As the speed of marketing has increased, many brand leaders have become so fixated on getting things done quickly that they don’t take the time to do the strategic thinking needed to ensure they are choosing the right pathway. The best Brand Leaders know when to be a strategic thinker and when to be an action thinker.
Strategic thinkers methodically see questions before answers. They see “what if” questions before seeing solutions, mapping out a range of decision trees that intersect and connect by imagining how events will play out. Time to reflect and plan before acting help you move in a focused efficient fashion. Think slowly, logically, always needing options, but if go too slow, you will miss the opportunity window.
“Action” thinkers instinctually see answers before they know the right questions. They see answers before even knowing the right questions, using instincts and impulse. Any delays will frustrate you, believing that doing something is better than nothing at all. This “make it happen” mode gets things done, but if you go too fast, your great actions will be solving the wrong problem.
Find your balance by thinking slowly with strategy and thinking quickly with your instincts.
The 7 essential elements of good strategic thinking
- Vision: An aspirational stretch goal for future, linked to a well-defined purpose. It should push you. It should scare you a little, but excite you a lot.
- Focus: Alignment of your limited resources to a distinct strategic point you wish to penetrate, creating positive momentum on a pathway towards your vision.
- Opportunity: Something happening in the market, as a potential strategic opening based on trends in the market (e.g. consumer behavior, technology).
- Speed: Like in sports, time and space of the opportunity matter. As soon as you see the opportunity, you must act quickly before others see the same opportunity.
- Early win: Break through point where you see a shift in momentum towards your vision. It offers potential proof to everyone that this strategy will work, helping rally others–the team, agency and even your boss.
- Leverage: Ability to turn the early win into creating a momentum, that leads to the tipping point where you achieve more in return than the effort put in.
- Gateway: Realization point where you see a shift in positional advantage or power that allows you to believe your vision is achievable.
The Power of Focus
Many Brand Leaders seem to fear focusing, yet focus is essential for strategy to work for you to get more from it, than what you put into it. I once had a Brand Leader list their target as “18-65, current customers, potential customers and employees” and I asked “what about prisoners and tourists?”. I constantly see Brands try to say 5 or 6 things in their message. I see brand leaders with 74 things on their to-do lists. When we realize that every Brand has limited resources (financial, time, effort and alliances) they can apply against an endless list of opportunistic choices (target, message, strategy and activities) do we start to make choices. Strategy is really where you apply your limited resources against pressure points you know you can break through, to gain something bigger than the sum of the resources you put into it.
Focus makes you matter most to those who care the most. Don’t blindly target consumers: target the most motivated. Focusing your limited resources on those consumers with the highest motivation and propensity to buy what you are selling will deliver the highest return on investment. In a competitive category, no one brand can do it all: brands must be better, different or cheaper to survive. Giving the consumer too many messages will confuse them as to what makes your brand unique. Trying to be everything to everyone is the recipe for being nothing. Return on Effort (ROE) is a great tool for focusing your activity. Doing a laundry list of activity spreads your resources so thin that everything you do is “ok” and nothing is “great”. And in a crowded and fast economy, “ok” never breaks through enough to get the early win and find that tipping point to open up the gateway to even bigger success.
When you focus, 5 things happen:
- Better Return on Investment (ROI): With all the resources against one strategy, one target, one message, you’ll be able to move consumers enough to drive sales or push other key performance indicators in the right direction.
- Better Return on Effort (ROE): It’s about getting more back than you put into the effort. Working smart helps make the most out of your people resources.
- Stronger Reputation: When you only do one thing, you naturally start to become associated with that one thing—externally and even internally. Reputation is a power you can push to find deeper wins.
- More Competitive: As your reputation grows, you begin to own that one thing and you can better defend that positioning territory. You can expose the weakness of your competitors, attract new consumers as well as push internally (R&D, service, sales) to rally behind the newly created reputation.
- Bigger and Better P&L: As the focused effort drives results, it opens up the P&L with higher sales and profits. People with money invest where they see return.
Below is a presentation of a workshop that we run on how to think strategically:
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