What is a SWOT analysis?
A SWOT analysis is a strategic planning framework used to take a big-picture look at the internal and external factors impacting your brand and business. "SWOT" stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.
The first half of SWOT (strengths and weaknesses) addresses the internal factors within your business or brand working for and against you. Opportunities and threats (the second half of SWOT) are the positive and negative external factors your brand must navigate through.
Is your business struggling to grow?
Is your brand failing to get traction?
There’s a good chance that these two factors are related. And that means it’s time to review your brand.
Your brand is an essential part of your business.
Today’s consumers are bombarded with communication from every direction. It can feel impossible to make a decision when so many choices gridlock you.
Easily identifiable brands – and, more importantly, trustworthy – stand out as life rafts in stormy seas.
Your brand identity – everything visual about your brand – is critically important to build loyalty and trust in the marketplace.
In fact, even companies with strong brands can fall behind and fail to distinguish themselves from competitors.
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If your brand isn’t successfully communicating who your business is, what you do, and what you stand for, then you’re losing business without even realizing it.
To get your brand back on track – and create a brand plan that stands any chance of success – you’ll need to take a step back to look at the bigger picture. You’ve got to develop a higher-level understanding of your business and the context in which it operates.
That’s where a SWOT analysis can help.
By examining your business’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, you may find a path to new growth that you never suspected.
Holistic, high-level thinking is valuable and necessary to ensure that you don’t get lost chasing after details that don’t deliver the return on investment your business needs to survive. This makes SWOT analysis a vitally useful tool.
When is SWOT the right tool…
A SWOT analysis isn’t appropriate for every small business decision you make throughout your day. The in-depth process would get in the way of moving forward in a timely fashion.
But, if you’re considering any large business decisions – like a new partnership, writing a business plan to add a new product line, offering a new service, big adjustments to internal policies, or adding a new position or department – then conducting a SWOT analysis before proceeding is a good idea.
It would be best if you also used this technique anytime you find your business stalling, a project fails, when you’re starting a new business, or have unexpected success.
Finally, you should conduct a SWOT analysis anytime you consider making any significant changes to your brand or brand identity.
Your brand is made up of your business’s authentic attributes, what your business chooses to present, and how your business is perceived by your audience. SWOT analysis surveys both internal and external factors – making it a perfect tool for examining the dual nature of branding.
The big-picture understanding that you gain through the SWOT technique can help guide you safely through change, challenges, and growth.
Who should do a SWOT analysis?
A proper SWOT analysis should involve a cross-section of your team. You want people who have different perspectives on the company and should include people from sales, marketing, product development, engineering, etc.
In fact, some companies even invite customers to participate in a SWOT analysis.
Importantly, while you should include others, company leaders and founders should be deeply involved in a SWOT analysis as they create the company’s overall vision.
How to do a SWOT analysis correctly
A SWOT analysis is not complex and does not take weeks to complete. It can be done in a matter of hours and should be done regularly (at least once every 6 to 12 months).
You list all of your business’s strengths and weaknesses along with all of the outside opportunities and threats that may impact your business.
But, as with most simple things, a SWOT can be tricky to execute well.
Here are some general guidelines for getting the most from the exercise.
Be organized. We recommend creating a 2×2 grid with each quadrant labeled with the appropriate heading. Then list the relevant items inside each quadrant. Use bullet points to keep your ideas concise.
This approach allows you to quickly assess your results at a glance.
Don’t rush. For a SWOT to be truly useful, it must be comprehensive. Plan to do some real research into your brand’s assets and liabilities, as well as external threats and opportunities.
If you don’t take the time to really look, you may miss important factors. And, it’s discovering these potential unknowns that provides the most value.
Be realistic. The goal of any SWOT analysis is to make better choices that are informed by a deeper understanding of your situation. You can only succeed if you’re actually honest about your threats and weaknesses and what strengths and opportunities you have to combat them.
Internal: Strengths & Weaknesses
Your SWOT analysis should begin with an earnest look inward at your business and/or brand.
Objectively identifying your brand’s strengths and weaknesses allows you to capitalize on those strengths and improve or accept your weaknesses.
This perspective will allow you to lean into situations that your brand strengths will help you master.
Conversely, you can make informed decisions about what challenges or threats your business is ill-equipped to tackle.
We’ve shared a list of SWOT questions to ask later in this article to help you get started. But, you know your business better than anyone. Be sure to add additional questions and compile as complete a list of strengths and weaknesses as possible.
Then view all of these assets and liabilities strategically in relation to the opportunities and threats you discover in the next section.
External: Opportunities & Threats
Once you’ve reviewed your internal challenges and resources, it’s time to cast your gaze outward and create a list of opportunities and threats.
The world around you is full of threats and opportunities you may never have considered. This is your chance to get those unknowns on your radar so that your brand can act accordingly.
The opportunities and threats you identify can then be prioritized and reviewed through the lens of the strengths and weaknesses you’ve already identified.
Look for opportunities that mesh well with the assets your business possesses. And decide whether to meet a threat head-on or avoid it based on your likelihood of success with your current resources.
Check out our list of starter questions below. We hope they’ll give you a great jumping-off point for your own SWOT Analysis. But, don’t forget to ask industry-specific questions for your field.
Questions that can help you conduct a SWOT analysis
- Does your business have a unique backstory or mission?
- In what areas does your business regularly excel? (customer support, marketing, sales, fulfillment, etc.)
- What strengths or unique skills do your employees possess?
- Is your business well-funded, or does it own other useful resources it can rely on?
- Does your business have a proprietary product or service that can’t be obtained elsewhere?
- In what respects is your brand well-perceived?
- In what ways is your brand aligned with your current mission and business direction?
- What aspects of your brand are authentic?
- Which elements of your brand resonate with your target audience?
- What parts of your brand are communicated well?
- In what areas does your business regularly perform poorly?
- Does your workforce suffer any consistent weaknesses? (poor morale, lack of training, etc.)
- Does your business lack resources such as time, staff, or funds?
- Are your business goals unfocused?
- Do you lack strategies for moving forward?
- Are there elements of your brand that are inauthentic?
- Is your business failing to follow through on any brand promises?
- What parts of your brand are poorly communicated?
- Are any brand messages failing to resonate with your audience?
- What aspects of your brand are perceived poorly?
- Can you fill a niche that is currently empty or under-represented?
- Could you partner with another business to gain exposure, financial support, or consumer goodwill?
- Can your product or service outperform a competitor’s?
- Will changes in state or federal legislation help your business in any way?
- Are improving economic trends likely to impact your business?
- Can your brand authentically align itself with any popular causes?
- Do any current trends benefit your business or brand?
- Are there any new technological advances that could improve your product?
- Can you modify an existing product or service for a new demographic?
- Is there an existing unsung aspect of your brand that you could highlight?
- What are your competitors offering that you can’t compete with?
- Are downward economic trends likely to impact your business?
- Will changes in state or federal legislation hinder your business in any way?
- Are any of your vendors or suppliers unreliable, increasing their prices, or going out of business?
- Are there any cultural shifts that may harm your business or brand?
- Will weather changes negatively impact your business? (loss of crops or materials, or shipping delays)
- Are there any current events that may cast any elements of your brand in a negative light?
- Is your brand aligned with any negative entities, organizations, or ideologies?
- Are any competitors attempting to discredit your brand?
After the SWOT – what to do next
Gathering information is great. But, it’s what you can do with that information that’s truly worthwhile.
Once you’ve compiled all of your threats, opportunities, weaknesses, and strengths, it’s time to plan some action. How can you redirect your brand in a stronger direction using the new perspective you’ve gained?
The answer to that question is as unique as each business. Some brands will be able to tweak what they do. Others will need to consider a complete rebrand and a pivot.
But, with your analysis complete, you’ll have the high-level perspective you need to make the best choices for your brand.
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