Getting creative with strategy and understanding the key elements
This outtake is from an hour of discussion recorded exclusively for our Pivotal Marketer Community on Facebook (where the full recording is available) sees Mike Baxter strategy expert and MMC’s Rene Power discussing why strategy is creative, the House of Strategy model, the differences between mission and vision and where to go for inspiration on setting strategy.
It’s the fourth in a series of serialisations on strategy, be sure to check all new posts as they publish (or see the recommended reading below).
I had a great conversation with a colleague of mine a couple of months ago now who has been working in some amazing brands that nobody in the chat will know about. And then sadly, I can’t mention. Working with some amazing brands and he reckoned in the 10 years he’d been working, he’d never worked in a company that actually had a strategy.
They had pieces of paper that they would say, oh, we’re going to save the world. And we’re going to make lots of money at the same time, but they had no explanation that was in any way coherent about how they were going to do that. They had become great brands despite strategy.
So nevermind how good is your strategy? That’s perhaps a question before that, do you actually have one? Or do you have anything that is meaningful as strategy?
That’s a great point and I think that’s a real… And that plays very hard to that notion of do people understand what it is and what it means. And it’s all very well having that vision, that mission statement of kind of thought the impact we want to have and who for, and the legacy we’re going to have and all the rest of it, but you’re right.
It’s great. We know where we want to get to. And we know by when, and we know what that’s going to look like, but there’s so many other things that we need to unpick and align to make that thing even have a hope of being realistic.
And like I said, in some of your opening remarks (part one here), I think too many organisations off fixated on themselves and on being number one in their space for what they do on whatever benchmark rationale they choose to pick.
Going back a few years, we had a lot of companies that were positioning on being the most preferred, the most trusted and they were using combination of net promoter scores and feedback scores to determine they were the most trusted, valued, whatever company in the world, but it’s all still so arbitrary.
It’s still so arbitrary, isn’t it? And actually what benefit does that give to the world, the customers anyway?
So I think your right. I think most, if they had an assessment would probably be found to be a little bit lacking wouldn’t they?
But you bring a book like a strategy manual along with lots of models and exciting ways to go about this stuff. There’s a bit of a toolkit there, isn’t it?
I would sure hope so. So yes, the tools I think are really important because it is almost impossible to hold enough information in your minding the right kind of way to construct something as complex as a strategy.
So you need to find ways of analysing the situation that you’re in, the organisation that you have, the potential it has, the risks that it faces, the opportunities and challenges that it might realise over the next year, two years, three years. And to come up with something that is actually a work of creativity.
And this is another, I think really important point.
When we’re talking about be devising a strategy, we’re not trying to pick the best of a bunch of options that in any meaningful way exists out there.
Most strategies certainly the best strategies create a vision of a future that does not actually exist right now.
They are imagineering a set of circumstances in the future, which they think would be beneficial both to them and hopefully their customers, their employees, and their stakeholders. And if it also has benefits for the world, the planet and the community that they’re operating in, that’s a win on multiple fronts.
Strategy is creative
Now, creating that intersection of good stuff, good things that you want to happen, you can’t just look at what is going to be there in the future and pick one of them.
You’ve got to be creative and you’ve got to be imaginative about it. So being strategic is fundamentally a creative art. It is also a science. So you’ve got to be systematic and structured and analytical at the same time.
And part of the reason I would have to say, I love strategy so much is that it is one of the few things, I think you would probably argue marketing has some of this as well, where you get to exercise those creative juices to come up with new stuff while at the same time, anchoring it really, really firmly in data and analytics.
So one for your audience, I think is that marketing is actually a pretty good place to start if you want to become a strategist.
Yeah. And certainly in all my years, working in agencies and working with clients, those roles were always highly-prized strategy planners in agencies command one of the best salaries because they are inquisitive, researchers, they are minded to look at things on conventionally, look at things outside the box and see things from a different perspective.
So certainly those careers in the marketing world are often the ones that command the best salaries because of the nature of the work.
And then obviously the outputs and the outcomes and the impact there are all of the works. So I think I think you’re absolutely right there. So for our marketing audience what sort of tools and tips are sitting within the Strategy Manual Toolkit, if you like, that they might be interested to explore?
The House of Strategy Model
Sure. So let’s just start with some quite high level ones then. So where strategy needs to fit within an organisation is within a whole bunch of other buzzwords. So we need to think about, well, those vision as mission, those values and the strategy. Now how do these all fit together?
So we’ve got a very simple model, which is called House of Strategy because it looks vaguely house like, and it’s got vision at the top, it’s got mission down at the bottom and strategy has got to be the piece that connects together mission to vision.
Now that has all sorts of issues bound up in it. So if you jump on Google and search for the mission and vision statements of a whole bunch of companies, you will find they’re all over the place because there isn’t a clear and crisp understanding of what the difference is between the two.
Mission is about now, vision is about future.
But very often mission will be, we strive to become. Well, no, if you’re striving to become, then that’s vision, that’s not mission.
So firstly, this type of structuring of vision, mission and strategy means you’ve got to be clear about what a vision is, what a mission is and what strategy is.
But assuming that you’ve got that, to be able to take your own organisations, vision, mission and strategy, and put them in an arrangement on a sheet of paper and say, does that make sense?
Here is my mission. This is the purpose of my organisation today. Now here’s the vision. This is where my organisation seeks to get to in the future. How is my strategy in enabling what I have as purposeful activities now going to get me closer towards my vision?
Such a great way to explain it. And again but we use similar models in branding terms, in brand pyramids and all this malarkey, but you’re right.
Mapping that journey from where you are now to where you want to be. And that becomes the strategy and then the strategy and the strategic partner falls out of that. That’s a really nice way of thinking about pulling it together. I think.
So just take it a step or two further, then you can also say, yeah, that’s fine. That gets me internally kind of resolved. I have got the wording for my vision. I’ve got the wording for my mission and the strategy connects the two together, but that’s not it.
We’re not done now because what we’ve got to then say as well, where to volumes come in and values should be instrumental in both constraining what I can do, but we don’t do that. That would be contrary to our values.
I want to make lots of money. Good. Are you going to exploit people ruthlessly in order to do so? No. We don’t do that we’re a nicer organisation than that. We have values that constrain how we actually work. We also have values that hopefully inspire us and enthuse us and motivate us to do stuff.
So is vision, mission, and strategy consistent with those values?
And then outside of that, we’ve got to make sure that all of this makes sense in relation to the opportunities and the risks that the organisation can foresee coming down the line. So once you start building that up, then you get a quite a coherent, hopefully quite a coherent picture. Or perhaps you find out that the vision, mission, values strategy that you have within the organisation lacks that coherence. And it needs a bit of work done.
It’s really interesting talking about some of that stuff again thinking about values not just what the things that we are, the things that we want, all of our people to embody in any customers come into contact with us through any touch points and things, but also the things that we’re not going to do and we’re not going to behave like. I think that that can constraint and inspire model’s really interesting.
Seeking inspiration on strategy
I would encourage some of the guys listening to this to go and look at some of the Footsie 100, because that all have a page that talks about their positioning, their values and all this sort of stuff.
And then just have a look at the sort of stuff they’re putting out from a marketing perspective and thing, is that true to how this company is saying it wants to be seen and perceived because sometimes there is a disconnect, they haven’t quite got the marketing strategy bit right from the corporate sort of top down.
So there is an exercise I think for people where you can bring this to life and follow that model and then start to think about what that means from a marketing perspective, from a marketing communications perspective in terms of, well, what do we say? What are our key messages? What’s the vocabulary? What’s the tone? Because they will all play back fundamentally into those values and things as well.
But you will see I’m sure some very interesting examples. I mean, I always keep an eye on people like GE and I work in the B2B space. So I follow the big boys like BP and companies of that size and the scale because they do put this stuff out there quite consciously. Part of it is of course, employer branding and wanting to be a good employer and an attractive employer as part of it is while we’ve got people buying shares in this we’re publicly listed.
So we’ve got to say the right things and be the right thing, but this is all led from strategy, isn’t it? They have a view of where they want to be and what the impact they want to have on the world and this sort of stuff, and it all plays from there.
So I think it was an interesting exercise for people that want to take the answer to go and have a look at some of your favourite biggest companies. Right now in manufacturing, you’ve got the JCBS, the Rolls Royces, these sorts of companies that are flying and having a look at them and see how do they do it? What’s their strategy? Can work out what it is from how they talk?
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Recommended further reading
- Part 1: Understanding what strategy is and how to create strategy that means something to people who have to implement it
- Part 2: Defining strategy and ensuring it is consistently implemented
- Part 3: The difference between strategy and strategic plans (and the impact on marketing)
- 10,000 hours to become an expert
- Why the T-shaped marketer is a critical thing to understand for your career and development
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