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How To Conduct A SWOT Analysis

SWOT is a strategic management tool. It's taught at the Stanford and Harvard Business Schools. And used by several multinational consulting firms.

Here's how creative professionals can use SWOT to help themselves and their clients thrive in uncertain times.

SWOT is an acronym for:





A SWOT analysis is a process to identify where you are strong and where you are vulnerable -- where you should defend and where you should attack. The result of the SWOT process is a Plan Of Action.

The SWOT analysis can be performed on a product, on a service, a company or even on an individual. Like you.

SWOT should be one of the first steps in the preparation of a business plan, marketing plan or an advertising strategy. Here’s how to conduct a SWOT analysis in two steps.

Part 1 - Information collection.

You can start by conducting one-on-one interviews. Or get a group together to brainstorm. A bit of both is best.

You'll first want to prepare questions that relate to the specific company or product that you are analyzing. You'll find some questions / issues / below to flick your switch.

Be sure to search for insight through intelligent probing during the interviews and brainstorming sessions.

Part 2 - POA preparation and implementation.

After you digest the data and insights from step one you should identify the important themes. Then prioritize the issues in each of the four SWOT areas, starting for example with the most significant Strength.

Next, write a plan of action. A POA is a list of things to do to address the most pressing issues you have identified in each of the SWOT areas. If you wish, you can slant the POA to focus on an advertising strategy that takes advantage of strengths and opportunities, as well as addresses any threats or weaknesses. Here are some questions for interviews and brainstorming.

S - Identify and list your strengths:

What are your advantages in attracting quality employees. In performing the service you provide. In making what you make?

What do you do well? Is there anything you do better than most? Better than anyone else?

Explore those questions, and questions of the same ilk, from your own point of view, and from the point of view of the people in your target audience. Don't be modest, be realistic.

As you prepare your questions consider the issues that are critical to the particular business, such as people, technology, marketing or finance.

W - Identify and list weaknesses:

What should be improved?

What do you do poorly?

What should you avoid, based on mistakes in the past?

Again, consider these questions from an internal and an external perspective. Do other people perceive weaknesses that you don't see? Do your competitors do any better? It is essential to be realistic here, and face any unpleasant truths as soon as possible.

O - Identify and list opportunities:

Where can you find, or create, a competitive advantage?

What are some major trends in your business?

- Consolidation / Diversification?

- Specialization / Generalization?

Do you see opportunities arising from change?

- Changes in technology, such as robotics or AI.

- Changes in demand for your products or services.

- Changes within the market, such as new competitors.

T - Identify and list threats:

What obstacles do you face today?

What challenges do you anticipate in the next few months, in the next few years?

What are your competitors doing that may result in a loss of clients, customers, market share?

Are the required specifications for your job, products or services changing?

Is changing technology threatening you?

Do you have cash-flow or other financial problems?

For free, or for a fee.

You can prepare a SWOT analysis for current clients. And you can offer a SWOT analysis to prospective clients. For free, or for a fee.

Conduct the process professionally, which means one to two hour meetings with key employee groups, such as senior management / owners, marketing / sales, perhaps even HR and IT.

Prepare a report of your findings, to include your own insights, and a proposed Plan Of Action. Ask the client for an hour to present a summery of your results to their key decision makers.

By providing this service you place yourself on a professional par with the very best.

Creative tip: SWOT provides an excellent brainstorming topic, and an opportunity to involve the agency creative and account services team with the client's marketing team.

Creative comment: The J. Walter Thompson office in Hong Kong hired a consulting firm to conduct a SWOT analysis on our business unit when I was a CD there. It proved extremely useful, especially in identifying growth opportunities in digital media.