In our first edition of “How to…”, we are going to explore how to write a strategy. Before we start we need to recognize there are many types of strategy, examples include:
• Business strategy – who we are, where we are going and why that’s the right place
• Product/positioning strategy – what is it, who is it for and why is it different
• Communication strategy – what are we trying to say, who are we telling our story to, why will it resonate
In this ‘How to…” we will look at the common factors that unite all strategies and the steps you could follow in creating your own.
Firstly let’s start by looking at the aim of a strategy.
A strategy is a framework for a rationale. A way of rationally going through the steps to identify a direction. The most important thing for a strategy is that the data should lead the direction. It’s not a good idea to allow personal opinion or your personal feelings direct the strategy. I often say that a Strategist’s role is to get out of the way and let the data do the work. After this you need to let the accident happen. The accident is simply the moment when you read somewhere or hear someone say something that just clicks. It’s the moment when all the pieces fall into place. Many people think strategy is a linear process; but I can tell you after years of writing strategy – it’s not! The process only gets you so far, after that you need to let go and let the ‘Happy Accident’ happen.
So, let’s focus on the linear process first, then look at the ‘Happy Accident’.
I’ve broken down the process into 4 easy steps:
Step 1: Slowly going insane
This is probably the most important and fascinating part of the process. At this stage you are looking for information. Nothing is useless. Read anything and everything you can get on the subject area you are writing a strategy about. In this stage you’re looking for information that can connect to form a picture. In most cases, I look for input from prominent vocal industry leaders. You can usually find these guys on Linkedin and Slideshare. Reading opinion leaders’ points of view will reveal patterns and issues that are facing the industry. Once you are familiar with these you can start mapping out the challenges.
Once you have your core topic areas, cluster them and name them. Now go to big consulting brands e.g. IBM, Ernst & Young, PWC, Sensis, Telstra, et al. Most of these companies undertake a lot of research about the categories they put out to the market. These reports will give depth, volume and meaning to what the ‘vocal leaders’ are saying.
Now look at government sites. The government does a lot of research on the economy and current trends. This research will give you a more micro level view into the sector or issue you are researching.
As you read all the documentation, you will start seeing clusters of issues happening. Pull these clusters together and name them. You’ll find a few that fit well together and others that are random. It’s the random ones that are gold mines. Explore these. You need to become a Google ninja. There is no magic here, just pure hard work and awesome keyword searching.
Step 2: Watch and learn
Reading and researching will give you a good understanding, but it won’t give you everything. Step 2 is the most important one. Here you get down to grass roots.
This is the part I love most about strategy. I get to walk in the shoes of others and experience their world.
In Step 2 you want to hit the streets. Talk to stakeholders of the business, their customers, go out with the sales team, see the production process. At this level you want to experience the real thing. There is no formula for this step.
I can’t stress how important this stage is – especially interviews with stakeholders. These will inform you about their vision and if what they see is doable or not doable.
My only advice here is, be curious. Always ask why, listen and discover. Be ready to take heaps of notes, take photos and if possible buy and do what the locals do – if it’s food, taste it; if it’s a car – drive it. You have to experience it to get it!
Once you get back to your desk, take all the clusters you created in Step 1 and incorporate what you have learnt into the clusters. Again, you are looking for consistent trends. You are adding fibre to the research you have found. Now, however, the fibres are more ground level and based on qualitative information and personal experience.
At this point you will start to notice some key things standing out. Areas you could own, things that could make a lot of sense for you. If you don’t feel you have found some areas to explore, you need to keep repeating Steps 1 and 2. Trust me, you will find a gap, a trend or something that is logical for you to pursue.
Step 3: Study others
Now that you have found something to explore, it’s time to look at who has done it well, either within the category or outside. What you are looking for are examples of how others have explored or done something similar. This step is to gain inspiration and ideas.
Step 4: Pulling it together and letting the accident happen
In Step 4 we want to take the data from Steps 1 to 3 and create a single statement that encapsulates how we will approach the market. The statement needs to capture that single emotion we want customers to feel when they engage or interact with us. It may be trust, it may be the feeling of ‘awe’, whatever it is, your strategy needs to tap into both the logical reason and the emotional reason people buy.
We create a single statement in order to cut to the heart of what we want to achieve. This statement will act as a guide as you build your strategy. This is the hard part. This is where you need to let go and let the accident happen. I often find by walking away from the process, the answer comes to me.
Once you have the answer (the statement) – break it down into its components. Each word in the statement needs to talk to a part of the business, its products, the customer outcome and destination.
The most important part of the strategy process is two words. Is the strategy viable and is it buyable? Viability asks, ‘Can the business respond to the strategy within the framework of what it has and within a reasonable investment?’ Buyable asks, ‘Can the business afford to follow the strategy?’ In other words, if it’s going to cost millions to implement the strategy, will the stakeholders be unable to buy. Buyable also means ensuring that the strategy make sense to the stakeholders. Is it in the realm of possibility for the stakeholder?
So that’s it. You see, it isn’t a magical process. You just need to be curious, stay playful and let the data guide you to the answers.