The Future of Strategy Is Right Below the Surface

Higher Order

John Roberts John RobertsNov 5, 2019

placeholderThe Future of Strategy Is Right Below the Surface

Strategy is a discipline that makes the complex simple. It’s about distilling data points and trends into actionable insights that are easy to understand in a world that’s in constant transition. This clarity must float on the surface of all the tumult and be easily identified while all the data lurks beneath. One supports the other, and each exist together, but both are not always visible to the viewer. If there is not enough support below the surface, a strategy will not be able to withstand the weight of the creative or the battering it may get out in the world. In the end, it will likely sink.

From my early years as a strategist to becoming chief strategy officer at the agency I co-founded, Truth Collective, I’ve seen the difference between a well-thought-out, innovative strategy and one that lacks clarity or value. That’s why I brought together Adam Pierno, Director of Strategy for Arizona State University, and Cathy Taylor, U.S. Commissioning Editor at WARC, to discuss four ways in which strategy is changing and how we can master those changes for success in our business.

Strategy is a discipline that makes the complex simple.

1. The Real Customer Journey:

We all know about the funnel theory. Let’s be honest: We’ve also all made plenty of PowerPoint decks with funnels to explain our actions. The assumption is that the “customer” journey starts at the top, with the broadest reach to create awareness, and slowly, nicely, evenly drips through and trickles down until the moment of sale, and then we’re done.

That’s wrong.

Sure, there was a time when that may have worked, but the world that brands and consumers are navigating has changed. Consumers now have so many different ways to interact with brands that if a brand truly wants to stand out, it needs to be more involved in the customer journey.

That’s why our preferred methodology is the McKinsey Consumer Journey. This method explores the ongoing customer journey, from initial consideration and active evaluation to purchase and, most importantly, post-purchase. It’s the experience of the website, the follow-up emails, the additional 20% off for recommending a friend, or special deals and treats on the customer’s birthday. This method understands it’s not enough for the consumer to just buy your product. Consumers are looking for a curated experience that extends beyond the initial purchase.

A brand like Stitch Fix is a great example of a newer company that we believe embodies the McKinsey Consumer Journey. From its curated shopping experience to its thoughtful product delivery and excellent customer service, the effort and energy the company puts into their customers has resulted in a legion of loyal fans.

It’s important to create an experience for consumers that is always more than expected and draws them into a brand. Putting your customers needs first will encourage them to adopt your brand into their daily lives, making them easier to market to in the future.

2. Human Touch:

Despite all the data we’ve collected and the research we’ve gathered, there still needs to be an element of human touch. This is a key theme that WARC identifies as a way to step outside the realm of figures and technology-driven results and take an in-person look at consumer behaviors.

“We’re almost too deep into data and meetings that we forget to go out and observe consumers in their natural habitat. We tend to get farther and farther away from the people we would like to target because we’re spending so much time looking internally at data dashboards,” Cathy Taylor says.

It’s important to create an experience for consumers that is always more than expected.

Observation and interactions are still key to providing context to all the data and to creating a humanity in our work that is needed more than ever. It’s hard to overstate the importance even small interactions can have on shaping and validating our work as strategists.

In the words of Clotaire Rapaille, “Reason is an intellectual alibi.” Appeal to the consumers’ unspoken needs by observing their learned patterns of behaviors. But how do we learn these behaviors?

3. Find Your Purpose:

“Whatever perspective you’re looking from, there are things that can be fixed out in the world. It’s up to a brand how they’re going to use the skills and talents of the individuals on their teams to pull customers in to create an overall purpose for the business,” Adam Pierno says.

Younger consumers expect brands to stand for something, and those that do are being rewarded with their loyalty. In the polarized culture we’re living in today, the safe choice for a brand seems to be to remain neutral. But that is not true — The surest way of getting run over is to be in the middle of the road, and, in the case of brands like Patagonia, standing for something has been a key to their success. It’s nearly always beneficial for a brand to take risks and rise to the surface. Which brings us to our final point:

4. Use Strategy as a Creative Disruptor:

Strategy is really easy until you have to do it. Today, there’s way more content and way more needs of the consumer, which can make things much more confusing. This also provides an opportunity to use strategy to change the dialogue for a brand. What new insights could you uncover, and where could it lead the creative team? Use strategy to add fuel to your creative team, and new insights to set ambitious goals.

The surest way of getting run over is to be in the middle of the road.

The most successful strategies are ones that create the opportunity for more success, not minimized risks.

When done right, strategy is creative, thoughtful and innovative. It’s up to you to take all the complexity that’s hidden below the surface to bring forth clarity and simplicity. This allows a foundation upon which some of the most creative stories can be told. The world around us is constantly changing, and great strategists are changing with it to better prepare brands, creative teams and themselves for the future.

The most successful strategies are ones that create the opportunity for more success, not minimized risks.

For more insights and tips, check out Episode 2 of the Planner Parley podcast.

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