How to get Quality into your Brand Growth Planning 2018

Key learnings of 30 years strategic planning. A plea for enhanced quality and tips how to improve your planning, today.

In January, Reuters reported that 38 % of 406 major US companies prepared for 2017 with a zero-based budget (ZBB) approach, and cites a respective 2016 Bain study. How lifestyle brands had planned for 2017 is unknown, but in the light of the US retail environment, many brands had to apply major cost cutting exercises to adjust earlier plans.

Those with a ZBB approach were likely better prepared than others.

brand growth planning, best practice planning

Zero Based Budgeting in 2016 (Infographic: Bain Company)

‘Houston we have a Problem’

For those unfamiliar with strategic and financial planning: ZBB is a progressive form of planning, originally developed at Texas Instruments (Wikipedia). Initially, ZBB was a quality approach to planning that balanced sales with organizational costs in order to prepare an organization for crisis well ahead of coming incidents.

Best practice planning, brand growth planning,

Many US department stores and their brands were not well prepared for the market changes in 2017 (photo brand pilots)

But like with our personal annual fitness resolutions, we often start with quality planning too late in the game to prevent a health crisis. As a consequence, many organizations downgrade ZBB to implement some semblance of ‘yo-yo’ planning (three years regular planning, gaining weight as a result – one year ZBB – three more years of gaining weight). Organizational ‘dieting’, that is, until our planning runs into a ‘Houston we have problem’ situation.

Brand Growth Management

Tom Hanks in Apollo 13 and the original ‘Houston we have a problem’ conversation between Jim Lovell and the NASA Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston

Is your Brand Growth Planning Best Practice?

If you’ve followed the news in 2017, you will know that many European and especially US brands and retailers had to rework their planning. I can’t speculate on whether the magnitude of the US department store development would have been evident earlier. But I can say that a market crisis with significant consumer and retail impact happens somewhere every 2-3 years. Examples include US retail and Brexit 2017, the luxury crisis in China 2015/16, the Russian Embargo 2014/15, the 2008 global financial crisis, and many others, all the way back to the first oil crisis in 1973.

Abercrombie (here in Hong Kong), Ralph Lauren and other brands recently needed to close flagship stores in Greater China (photo: brand pilots)

Over the years, many good brand growth planning practices have evolved to develop quality plans, and a number of valuable studies and books have been published on the topic. For a quick list of best practice examples, it is worth checking out the American Quality and Productivity Center. One of their many studies examined best practice in planning for a couple of large US corporations (incl. Frito-Lay, Shell and Whirlpool).

To reflect on the quality of your current brand growth planning, I recommend the use of a balanced scorecard. And to give you an idea of what that looks like, I share the balanced scorecard for planning that evolved out of our learnings at Team Retail Excellence with you:


In the course of my career, I have witnessed many different approaches to brand growth planning. There is no one single company with best practice, but many. Similarly, there is no one perfect way of doing planning, but many may perfectly match a brand’s culture and organization. What approach to planning best fits your organization?

'Strategic Planning isn't strategic thinking. One is analysis, and the other is synthesis'.Harry Mintzberg

If there is one success pattern that emerged through all the differences it is this: brands that had applied quality planning processes during healthy market conditions are organizationally well-balanced and financially healthier. It seemed that brands with long-term success see planning as a ‘chance for strategic reflection’ rather than a ‘need to budget’. Planning at less balanced brands with smaller growth is often a short-term commitment or ‘new year’s resolution’. One month into the new fiscal year, the first goals are missed and the struggle to catch up begins.

Start Your Quality Brand Growth Planning Today!

Let’s face it, you know you should improve next year’s planning, but think it’s already too late. And tomorrow you have other priorities. At this rate, your planning is unlikely to improve in quality before you reach the next ‘Houston we have a problem’ situation.

Brand Growth Planning

Under Armour, another brand that needed to rework its planning in 2017 (photo: brand pilots)

If you agree that ‘yo-yo planning’ is a bad idea, how about sparing 30 minutes today to initiate a few changes to your 2018 planning process? Just 30 minutes, right after you finish reading this post!

Because, regardless of where you are in your fiscal year today, there are four things you can do to improve quality in your planning at any time:

4 Actions to improve Brand Growth Planning. Now

Reflect current Processes;Organize a pragmatic reflection on this year’s planning (structure, process, tools) with key players to collect a list of potential improvements. Do it today, as long last year’s planning impressions are still fresh
Study Best PracticesInstall a cross-functional training project with your junior talent. Delegate the task of studying internal and external planning processes and developing a list of five recommendations for your next brand growth planning. Call HR today
Get on the Board AgendaReserve an agenda topic for the next board discussion on whether next year could be a good year to initiate a major health ZBB project
Plan earlierArrange for the next long range planning to start 8 weeks earlier and set project milestones that allow more time for reflection, creativity and quality. Block the launch dates today

If there is one thing you should take away from this post, it’s that the quality of next year’s planning is created today. You may be in the lucky position of not having any pressure for better planning. But keep in mind that better quality planning is only created during good times.

'Plans are nothing. Planning is everything.' US President Dwight D. Eisenhower

It is in good times that you have the bandwidth to properly reflect on old processes and learn about potential gaps or areas for improvement. Begin your quality planning processes when you still have the time for quality: today!


About the Author

Guido is a brand strategy coach and grew planning expertise in over 50 retail & brand growth projects. He encourages you to start with new quality planning today, for example by contacting him on more tips how to improve your next year’s planning (email)

One thought on “How to get Quality into your Brand Growth Planning 2018

  1. Eyad says:

    Well said mr. Guido
    We will act accordingly 🙏

    Best Regards

    Eyad Mashat

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