After 20 years of managing Marketing teams, I have seen hundreds if not thousands of marketers. It is fascinating that everyone proclaims “I’m a strategic thinker”, yet in reality most Marketers are great implementers and not that strategic. Everyone seems to proclaim they are a “strategic thinker” on their LinkedIn profile. I actually think everyone believes they are strategic or have talked themselves into it. Most people think being strategic means you are smarter.
Here are some good questions to challenge where you have been in in your career.
- Have you ever had a good 2-hour coaching conversation with your boss about how you could be more strategic and what you should do to be more strategic?
- Is your boss really strategic and can you learn how to be more strategic by observing them?
- Have you ever received training at work on how to be more strategic and how to specifically relate that back to your job as a Marketer?
- Did your company have an expressed definition of what it meant to be strategic, so that everyone could work towards being more strategic?
If you are like me, during my 20 year career at Fortune 500 companies, the answers to those questions are more likely “no” than “yes”. Yet, people get promoted because they are strategic and held back in their careers at a given level because they “are not strategic enough”. When I look back on my career, if I were honest, I would say that I was way more tactical than I was strategic. I was a great do-er. Yet, I likely believed that I was “strategic”.
I had a coffee with a person about to start their marketing career the next week. She asked me “At what level would I have to get to where my job is 100% strategy?” My answer surprised her and possibly deflated her expectations. I said “I made it to the VP level and at that point, I would guess 20% of my job was strategy, 30% was executing in a way that stayed on strategy and 50% of my job was leading and managing others”.
Strategic thinkers methodically see questions before answers. Action thinkers instinctually see answers before they know the right questions. The best minds need to be able to do both fluidly.
Strategic thinkers 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. They take time to reflect and plan before acting, helping you move in a focused efficient fashion. They think slowly, logically, always needing options, but if go too slow, you will miss the opportunity window. Action thinkers see answers before even knowing the right questions, using instincts and impulse. Any delays will frustrate them, 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.
The best Brand Leaders know when to be a strategic thinker and when to be an action thinker. You need to find your balance by thinking slowly with strategy and thinking quickly with your instincts. While pure strategic people would make for a great consultant, I would not want them running my brand. They would keep analyzing things to death, asking questions over and over, without ever taking action. Every day there would be more questions and in turn more strategies, without action. While the action oriented tactical people get stuff done, I am not sure I want them running my brand either. They would make great ads, great packaging and highly innovative social media executions but no one ever interrupts them to say “are we going in the right direction?” While it is really hard to come up with strategies, it is even harder to stay on strategy. I want someone running my brand who is both strategic and action-oriented, almost equally so.
When I am in a large group setting and I ask people “so, what does it mean to be strategic?”, not a lot of hands go in the air. When I press them, the common answer I get is “making choices” and “having a long-term vision”. I see those as components of strategy, but equally they could easily be applied to tactics. We have mapped out 7 key elements that are essential for good strategic choices: vision, focus, opportunity, speed, early win, leverage, gateway.
- 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. Challenge yourself to think of the longer term, beyond your current situation, so that you can put a stake in the ground of where you want to be.
- Focus: Alignment of your limited resources to a distinct strategic point you wish to penetrate, creating positive momentum on a pathway towards your vision. Every brand is constrained by resources—financial, people, time and partnerships. Yet, every brand faces unlimited choices they could make. The best strategy has focus, that serves to limit those choices to match up to the limited resources that you will apply. From my experience, focus is one of the hardest elements for marketers to be good at. Without focus, you can never be strategic. There has to a willingness to take risks to put your resources against the choice you believe will pay back the most.
- Opportunity: Something happening in the market, as a potential strategic opening based on trends in the market (e.g. consumer behavior, technology, competitive actions). A good strategic mind can turn data into knowledge and wisdom that allows you to see potential opportunity for you to take advantage of and help win in the market. Just like murder, strategy requires opportunity. You should always be analyzing and assessing situations in the marketplace with regular deep dives on your business to uncover opportunities.
- 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. In this modern economy, the winners are faster, not because they take random action, but that they are able to map out the series of events in a way that takes advantage of their strengths and quickly matches those up to opportunities they discover.
- 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. This is the starting point to seeing a degree of success and smaller shifts in positional power. It may be a test market validation, a breakthrough with a smaller group of consumers, a win at a certain retailer, or seeing underlying tracking scores that show the brand is moving in the right direction.
- 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. You must be the one to see how to transform what you have gained so far into a new pathway that allows you to go after the bigger win.
- Gateway: Realization point where you see a shift in positional advantage or power that allows you to believe your vision is achievable. That power may be with the consumers you have won over, competitors that you have gained against, retailers that you have shown proven success or power you see with media options that allows you to continue to exploit your early success. The goal here is to turn your smaller early win into the bigger win that resembles the original vision you set out to achieve.
By mapping out these 7 elements, our hope is that it provides a challenge to the way you think and a good conversation starter to have with those on your team that you want to be more strategic.
At Beloved Brands, we run a brand strategy workshop to help brand leaders at your company think differently, looking at consumer strategy, competitive strategy and situational strategy.
We make Brands stronger.
We make Brand Leaders smarter.™
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or phone me at 416 885 3911.