With the rapid change and challenges over the past year, it has been hard for many brands and businesses to find the time -- and the mental energy -- to take a step back and take stock of the business.  The recent pace of change can absolutely make your head spin.  For example, in less than a year, e-commerce sales penetration growth was 10x the prior annual rate.  

Now that it’s Fall and we are back to our more typical routines, we should also give ourselves a little nudge to return to some good management practices – especially conducting an annual business review to keep your business growth going.

Does an annual business review matter?

In my early days as a marketer, my boss used to ask me:  What should we Start, Stop, and Continue?  I’ll never forget those words, because by putting all brand efforts into those 3 simple buckets, we help shape our plans by taking a look back.  While it can seem daunting at first, it’s an incredibly valuable and necessary process that will help you and your team focus on what will really make a difference to the business.  

This process will ensure that you prioritize the 3-5 most important things that will make the biggest difference in achieving your plan -- and avoid going in a million directions that may actually distract the team from being successful.

How do you start a business review?

Get the right people for the team

The most important step is to define who you want on the core team for your annual business review, including clearly communicated roles and responsibilities.  Business reviews don’t get done in a day, but they don’t take months either -- if the right people are involved upfront.  Marketing usually provides leadership, but Finance, Operations and other functional groups are critical to make the plan fact-based and actionable. A strong cross-functional team ensures the business leaders are aligned on how to move forward.

Revisit the goals and strategies you set for this year  

What did you achieve in the past year?  Did you deliver on the right strategies? Hopefully the goals you set were achievable, but also required the team to stretch a bit.  Identify where the team exceeded, met, or fell short.  Look back to better look forward.

What key questions should you answer?

It’s important to keep this look back comprehensive, but also doable in the time you’ve agreed on, which is often about 4 weeks, depending on the size of the business. Once you identify achievements and areas where you fell short, you can use that as a guide to understand more about the drivers and drags – what was holding you back from meeting your goals.  

Here are some key questions to ask:

Financial picture – what revenue and profit was generated in the past year? Did you meet your financial objectives? What business areas are driving profit?  Growth?  How is each area trending? Do you have the right product mix to deliver on the financial objectives?  

Key trends and shifts – what changes and shifts are going on in the marketplace that are impacting your business and consumer?  Are there emerging unmet needs consumers are experiencing? How is the marketplace responding to deliver on those new and existing opportunities?

Competitive moves and dynamics – what key moves have competitors made (new products, channels, new positioning, new consumer target, even acquisitions)?  What impact has this made to the category?  To your business?  Are competitors in a better position to take advantage of the key trends and shifts in the market? Are there new competitors you should be tracking?  The SWOT (Strength-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats) tool is an oldie but a goodie, and annual business review is a good time to dust it off.  It requires discipline to concisely capture what is important enough to make it onto the SWOT – but this hard work is the very underpinning for your strategy and plan for the coming year.

Where to play opportunities – did you capitalize on areas to compete that offer a strong financial opportunity? Were they a good fit with your ability to deliver? Are there other areas you should consider?

Channel assessment – what were the goals for each distribution channel? Were those met?  Why/Why not?  Beyond revenue and profit, some channels can help achieve other objectives such as driving awareness.  How should the channel strategy evolve?  Why?

Brand strategy, Consumer target – is your brand strategy still relevant, meaningful, and distinct? In what ways, if any, does your positioning need to be revisited?  Do you have a holistic and deep understanding of our consumer target?  Are you winning with them or falling short as other competitive brands excel?

Messaging analysis – is your messaging really paying off your brand strategy? Is it consistent across all the key touchpoints?

Other key tactics/programs – how effective were the key tactics?  Did they deliver on the strategies and metrics? Why/why not?

New product launches and pipeline – What new products did you launch?  Were they successful? Do you have an appropriate new product pipeline to take advantage of potential growth opportunities – both near-term, mid, and longer term?

Putting it all together – and congratulating your team

Once you’ve honed in and addressed some of these key questions, group the key actions into those 3 buckets:  As you plan, what should you START doing to help meet your goals and objectives? What should you STOP doing, because it’s either not working or no longer makes sense for your business?  What should you CONTINUE doing, because it’s been effective and will continue to be important for your future?  

A Consumer/Customer/Competitor Learning Plan can help you address any unanswered questions before you bucket into START, STOP and CONTINUE.  For example, you might need additional insights to ensure you have a deeper understanding of your target consumer.  A well thought out learning plan will help you fill in the gaps and ensure you develop a well-informed plan for future growth.

Business reviews require focus and commitment, but the rewards are significant for both the business and the team.  Update your plans with the broader team as you make progress through the year and celebrate when you see the fruits of your labor or get through an obstacle together.

Lynda Ferrari

Lynda is a consumer marketing expert with a track record of successful U.S. and global product launches. She has created new product innovations across consumer wellness, from personal care to digital health. She is a founding partner of Compass Marketing.

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