Friday, March 4, 2016

Strategy fragmentation

I have been thinking a lot about  strategy development. I am a big believer in the client owning the strategy and agencies being given the freedom to explore ways to deliver it. Last week I was at the Insights University event in Melbourne, run by Forethought Research where there was a panel discussing the Future of Advertising. One of the panelists said that more and more clients are handing over the strategy to agencies with limited collaboration. They challenged, imagine if clients spent as much time working as closely with their agency partners as they do pitching out for new ideas what benefits there could be. It struck a real cord with me.

When I deconstruct in my mind why agency and client collaboration has headed this way I believe it is driven by the following forces: 

- confusion about who owns the strategy across agencies and within businesses 
- pressure client-side to do more with less resources
- misinterpretation of strategy as being activity planning across clients and agency suppliers 
- agencies misreading who owns the strategy within companies 

These forces are always at play when it comes to strategy development. The result being it becomes fragmented between agencies competing for client attention and clients unsure of who owns the strategy. While agencies may think that clients walk away from strategy often clients are looking to fill a skill set or time gap. 

Yet what drives robust debate and effective collaboration is the over arching focus on the strategic vision. This is why it's so important that the client owns it, believes it, is instrumental in crafting it, and can articulate it. 

In my observations and experience there are a few important principles for setting down a strategy beyond the mechanics of what elements go into a strategic document. These are:

1) Articulation  - What is the strategy all about in simple terms, how will it be assessed, and how does it contribute to the overall business plan. Strategies don't have to be complex or over engineered. They need to be viable of course, however great things can happen from a single compelling vision. 

2) Courage to Go - You need to have a starting point. Strategic discussions can get theoretical, we're all aware of 'analysis paralysis'. I would also argue that often there is inertia as groups inadvertently compete for 'best strategy' layout, wording or approaches. At some point a strategy has to live so it can evolve and the applied learning will define it more fully over time.

3) Own it - Strategy only works effectively if you own it, understand it and are working towards it. More importantly if your strategy requires people to think in a new way, you need to be able to influence others by being able to explain it.  While agencies can be a strong partner for this, just like in the on-line world, we look to our peers for validation and credibility. We need to hear the language we are used too. 

4) Collaborate around it - A common goal fosters collaboration and provides the framework for testing ideas. The impact of every activity (successful or otherwise) linked to the end goal provides insight that can shape improvements in the execution of the strategy. 

5) Strategy needs to flex - Good strategies remain constant in intent yet flexibile in delivery. Being too dogmatic in a dynamic environment can yield poor results against a sound strategy. Strategy evolves over time, it's not a one off activity. 

6) Contextual - Spending time providing the realistic context is critical in defining a strategy that is fit for the business environment you are working in. Customised approaches and appropriate benchmarking provide a solid stake in the ground to work from. 

Thanks for letting me share some of my thoughts. I feel this is not just an interesting topic, it's one that is important in developing marketing leaders for the future. So it's one close to my heart.

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