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What can chess teach us about brand strategy?

Clare Froggatt
Clare Froggatt

Have you seen ‘The Queen’s Gambit’?

It’s a great story, and certainly made me want to play chess again. Chess is a board game that has been around for centuries. It has a lot to do with the art of war. It’s all about strategy, tactics, and the ability to outmanoeuvre your opponent. Thinking about the game again made me realise how many similarities there are between chess and brand strategy.

Just like in chess, you need to understand your competition if you want to succeed in business. Chess players spend time studying how their opponents think. This way, they can devise a counterattack that enables them to stay ahead. And as a business owner that’s exactly what you need to do.

  • Learn what your competitors are doing. Ask yourself these important questions.
  • Who are they?
  • What are they offering customers that you aren’t?
  • Are you doing anything different?
  • How do they engage with their customers?
  • How could you improve your products, services, and marketing?

In chess and in business when you are reviewing your competition, you’re looking at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats – what is commonly referred to as a SWOT analysis. Regularly reviewing your customers and your competitors keeps you on top of your game.

What else can we learn from chess to help us succeed in business? In this blog I’ll look at some of the other rules of the game that can be applied successfully to business and brand strategy.

The importance of a plan

The rules

  • Don’t rush to make a move
  • Plan several moves ahead
  • Don’t play the plan, play the board

The best business owners make decisions based on a complete picture of information. Just like experienced chess players, they consider all the options before they commit to anything. Players with less experience stop searching for a move once they’ve located a good one – they forget there might be a better one. In business, the same rules apply. Don’t rush to make a move!

Chess players plan their moves ahead, anticipating how the other player might respond. By planning several moves in advance they manage to outwit their opponent. Likewise, in business making a good forecast is crucial, as is having contingency plans for the things you can’t predict.

Never underestimate your opponent; just like you they’re in it to win it. And one thing you can be sure of is that they are making plans to undermine you with an attack of their own. So, whether it’s your king or your market share they want, be prepared to respond – and fast! Having a thorough plan is important, but you need to be agile to succeed in business.

Managing your resources

The rules

  • Know the value of your pieces
  • Manage your resources

We’ve all heard the saying “your people are your greatest asset.” It might be a cliché but it’s true.  And each one of your people contributes something different – just like chess pieces. Take your bishop for example, the only piece, beside the king and queen, that can move diagonally. It’s a powerful piece but to be effective you need to know how to use it correctly.

The same is true of your employees, customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders. By understanding their individual value, you can use them in a more targeted and effective way. How do these individuals fit within your brand strategy? How can they help you achieve your goals?

Managing your resources isn’t just about people. You’ve also got to keep an eye on your cash. If you run out, you’re done. Keep on top of what’s coming in and going out with a cash flow forecast. Don’t waste money – or moves – if you’re unlikely to see a return on investment

Preparation is everything

The rules

  • Keep an eye on the clock
  • Learn the value of patience

In chess you’re not just playing against an opponent, you’re also trying to beat the clock. Games are timed in a tournament setting so you have a limited period to make your move. If you run out of time then you lose the game, which is why you’ll often hear the phrase “time is material” in chess. To counter this, the best players spend months, even years, memorising potential strategies and moves so they don’t lose time recalling them during the game.

That’s why it is so important to prepare in advance. A wise entrepreneur can make decisions which appear to be quick, but in reality, they are the result of months of study and preparation.

You might be playing against the clock but patience is a virtue in business and chess. It’s tempting to get swept up in the excitement of launching a new product or entering a new market. Remember what I said earlier about not rushing to make a decision?  Well, it’s so important, I’m saying it again. Avoid rash moves. Learn the value of patience and take the time to do things the right way. Do your research first!

Brand strategy and chess

You can’t plan for everything. There are moments in chess when you have to make a move based on intuition alone. Likewise, to implement a successful brand strategy for your business, you need to recognise that the human element has a part to play. A brand isn’t made from making analytical decisions alone – it also comes from creativity, ingenuity, and gut feeling. The kind of thing that successful marketing campaigns are made of! As an entrepreneur, you need to carefully balance all these skills.

We’ve learnt a lot about the parallels between chess and brand strategy, but what I hope you’ll take away with you is that knowing your competitors is vital. The ‘rules’ of planning, managing resources, and timing are all part of a carefully constructed game that ends with you beating your opponent. To stay on top of your game, I recommend reviewing your competitors and customers every three months. For more advice and guidance on this subject, or access to my free templates, contact me.   

Now I think it’s time for a brew!

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