Lots of people have business ideas. Some of them actually turn these ideas into viable companies. They don’t have to be large companies to be successful; just profitable.

Many people, including established business leaders, follow this approach to product and brand development:

Vision - Execution

Rapid prototyping is certainly one way to find out if your idea will be successful. It also follows a very common entrepreneurial mantra: fail fast. This is certainly the right approach if you are not betting much, and therefore have little to lose.

If you are risking a little more—say, your mortgage, or the future of your company—a more thoughtful approach is this:

Vision - Strategy - Tactics - Execution

Now thought and analysis come before your putting a PayPal button on a mail-order lard sandwich website or the opening of garden gnome restoration store.

Vision is the idea phase. You’ve observed something that you can do better, or for which no solution exists as yet.

Strategy is the positioning phase. This is the hardest part, because you need to get this right: you define the core essence of your offering to which a self-selecting audience will respond. You don’t just decide to have a luxury or mass-market product, you envision your buyer and why he/she will be attracted to your design.

However, before moving to the tactics phase, you also do some real analysis. You analyze your fledgling company (SWOT analysis), your product (VRIO analysis), and the competitive landscape (Five Forces).

Once you’ve figured out your uniqueness and competitive white-space, you can move on to the next step.

Tactics are about process. How will you get your product made (within budget and on time)? How will you get it distributed, noticed, and sold?

Here you realize you cannot accomplish everything by yourself. You need to delegate to other experts. You are the expert in the why and what of your product/service. The others are experts in the things you don’t know or don’t have time to do well. Don’t just rely on smart people for this, rely on people who are smarter than you in their fields of expertise. Then let them do their jobs. But communicate all the time.

Now comes the other hard part.

Execution—marketing, sales and customer care—is about people. Your people; your corporate culture. This is what touches the customer, and what must communicate with one voice. Is the essence you have promised carried through all the way?

Here is where many make a classic mistake. You want to over-deliver. You want your customer to have the best experience ever. Instead, you need to deliver to the correct expectations; the expectations you have set in the positioning, marketing, and sales phases (which need to be the same throughout; one voice!).

Do not over-deliver on product reliability, features, customer service, etc. If you do, then you will have raised the expectations bar permanently. Obviously, if you’ve promised 24/7 world-class service, then you need to meet that expectation. But if you’ve promised 18/7 world-class service, but deliver a higher level, then you will disappoint if later you “fall back” to 18/7 world-class service.

In other words, realistically (not academically or theoretically) you need to do this:

Idea - Positioning - Process - People

Here is what goes on in your customer’s mind. Let me narrate:

  • “I have a need/problem.”
  • “Is there a solution out there that I can trust?”
  • “Let me do some research with my trusted advisors and networks.”
  • “This product/service/solution is great/terrible/neutral.”

In other words:

There are no brand do-overs. Brand is the perception of how you positioned your offering and whether it was an experience congruent with the buyer’s expectations.

This is a linear path. Continuous improvement and cyclical refinement only happen in the last stage. That’s where you get to keep and defend your brand, and entertain brand extensions.

If your customer never permits you to get to the last stage, because you’ve not achieved positive brand status in the buyer’s mind, then you might as well advertise in the Yellow Pages, because you couldn’t differentiate yourself and will have been an also-ran.

So do this at every stage:

Listen - Listen - Listen - Listen

OK, here’s a brand strategy cheat sheet:

Brand Strategy Cheat Sheet