A SWOT is a business school fundamental. But is it still relevant? Like another acronym, the LBD (or little black dress), the SWOT never goes out of style. It’s a staple in the marketer’s toolkit – and, in fact, this little tool can help you release big ideas, insight, and inspiration. Let’s see what a SWOT analysis can do for your B2B Marketing Automation Strategy.
What is a SWOT?
Confession: I didn’t go to business school before I got my marketing job. The first time someone asked me for a SWOT, I looked at them blankly. (I eventually did take marketing coursework and a big bright lightbulb flash of “duh” went off in my head.)
So, let’s take it back to Marketing 101. A SWOT is an acronym that stands for “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.” It’s an exercise and a technique where you plot out lists for each of those topics and analyze the results. You can perform a SWOT for your company, a specific launch release, or even yourself.
A successful SWOT can help you understand your business from all angles – the good and the bad. It should also help you generate ideas on where to take your brand and campaigns in the future.
There’s a lot of punch packed into this business school staple.
Does anyone bother doing SWOTs anymore?
You may have created SWOTs in business school, then tossed aside the tactic, thinking it was reserved only for the classroom. Is there any point in doing these anymore? Does anyone bother?
I’ve been asked to do SWOTs for both Fortune 500 companies, as well as start-ups.
And while it’s tempting to skip the step and get to the task at hand, hear me out. The SWOT process takes time. But it can also be invaluable. By going through the exercise, you take concepts and data out of your head and plot them into reality. A SWOT can help you see things from a new perspective.
How to SWOT – the short-and-sweet edition.
A SWOT can be as high-level or granular as you want it to be. I like to use it as a mental warm-up exercise – something to get me thinking and to fire up my inspiration. For that reason, I like to keep it high-level and basic. Here are my rough steps:
Set up the four quadrants: Strengths, Weaknesses, Threats, Opportunities.
Start adding bullet points or a list in each quadrant. These can be off the top of your head and/or from existing brand and marketing materials.
Layer in research. Poke around the interweb to find what customers, competitors, and analysts are saying. You might even look at Glassdoor to find employee insight.
Step back and analyze what you see. Are there things that jump out? Do you find any patterns or big red flags to address? Make note of those.
Now that you have the rough framework of a SWOT, let’s go through the exercise. Grab a piece of paper or whiteboard and explore these concepts. (Note: I really do recommend that you get off your digital device and perform this exercise with a pen, pencil, or whiteboard marker.)
First, what are you going to SWOT? You can choose your company all-up, or a specific division or how you utilize your marketing automation platform. Choose one. We’ll call it “Your Thing.” For each category below, aim to write at least five items in each quadrant.
Think through Your Thing’s Strengths. What does your company do really well? What evidence do you have for those proof of concepts you create? What garners you excellent buyer reviews or love letters from your customers? Write those things down. As I mentioned earlier, you don’t have to do this all on gut. Pull from your current marketing copy, as well as from industry analysts and customer testimonials.
Next up is Weaknesses. Now, as marketers, I know that we’re wired to constantly find a positive spin. But let’s get real here. I’m sure you have opinions or at least hunches about what doesn’t work so well with Your Thing. Write those down. Also, go back to those customer reviews and feedback – what are the common complaints or issues? What does your customer support team receive a lot of calls about? Write those things down, too. You don’t have to engage in endless brand-flagellation but do accurately identify your trouble spots.
Opportunities are fun. They can be aspirational – such as places you could market Your Thing or potential customers you could reach. Also, ID brand expansion possibilities go here. For example, have your customers mentioned something they really want, or have you brainstormed great ideas but not shared them yet? Note those. Reach for the low-hanging fruit, of course – but also include your “stretch” goals ‒ those pie-in-the-sky ideas can’t become reality unless you speak them. This is your space to dream, so do so.
Finally, Threats. What real or potential things could threaten your business? This can be anything from someone stealing your idea (do you have a patent?) to an economic crash that may impact your non-elastic-good market, to a fiery-tempered CEO. Some of it you may be able to see coming – other things, you can’t even begin to imagine. But try to think through a few disastrous scenarios and jot them down. And, again, be real. There’s no point in hiding the truth from yourself.
A SWOT analysis for your B2B marketing automation strategy
If you were creating a SWOT for your marketing automation strategy, a weakness is that you’re underutilizing the functions in the platform. This could be not setting up account, demographic, and behavior-based segmentation for your lists. It could be not creating automated nurture programs based on those new segmented lists so that you are nurturing decision-makers, influencers, tire kickers, and folks wanting to buy today all differently.
One of the biggest threats to your marketing automation strategy is not using the product or integrating it with your CRM so that you fail to connect your marketing efforts with sales and see the return on that investment. Another threat could be locking yourself into an all-in-one vendor technology stack that isn’t motivated to innovate or address your specific needs.
Know what to do with your SWOT
Great work on completing your SWOT for your marketing automation setup or for whatever you choose to examine. Now go stretch your legs for a moment, grab a coffee, and return with your analyst hat on. Look at your list and see what stands out. Circle the big-ticket items. Draw lines and correlations between the quadrants. Jot notes in the margins. Brainstorm – ideas big and small.
The Opportunity in your SWOT for your marketing automation strategy is using your platform across the customer’s journey and across marketing. Are you using it for your branding efforts by nurturing industry and media influencers? Are you creating automated programs for your customers, making sure you help them successfully onboard with your product or service? As they engage more and more, whether attending a customer webinar or Tweeting your praise, you can assign them a lead score for becoming brand advocates and future referrals, as well as priming them for renewals and upsells.
It’s totally OK if you are creating a SWOT just for yourself. It can be a great tool to help you understand more about your brand or simply generate new ideas. But those SWOT results can also be invaluable to your colleagues and boss. I encourage you to share your results – to polish up your lists, remove those potentially thorny items (such as the mention of the CEO’s temper) – and turn your activity into action.
Also, as you drew up your list and made your analysis, I have no doubt your mind started wheeling with ideas. Don’t lose those – whether they be for new products or services, customer opportunities, marketing ploys, campaign slogans, or staff shufflings. The point of the SWOT is to take stock and get ideas going, so harness this energy and good work.
Add SWOT to your regular marketing exercises.
I am an avid fitness fan, and as such I’m accustomed to working through many of the same exercises – pushups, sit-ups, and squats – over and over again. It’s not because I always enjoy them; but rather, because they work. Think of a SWOT in this same way. No, I’m not suggesting that you need to perform SWOTs as often as squats, but I do encourage you to try a SWOT at least once a year. You may be surprised at how each iteration garners new insights and helps you nimbly adjust your marketing strategy accordingly.
Bonus exercise: SWOT yourself
At one of my former jobs, part of the new-hire process included a self-SWOT. We had to assess our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats when we were hired, and then again at our 90-day review. It was a little strange at first, but the exercise proved to be a great mechanism to help me honestly assess my skills – and also to see what changed over the course of a few short months. I encourage you to try this. You never know when you may be able to use these findings, too. You can keep them in your back pocket when you’re preparing for your annual review, asking your boss to include you on a big-ticket project, or pitching for a promotion.