On strategy

Connecting with the clients, customers and communities that matter most isn’t easy on a good day.

What’s your plan when times get tough?

For many professionals – especially entrepreneurs – talent, good instincts, and ability to manage many big rocks at once often leads to enviable success, especially in the early days.

Then comes growth. Market shifts. The inevitable technology hack that threatens, or is poised to threaten, your industry. (That’s everyone, BTW.)  Or, it’s a little thing that doesn’t feel quite right, in your product, your culture, your ask...and your gut says it has the potential to become something big and disruptive.

Enter the S-word. (No,  STRATEGY!) Wait, don’t plug your ears. It’s not a swear.

In some circles, strategy is a well understood necessity. Other times, it’s a sigh-producing, stress inducing proposition.

Strategy can feel:

  • Expensive: “It’s dollars we just don’t have”;
  • Time intensive: “We’re just too busy to stop right now”;
  • Like a waste of time: “We’ve been doing this for 20 years, we know what we need to do. Let’s just get’er done”.

Even though it’s been 16+ years since Jim Collins introduced the world to the flywheel, and its much less attractive step-sister, the doom loop, strategy still has a bad rap. And there’s no end to the contradictory business lit you can consume on this topic.  

Everything is strategy. Strategy is everything. Execution trumps strategy. Strategy trumps execution. I’d rather have brilliant execution with a mediocre strategy. And vice versa. And on and on… But what’s the real, practical, deal?

Here are a few first steps to lay the foundation for a killer strategy:

  1. Know why you exist - Define what you stand for. Pro tip: driving profit, shareholder value, expansion, market domination...none of those are it. Those are means by which you achieve your purpose. Go deeper. What are you aspiring to achieve? What value are you providing? What pain point are you removing? What do you want your audience to believe, and share?
  2. Involve the right people - The best strategy is forged by divergent thinkers from across your organization. The team that executes the strategy should have a hand in its creation, or it risks losing meaning and buy in. Or worse, they try to wait you out until the next big thing comes along. Got someone who serves front line customers, provides them with support, interacts with them daily? Yeah, invite them.
  3. Know exactly who you are trying to reach - Do you understand your major audience personas? Their hierarchies? Their world views?  Where to reach them? Where they already are? You need to know exactly what you hope to accomplish when they lend you the holy grail you’re spending all this time and money to acquire – their attention.
  4. Be prepared to change - When your plan outlines a mammoth shift, you’ve got to be prepared to make it. For real. (Or you’re that gal the people in #2 are waiting out.) And then be prepared to shift again. Strategy development for your business, your marketing, your stakeholder engagement, should evolve over time. Unless you just stepped out of a DeLorean, there’s no such thing as a 10 year strategic plan. Five is sometimes pushin’ it, too.

It takes gutsy leadership to abandon a set of tactics in place of a disruptive strategy. Refusing to change because that’s the way you’ve always done it is not okay.  

Iterate or deteriorate.

You can’t tell an effective story and have it spread if you haven’t figured out the component parts of your strategy. The risk without it is actually more money spent, more talent churn, and lost market share, long-term.

The upside is a committed group of staff and customers who know where you’re going, why it’s so important, and their role in getting there.

And that’s how you win.


As seen in the August Edition of Business London.
 

Jeff & Lindsay Sage are the co-founders and senior strategists at sagecomm, which specializes in  brand, product and issue positioning, marketing strategy, and community engagement.