Strategic thinkers see questions, before they see answers. Non-strategic thinkers see answers before questions.

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

Everyone thinks they are strategic. Yet, these same people can’t even explain what “being strategic” means.

There are a lot of marketers trying to move from mid-level management into the more senior roles, as either Director or VP. They tell me they are “strategic”. Of course they are. Who isn’t strategic these days? Everyone seems to proclaim they are a “strategic thinker” on their LinkedIn profile. People get promoted because they are strategic and held back in their careers at a given level because they aren’t strategic enough. Yet, has your boss ever had a real conversation about what it means to be more strategic?  Or do they just say it and you just take it? Have you ever received training on being more strategic?  I spent 20 years at Fortune 500 companies and I never received any training, tips or feedback on being more strategic. Yet, we keep saying “strategic” all the time. Slide1

When I ask people “so, what does it mean to be strategic?”, I normally end up with lots of awkward pauses and then they give me some type of answer about making the right choices. Well, “making the right choices” could be strategic, but it might be tactical as well. They tell me they have vision of where to go. That’s only part of strategy. Good strategy has vision, focus, opportunity, early wins, leverage and ability to find a gateway to something bigger. Good strategy provides some type of return (connectivity, financial, change in power, shift in position) that is bigger than the effort put in.

To me, the difference between a strategic thinker and a non-strategic thinker is whether you see questions first or answers first. Both offer extreme value to a brand.  

  • Strategic Thinkers see “what if” questions before they see solutions. They map out a range of decision trees that intersect and connect by imagining how events will play out. They reflect and plan before they act. They are thinkers and planning who can see connections.
  • Non Strategic Thinkers see answers before questions. They get to answers quickly, and get frustrated in delays. They believe doing something is better than doing nothing at all. They opt for action over thinking. They are impulsive and doers who see tasks. They get frustrated by strategic thinkers.

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The best Brand Leaders I’ve seen are a bit of a chameleon, as they are able to balance both strategy and execution–or put another way, both questions and answers. While pure strategic people make great consultants, I wouldn’t want them running my brand. They’d keep analyzing things to death, asking questions over and over, without ever taking action. Every day there would be more strategies. And while tactical people get stuff done, is it the right stuff?  I want someone running my brand who is both strategic and non-strategic, almost equally so. Great Brand Leaders can talk with both types, one minute debating investment choices and then at a TV edit deciding on option A or B. Great Brand Leaders think with strategy but act with instincts.  

For many marketers, there are things that get in the way of being strategic.

  • There is always a conflict between strategic thinking and taking action. In many companies, there is a mistaken attitude that doing something is better than doing nothing. The problem is that without proper focus, taking random action just spreads resources randomly. (time, investment, people, partners) 
  • Many marketers have a conflict with their own sales team that can take them off strategy.  Sales people are not less strategic, but place a higher value in relationship than many marketers. They have to work within the needs and opinions of their buyers and balance shorter term risk with strategic gains.
  • When dealing with agencies, Brand Leaders can lose track of their strategy by being talked into a great ad. Agencies are more emotional than brand leaders and value pride more than the brand leader—Agency people want to make work they can show off. And no matter what, the real brand that Agencies manage is their own first, and your brand second.

Slow down your thinking. Slow Thinking is logical, deeper thinking, effortful, logical, calculating and many times part of the conscious. I see too many Brand Leaders who are so smart, they go too quickly through their strategy, choosing the obvious options and because they never stop to ask the great questions they never force the deeper thinking needed for strategy. Fast Thinking is more Instinctual, automatic, emotional, subconscious and gut reaction.You should use fast thinking when doing your execution. When it comes to execution, these same Brand Leaders see so much execution risk they slow things down and over-think every part of the execution. They worry if it will work in market or even whether their boss will approve it. As much as quick strategic causes Brand Leaders to miss out on the deeper strategic issues, slowing down on execution causes you to over-think and miss out on great creative ideas.

Slide1If you want to demonstrate to senior management that you are strategic, instead of showing that you have the best answers, try showing them that you have the best questions. When you are with your team, instead of looking to tell them what to do at every turn, ask them great questions that make them think. When your agency presents creative advertising ideas, instead of giving them detailed feedback that fixes the ad, see if you can use questions to move them in the direction you want.

If you wish to be more strategic, slow down, ask richer deeper questions that challenge those around you.

At Beloved Brands, we run a Brand Leadership Center to train marketers in all aspects of marketing from strategic thinking, analysis, writing brand plans, creative briefs and reports, judging advertising and media. To see a workshop on THE BRAND LEADERSHIP CENTER, click on the Powerpoint presentation below:

We make Brands better.

We make Brand Leaders better.™

We offer brand coaching, where we promise to make your brand better by listening to the issues, providing advice that challenges you, and coaching you along a strategic pathway to reaching your brand’s full potential. For our brand leader training, we promise to make your team of brand leaders better, by teaching sound marketing fundamentals and challenging to push for greatness so that they can unleash their full potential. Feel free to add me on Linked In, or follow me on Twitter at @belovedbrands If you need to contact me, email me at graham@beloved-brands.com or phone me at 416 885 3911

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