Sunday, February 23, 2014

Strategists, and Creative Directors Take Note: This Is How Your Organizations Can Have Nice Things

Strategists and creative directors spend exorbitant amounts of time developing intricately planned strategies meant to communicate with a specific market, however, according to Roger L. Martin, thorough planning does not equal an effective marketing strategy. Throughout my time in Northwestern University's Medill Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) program, equal emphasis has been placed on both quantitative and qualitative tactics for specifying target markets, and how to assess the myriad approaches available to effectively communicate a brand’s message to said market.

In his article The Big Lie of Strategic Planning, Roger L. Martin discusses three common mistakes or “traps”, as he refers to them, that organizations fall victim to when developing a marketing strategy. “First is Strategic Planning, second is Cost-Based Thinking, the third is Self-Referential Strategy Frameworks” (Martin, The Big Lie of Strategic Planning). Inherent to these three “traps” is a failure to break from one’s comfort zone, and approaching the strategic thought process through the lens of a budget planning committee. Instead of developing dynamic strategic approaches to communicate with target markets, they develop templates based on past successes that involve little to no risk. Martin prescribes three ways to avoid the “traps.” First “keep the strategy simple, second recognize that strategy is not about perfection, and third make the logic explicit” (The Big Lie of Strategic Planning). Martin believes these three suggestions are important steps to developing effective strategies, and making bold moves in a competitive marketplace.

Image Source: Richard Sheffield
One of the boldest, and often most criticized mobile strategies is that of Facebook. Josh Constine outlines the mobile strategy Facebook has adopted for remaining relevant among competitors who’s apps focus on a specific social functionality that users seem to prefer to Facebook’s original all-in-one mobile approach. In an earnings call with CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, Constine points out that it was clear Zuckerberg was aware of the growing number of competitors chipping away at Facebook’s dominance on the mobile platform. In fact, Zuckerberg is actually following Facebook’s philosophy of “move fast and break things,” saying “One theme that should be clear from our work on products like Messenger, Groups and Instagram is that our vision for Facebook is to create a set of products that help you share any kind of content you want with any audience you want” (Facebook’s Plot To Conquer Mobile: Shatter Itself Into Pieces). Constine quotes Zuckerberg again later in his article when Zuckerberg refers to features within the main Facebook app as “second-class” and specifically states the need for Facebook to deliver “a suite of apps focused on executing specific functions that consumers need.” References are made to Facebook’s successes and failures in delivering these focused consumer experiences with the release of the Messenger app, the acquisitions of Instagram and Whatsapp, and the releases of the Poke, Camera, and Paper apps. It remains to be seen how effective this strategy will be but it is clear that Facebook is ready to “break things” in a bold effort to remain relevant.

In reading the articles mentioned above I began to consider how they would fit in a real-world scenario. Realizing there is no "breaking things" without building trust and support in your reasoning I thought of three action items anyone can apply at the office.
  1. Define Key Stakeholders - At the outset of the strategic thought process there will always be a number of variables to consider. One variable that can easily get out of hand is the approval process. Be sure to define relevant individuals who will be affected by the strategy being developed and get them onboard immediately in order to gain their trust and ambassadorship. Establish that they will be the liaison between their respective departments and yourself in order to streamline the approval process.
  2. Establish Pragmatic Parameters - As stated earlier in Roger L. Martin’s article, the end result of a strategy should never resemble a budget plan. However, you do need to have pragmatic and quantifiable financial parameters in place before allowing yourself the freedom to break things. Get the CFO, or their direct report, onboard from the get go to assist in researching target markets and solidifying your reasoning for pursuing the high value target market. This will help you develop a 360-degree view of your target market and allow for creative strategic thinking within well-defined parameters.
  3. Let Your Organization Have Nice Things - Now to "break things," after establishing relationships and building trust rooted in quantifiable reasoning it is time to break from the tried-and-true and reinvigorate your brand’s message in order to empower you highest value consumers. Allow for brainstorming the rejects no ideas at the outset and pair down the results. Then refine, refine, refine until you have something spectacular.
While it is true that many companies are quite successful at retaining consumers through tried-and-true tactics, every once in a while a break in communications pattern is necessary in order to reinvigorate an existing consumer-base or expand to a new consumer-base. Strategizing, not planning, and having the courage to break from the familiar can produce great results for your organization.

Raul Torres is a freelance graphic designer and strategic thinker who has worked with non-profits, start-ups, and agencies around Chicago. He is a Master of Science candidate in Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University. You can follow him on twitter at @tar050.

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