SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) may be the most famous strategic planning technique. What I love about SWOT is its flexibility and adaptability. This framework is a great way to aggregate the information you need to continuously improve and adapt your areas of focus. If you’re in business, you’ve probably been in many SWOT sessions. But have you run them? If not, here’s how. If you’re an expert in the SWOT process, here’s the variation I use as a prerequisite to creating a brand playbook.
According to the British Library, Albert Humphrey developed it at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) back in the 1960s and early 1970s. Since then, it has been used for all manner of personal and professional strategic planning. Let’s get started.
I don’t like to ask people to prepare for SWOT sessions, because you gain valuable insights about an organization by comparing how different people extemporaneously respond to SWOT questions. In a well-run organization, every executive, mid-level manager, staff member, vendor, and customer would all understand (and be able to communicate) similar primary strengths and weaknesses. Threats and opportunities are generally more specific to a focus area, so you expect consensus in a focus area or business group, but not necessarily across the enterprise. To be sure, there are times when interview subjects should be allowed to prepare for a SWOT analysis. This will become obvious to you as you get more experience with the process.
Broadly speaking, you will cover current client relationships, examples of best practices, and examples of areas that need improvement. Your interviewees should have a good handle on current events and what their competitors are up to, and they should be generally aware of how and what their staff, co-workers, and corporate peers are thinking about the state of the business.
Limitations of SWOT
Remember, even though this process is commonly referred to as a “SWOT analysis,” it isn’t an analysis tool. It is a framework for capturing the results of analysis. There are no action items in a SWOT framework, and while I will ask you to score the results for inclusion in the brand playbook, in almost all cases, the scoring you will do will be for directional purposes only. There are other, more academically rigorous tools available if you need to dive deeper into specific items surfaced during your SWOT sessions. But the goal of this exercise is to aggregate specific directional components. With that in mind, here is a practical approach to performing a SWOT analysis that will yield the results required to get the most out of the our Brand Playbook Generator.
The SWOT Grid
There are literally thousands of SWOT analysis templates available online. You can download free templates here. The goal of the exercise is to articulate the top three strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in short, concise phrases.
The Interview Process
Pick as many key stakeholders as practical, and if you have time and resources, interview some of their subordinates. Diversity is key to the success of a SWOT analysis. In this case, diversity means different levels of employees as well as people from different backgrounds. For example: After you interview the SVP of marketing, see if you can interview one of the people working in ad ops or in the art department or a director or manager in a remote office. It is hard to count the number of opportunities surfaced by people actually doing the work (as opposed to those managing the workers). This holds true for the entire process. In a well-done SWOT analysis, you will synthesize as many points of view as possible – then score them (for directional purposes).
Scoring, for this exercise, simply means identifying the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats that come up most often during your interviews. If six different people say, “It’s hard to compete with Netflix,” and four others say, “Our users spend too much time with Amazon Prime Video,” and three others say, “We compete with every other video app,” it’s your job to synthesize this into what they are really all saying. Is the group telling you that the problem is that the organization is competing for people’s time? Or is the group identifying all streaming video as a threat? This is where your expertise as a strategic researcher will come through. Be ready to re-interview people. And make sure you get the answers you need. BTW, if you can’t get the answers you need, that’s an answer too.
SWOT Interview Questions
Simple and direct is always best. Where are you strongest? Where are you weakest? What could you be doing that you’re not doing? Who can hurt you the most? Those are the four questions. They are slightly modified below along with some potential follow-ups:
- What do you do best?
- What unique resources do you have?
- What is your strongest asset?
- How is your business different from your competitors’?
- What skills do your employees have that your competitors’ employees don’t have?
- What things do your customers say you do really well?
- Where is the organization weak?
- What resources do you lack?
- What expertise do you lack?
- In what areas are your competitors better than you are?
- Is there one customer carrying your entire company?
- What complaints do you regularly hear from your customers?
- What objections do you most often hear from potential customers?
- Is your tech stack up to date?
- Are you properly staffed?
- Are your profit margins lower than your competitors’?
- What is the biggest opportunity for your business?
- What trends might positively affect your industry?
- Is there talent available that you should hire?
- Is there a need in the industry that you’re not meeting?
- Can you package your products/services differently to increase revenue?
- Do your competitors have any weaknesses that you can exploit?
- Is your target market changing in a way that could help you?
- Is there a niche market that you’re not currently targeting?
- Do your customers ever ask for something that you don’t offer?
- Could you steal your competitors’ customers by offering something they don’t?
- What is the number one threat to your business?
- Is there anyone who is not currently a direct competitor but could become a competitor in the near future?
- Are your employees happy and supported, or could they easily be poached?
- Is your supply chain secure?
- Do you have a proper resiliency and business continuity plans in place?
- Is your infosec best practices?
- Are your competitors planning on expanding or offering new products soon?
- Is your target marketing shrinking?
- Would you refer to any part of your business as a “burning platform?”
Tools & Templates
If you’d like a Microsoft Word doc or a PDF of the SWOT template and the interview questions all set up for you, click here. I find it easier to fill in this template for each interview as I go. Happy SWOTing.
Author’s note: This is not a sponsored post. I am the author of this article and it expresses my own opinions. I am not, nor is my company, receiving compensation for it.