What It Takes To Close The Gap Between Strategy And Planning

Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Julia Amorim, CEO at MediaNet.

As a general waging battles in ancient China, the philosopher and writer Sun Tzu would never had come across the terms “marketing” or “advertising,” yet his thoughts on strategy and planning evoke the same disconnect happening across brands and agencies in 2018.

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory,” he wrote. “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

We all know about the noise. A new marketing channel emerges, such as augmented reality, and suddenly there is a rush to be one of the first demonstrating its effectiveness in reaching consumers. Or there is a tool, such as artificial intelligence, that becomes such a buzzword that companies try to figure out how to implement it before they can even properly define it.

Being “defeated” in a marketing context doesn’t have the life-ending consequences that you’d face fighting in Sun Tzu’s army, but it could cost you your job. Even a “slow route to victory” may seem to take too long for CEOs, clients and other stakeholders.

When strategy and planning are developed in tandem, however, the opposite happens: A brand can rise above the noise and move more quickly and victoriously toward its objective.

It’s not always easy to step back and develop a strategy when you’re competing for attention among other brands and trying to meet a given set of deliverables, of course. Sometimes the discussion might begin in response to a specific ask.

“Let’s set up a series of ads around this,” someone might say, for example. “We should go all-out with a paid social campaign,” someone else might counter.

Instead of choosing sides, this is an opportunity to make the distinction between planning around a certain set of tactics and an actual strategy. Roger Martin summed it up well in an article from the Harvard Business Review:

“Strategy is not planning – it is the making of an integrated set of choices that collectively position the firm in its industry so as to create sustainable advantage relative to competition and deliver superior financial returns. … It is one integrated set of choices: what is our winning aspiration; where will we play; how will we win; what capabilities need to be in place[?]”

The shift to agile marketing

A marketing strategy that begins this way sets up the team to provide better investment opportunities, more effective programs and, perhaps most importantly, an ability to adjust plans in a more agile way when necessary.

Plans might have been more fixed, for example, in the days before digital channels emerged. You made a TV spot and planned the campaign to run next to specific shows or time slots, or you put up billboards over a period of weeks or months. Online advertising, on the other hand, demands a more fluid and responsive approach.

Planning vs. execution, creative vs. medium

Let’s assume you have a solid marketing strategy in place, and in the planning process based on that strategy, you identify some possible channels or media that might make sense. How do you ensure you develop creative that’s appropriate and will engage the audience?

This is where execution makes all the difference. Recent neuroscience research from Nielsen, for example, distinguishes between creative that’s developed for “highly immersive platforms” such as TV or events like Olympics and “highly flexible platforms” such as smartphones and tablets. For the latter, the creative might need to be much shorter – as in six seconds – to deliver a more immediate brand impression and strong message, which must be specifically tailored. Simply recutting or repurposing existing creative may not be enough.

“Tap into the full spectrum of consumers’ responses – both conscious and non-conscious – to uncover areas of emotional impact, visual hot spots, blind spots and inform the strongest possible creative development,” Nielsen suggests, adding that, in flexible experiences, “[u]nless the ad is for a product the consumer already knows that he or she wants at that moment and it takes up enough of the screen to get noticed without turning the viewer ‘off,’ it cannot generate the same level of connection.”

The upfront work of developing the right strategy and breaking down the silos in groups responsible for planning will also help brands avoid turning to tactics that introduce complexity and offer little in the way of return on investment.

Should you be developing creative for virtual reality headsets or voice search? Should the campaign be developed not only with prospecting in mind but integrating an existing audience base? Should you leverage social and search to amplify the campaign? These are all questions where planning decisions can ladder back to the strategy and clear answers can be made with confidence.

Closing the disconnect between strategy and planning will ensure marketers avoid “shiny object syndrome.” It will save them money and time. It will also lead to better collaboration within the team and with other stakeholders who will see campaigns aren’t chasing cool ideas but are based on clear thinking.

As Sun Tzu might say, you’re choosing your battles carefully in the pursuit of the most likely wins.

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