The SWOT analysis. One of the first things you learn in marketing school and a rite of passage for many businesses and organizations, this helpful exercise is probably one you’ve walked through at least once in your life. However, how many times have you completed a SWOT, only to file it away in a folder or strategic plan never to be seen again?
The SWOT is not a purposeless corporate ritual; it’s a very practical exercise in self-awareness that can help shape your brand, improve your organization, grow your business and mitigate any potential threats. Here’s how to take your results and make them actionable, one letter at a time:
Strengths: positive, present and internal factors. Things you do really well or assets you have going for you.
Play them up. Writing out your strengths can help you figure out what makes you different and what to highlight in your messaging and marketing campaigns. Often, the terms in the strengths box of your SWOT analysis will end up in your brand messaging language or at least in a targeted ad campaign. Know what makes you great and say it over and over.
Weaknesses: negative, present and internal factors. The hard truth about areas that could use some improvement.
It’s never fun to confront your weaknesses, but you can certainly make them feel less daunting when you go in with a plan. We love this table, which helps you to tackle everything from stress to major mistakes, by prioritizing what is most urgent or important AND what is easiest to change. Take your list of weaknesses and do your best to put each in one of the four boxes below.
Tackle the most damaging and easiest to change issues first. This will let you make the biggest improvement in the shortest amount of time. Tackle the rest by taking on the other easy to change issues and the other most damaging issues next.
Opportunities: positive, future-focused, internal factors
The most fun of all the sections, this is your chance to dream big. Whether you have a big marketing opportunity or a chance to offer a new business line, it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to do it all at once or getting overwhelmed and doing nothing. Here is where you’ll want to step back, set goals and create plans to push things forward. Some great questions to ask when deciding how to prioritize opportunities:
- Are these marketing opportunities or business opportunities?
- Which needs to come first? For example, if you’re at capacity, you might need to expand your business before doing large marketing pushes, or on the flip side, good marketing might help you fund expansion.
- What are the most immediate needs?
- Where would we see the greatest impact?
- What are the most cost effective to pursue?
Once you’ve decided where you’re headed, formalize it by creating a business or marketing plan for the next one to three years. A practical, working document will help you make sure you actually arrive at the destination you set.
Threats: negative, future-focused, external factors. Can be actual or projected.
You know what they say about an ounce of prevention, and the threats portion of your analysis is the piece that equips you to prepare for potentially damaging situations in the immediate future or down the road. Usually, threats deal with situations we can’t control – external market factors, legal factors, competition or cultural shifts – and situations that might or might not occur. They give us the opportunity to monitor and prepare.
For each threat, determine if it’s definitely happening, highly likely to happen, unlikely or unsure. Then create a timeline of the most immediate threats. For the definite or highly likely threats, start preparing now. For the unlikely or unsure threats, regularly monitor to see if the likelihood or urgency is increasing or decreasing. While you might not be able to directly address a potential threat yet, you can work to strengthen yourself to better withstand threats. For example, a rumor of a new competitor on the horizon is a great reason to invest in more marketing and deepen customer loyalty today.