Strategic Planning

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Many consultative processes that involve business understanding and improvement follow a fairly obvious 3-step path.  It starts with discovery, moves to strategy then ends with programs.  I’d like to suggest an alterative to those fairly common steps: uncovery, prioritize and motivate.

Uncovery is a little different from discovery in that it presumes much of what you need to know is known and obvious, it just needs to be seen anew and parsed. Discovery suggests you are looking for things for the first time.  

Prioritization is about deciding what’s most important to the business, consumers and future value.  You can’t be all things to all people. Anyone can strategize, not everyone can decide which of the children to take in the lifeboat. Poorly run companies try to have it all and be everything to everyone —  and they fall into the fruit cocktail category.  Lots of different fruit, everything tastes like pear.

Motivate replaces programs.  If your goal is to motivate behavior, preference or action (we love action), then motivation is how you should be thinking. Not activation. Or direct response. Or awareness. Motivation is your starting point. Programs are the language used to deliver the behavior.  If you start with the language you’ll often find yourself speaking in tongues.

No go forth and plan. Peace.


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There seems to be a trend in TV programs these days, especially heady police drama imports where directors use a good deal of white space during dialogue.  If a :60 radio spot contains, say, 120 words then a 47 minute TV drama probably contains a 3500 words of dialogue. Some of these new white space shows are quite powerful because of camera work, performance and real acting. What is left unsaid and anticipated can drive the viewing experience.

When it comes to marketing and advertising, there is very little white space.  White space is usually left to the art director – who becomes the only artist (ar-teest) in the room. Everyone else is piling on.  Strategists should be preservers of whitespace.  No unnecessary noise in the message to cover up the key selling points. Brand managers, too, can learn a thing about the power of white space. 

That which we do not say, allows what we do say to have more ballast.

White space.  Tink about it (as my Norwegian aunt Inga might have said.) Peace.

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Strategy is not a curveball.  It’s not hard to hit. It’s a fastball.  Strategy should come in straight, have a predictable trajectory and as long as you can put the bat out there and swing level, you make contact.

Here’s where things can go wrong.

  1. 1.    If the strategy, as an organizing principle, is not straight forward. If it’s malleable enough for the person who sets it to approve work product that isn’t over the plate. Strategy is not subjective.  Setting curveball strategy is mismanagement.  Strategy can change, mind you, but not on the fly.
  2. 2.    If the strategy is straight forward, well-explained and outlined, but not adhered to by team members, it’s a fail.  Strategy used as a guide, or directionally – open to personal interpretation — is useless. Carrying out the metaphor, the pitch is a fastball, but the hitter is just mad swinging all over the place.

The “s” word (strategy) is as over-used and misused as the “b” word (brand). But it is the most fundamental word in business. Peace.    


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FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) drove billions of dollars of B2B marketing communications in the 90s and was the brainchild, so I’ve been told, of IBM.   “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM” was the quiet mantra of IBM sales team and ad agencies.  With proper and subtle brand management, this notion was acculturated into the IT departments across American and beyond.  I’m not aware of any IBM ads ever mentioning FUD.

Digital Equipment may have been the company IBM was trying to scare people from; Apple at that time certainly wasn’t a factor. The strangle hold IBM had on business during that period, thanks to FUD, was broken by Dell when Michael Dell opened up the computer and showed us it was a bunch of simple parts — worth a good deal less than the white shirts at IBM were offering. Plus Dell took advantage of a technological breakthrough – the US Postal Service – to change the game by selling direct to the IT dept. For those old enough to remember, Dell boxes were flying in and out of IT depts. across the country.  It was Christmas every day for techies.  The fear was gone. Fast forward a few years and IBM sells its PC business and does some serious brand retrenchment, tossing “the fear” in favor of a more positive “building good systems” approach. IBM is crazy back.

Strategic planners need to understand fear, but they shouldn’t use it. Leave it to Disney and Comcast and CBS to deliver our required dose of fear. (NBC…Grimm? Really?) Plan strategy using the end-game of hope and deliverance and well-earned reward. Those are things in which it is worth investing. Peace!

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