond the common ones like economic downturn and increased competition. When this is the case, we suggest that you think about what your competition would list as a strength. If you don’t have this strength in common, it could be considered a threat.
All of this being said, there is such a thing as coming to a session over-prepared. If you’re too rigid in the points that you’re bringing to the table, it could repress the momentum of the open conversation, and you could end up missing some of the “aha moments” that come out of collaboration. The goal of the SWOT is to engage different types of thinkers in order to generate the best ideas, so it’s important to foster a “no wrong answers” mentally so that creativity isn’t stifled. Remain flexible and receptive to new thoughts and suggestions and don’t be afraid to jump around categories and play off of someone else’s idea – one thought might trigger another. This is where the magic happens.
5. Narrow it down.
Try to identify at least three points per category, and feel free to add as many as your team can come up with to keep the conversation going and ideas flowing. However, we find that after the initial brain dump, narrowing each category down to the top 3-5 points helps to highlight the best areas of focus for your marketing plan.
Once all of the strengths are on the board, we take a deeper dive into identifying which ones are actually differentiating you from your competition. For example, if all of your competitors provide high quality products, then a high-quality product is not necessarily an advantage in your market, it’s a necessity – we call these types of attributes “permission to play”. Weeding out the permission to play strengths, and focusing on what makes you unique will help to better communicate your value proposition and key advantage in the marketplace.
As you can tell, we’re big fans of the SWOT Analysis. Identifying where your business is succeeding, where it’s falling short, and anticipating opportunities and threats in the market helps us to uncover where to allocate your resources to reach your marketing and business goals. The insights and ideas generated from Vision Fest exercises allow us to craft a strategic marketing plan that will make your brand thrive.
Interested in learning more about Flipp’s Vision Fest Program so that you can get your brand thriving? Get in touch and tell us about your business.
* Flipp’s planning phase, called The Vision Fest Program, includes a strategic planning session. This planning session, called Vision Fest, is a full-day event that often ends up being described by our clients as “therapeutic”. We run through a range of questions and exercises to get the full download of information about our client’s business, and uncover some new insights together to better inform their marketing strategy.