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Stakeholder engagement: how to define, or refine, your positioning

During the past two to three years, ‘change’ has been an ever-present corporate and brand theme.

For many firms, it has been forced upon them by the need to respond to the financial crisis and led to downsizing; cost and staff cutting; business closures; divisional / business unit consolidations; and / or sell-offs and demergers.

For others, though, it has represented an opportunity to streamline, or realign, their operations, whilst continuing to evolve (enhance) their business and service offer, especially for those in niche, or specialist industries.

Frequently, adversity or necessity has been the ‘mother of invention’... or at least the fine-tuning of their business proposition.

Both sets of companies, however, now face similar marketing and communications’ challenges as, although confidence remains fragile, there is an increasing sense
of the need to move to a ‘growth agenda’ and identify the implications for their future brand strategy; especially what ‘lost ground’ must be made-up in terms

of competitive standing, customer and stakeholder awareness and appreciation.

Many of our clients are asking themselves - and us - what they now need to say and do differently in order to reflect their ‘new’, emerging business direction:

  • How robust and well understood is their market positioning; corporate purpose; service offer and overall brand image?
  • How well expressed is their service proposition; core messaging and brand narrative? How different is it from the competition?
  • Does it accurately reflect their future strategic direction and the nature and scale of change - be that evolutionary, or revolutionary?
  • How should they structure their portfolio businesses and brands to reflect and support such change in the future?
  • Will that be the same for all audiences? Or do solutions need to be tailored for specific segments to reflect individual, bespoke sector needs?
  • What impact might this have on the company’s marketing, communications and branding expression - visual & verbal language; ‘design look & feel’; on & off-line experience; social media presence & voice?
  • Overall, how should they manage and implement change successfully?

For most, the answers lie in developing a precise 'fix' on where their brand (corporate, service, or product) not only is currently positioned in the 'hearts & minds' of key stakeholders, but also where it needs to be positioned. Because due to recent events, the 'gap' between where their brand is now and where it needs to be in the future - or more importantly where their customers need it to be - could be some distance apart.

So how do you establish that 'fix'... an 'orientation' that maps where your brand is today in relation to where it needs to be tomorrow? And what might be the marketing communications and branding implications?

Based on many years experience, StrategicFusion’s consultants have developed a process that can not only deliver an accurate assessment of a company’s brand, marketing and communications’ needs, but also a quantified strategy to enhance and strengthen future implementation. We call it ‘Brand Envisaging’.TM

It involves a 360° evaluation, engaging with stakeholders across four dimensions:


Existing business, brand and market auditing

The process starts with an audit of where the business and brand currently sits in relation to macro / micro market trends and 'drivers': its core positioning & proposition; brand 'promise' and substantiators ('reasons to believe'). Also 'vision, mission & values'; behaviours and service culture. Operational, service and sales structures & processes. Existing research - industry data; customer / satisfaction surveys; media commentary; staff surveys & audits - can also help provide valuable insights and act as an initial reference point.

Stakeholder profiling & perceptions

Existing data will frequently need to be supplemented with proprietary research (ideally qualitative & quantitative) around awareness & appreciation, ‘image perceptions vs. expectations’, from both an internal (cultural) and external dimension and in relation to competition:

  • management and staff’s views on current versus future business, service and culture challenges. What is working well and what needs to change, or be adapted from a brand image and reputational perspective? To what degree, scale and scope? What might be the internal / cultural implications?
  • customers and key stakeholders’ perceptions that mirror the above issues and provide deep insights not just into current understanding and appreciation, but also - more importantly - future needs and expectations: a strategic ‘shift’?

Competitor differentiation

For completeness, a similar study should be conducted in relation to key competitors - both direct & 'peer' - to interrogate the overall marketplace, identify degrees of uniqueness of the corporate / brand 'offer' and explore opportunities to strengthen image and reputational differentiation.

Corporate / brand identity, communications & sales / marketing activity

Finally, an evaluation of the effectiveness of all current materials and media employed, targeted both externally at customers and internally at cross-business / divisional staff: core brand fundamentals (visual identity & identity system). 'Masterbrand' & sub-brand architecture (portfolio structure; relationships; management). Messages & narrative. Visual & verbal language, imagery, personality & tone. Design style/'look & feel'. Also media used and - importantly - the degree of coherence cross-media, especially within the digital space.

The sum total of these inputs, when analysed, will produce a profile for the brand that identifies any 'positioning gap' that exists between 'the now' & 'the future',
as well as any difference between the views of management and other audiences.

Most importantly, it will identify the nature of that gap - the branding, marketing, communications, image and reputational challenge it represents and what must be done to close that gap. The focus being on the targeting of key messages; the content of those messages and overall ‘narrative’; the likely implications for the core brand presentation, be that naming, identity, identity system management and architecture; and implementation.


This does not have to be an overly complex exercise; but it does need to be thorough and objective. Nor does it imply ‘change’; just a willingness to consider opportunities and options that might exist.

In the majority of cases - especially with established brands - the findings are likely to be more in the area of identifying 'degrees' of change, rather than large-scale repositioning - evolution, not revolution. Yet, the benefits of having a precise 'fix',
or 'orientation' of where your brand is today and, importantly, where it should be in the future - in the eyes of all your key stakeholder groups - will repay the initial investment many times over.

Because, ultimately, even the smallest improvements ‘on the margin’ will drop straight through to the bottom line.


Typically, a 360 degree evaluation, benchmarked against four dimensions