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.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Using Technology For You

Most of us feel that technology intrudes on our life, especially in the area of work life balance. There is an expectation to respond to seemingly endless alerts and messages that come through. We have a range of apps that need continuous updating. Rather than technology making life simpler it feels like it has created more distraction, even demands in our life. 

I have spent a lot of my career understanding what 'convenience' means in our busy lives. The shift over time has gone from 'options' to 'simplify'. In other words people were looking for more options to suit their needs and lifestyle resulting in more solutions and choices, which has switched to a current need to prioritise and focus. We are feeling overstimulated, unable to keep up with the latest, struggling to identify what is best for us.

I thought I would share in my next few blogs some ways that I am using technology to help simplify my life and help me focus on things that matter. What prompted all of this has been a focus on 'mindfulness' amongst my friends and colleagues. Feeling the need to be more mindful in how I go about my days, the first thing I thought was I must download an app. The reality for me though is that's where a lot of my good intentions for using technology for my personal benefit end. An app downloaded which I use once or twice. Why?.. I need an app to remind me to use the app. 

I rethought what makes sense for me. Here's some smart phone tips I have used to be more mindful in achieving personal goals. Given they are making a difference for me I wanted to pass on.

1) Use the location setting in reminders on your iphone: I have used this as a simple pop-up 
reminder when I am at home or work to do something. It works for me because it happens automatically when I arrive somewhere. I can take action at the place it needs to happen. It's a great way to set up a new ritual eg. pack gym bag, take vitamins. Even for personal reflection questions  eg.  You're home now are you present?, What did you  learn today? Or List the top things you want to achieve this week

2) Get to know Siri or use voice messages: Apart from saving time, it's quick and easy to talk to Siri or dictate to get things out of your head. You can save your thoughts and know that you won't lose them. Siri is great for setting reminders too with little effort. 

3) Use emojis, photos, music, memes: Make your personal goals stand out by using visual or audible cues. It makes them more fun. I use the location reminder at the gym when I leave to bring up a 'Wow I regret that workout said no-one ever' message with a happy face. It always makes me smile. 

4) Turn off notifications and/or use the Do Not Disturb feature: Create less distractions by managing phone notifications.  Under the setting menu on iPhones you can go into notifications and choose by app which ones you want to receive notification updates for and more importantly whether you want to see them on the lock screen. You can also put your iPhone on Do Not Disturb manually for a short period of time so you won't receive messages or you can schedule times in. You can allow calls from certain contacts, for example your family members, in case of emergencies. These are great features to utilise when you are wanting to focus without interruptions.

5) Group apps together and/or move them into the quick reference bar at the bottom of the screen: if you downloaded an app or apps you want to use for personal goals group them together and place the group along the bottom bar of your device. It will remind you of your goals as they will be in sight often. It may also help you use these, especially when you first download. 

These are just a few ways I am using my smart phone in a smart way to be more focused. I'm sure there are many other creative and clever ideas out there. I would like to hear about any other ideas you may have.  Please let us all know.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Perception is Reality

When it comes to branding perception is reality. Perception = Reality

We have a perceived image of many brands we have never had an occasion to interact with. Even to the point where we subconsciously avoid certain brands. This is our reality. 

To change perceptions often a disruption is required to reset expectations. A new reality is presented that challenges the current view.  Reality + Disruption = Changed Perception

At its most simplistic, branding is a visual way to be identified against competitive offers.  At its strongest its a set of unique promises and values that are widely recognised and consistently delivered. Internal and external views of brands can vary widely. This does not just represent an opportunity gap, it can be a  business performance lead indicator - from talent attraction to advocacy/referrals.  Strong Brands: Internal Perceptions = External Perceptions 

Some times the only way to change a perception is to get noticed more. Be a little provocative, clever,  creative, or distinctive in some way. Well orchestrated disruptions challenge us to think of a brand in a new way. The watch point of course is that it can't be a disruption without any substance. Consumers will soon see through this and the fall out can be harsh in a socially connected world. 

Just like in life, to reset how others see you as you develop you need to take some calculated risks and follow through. Brands are the same. Perceptions won't change without knowledge.  Knowledge can't be created if no-one is seeing or hearing your authentic voice. 

Perceptions are reality. You can choose to maintain or disrupt current perceptions. One thing is for certain, perceptions of brands exist in people's minds whether they are real or not. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Tone Impacts Beyond Words #authentictone

We've all experienced a conversation where it was the tone rather than the words that shaped our lasting impression of the interaction - 'it wasn't what she/he said it was the way that they said it.'

The tone of how a message is delivered is critical to how it will be received. There is a generational change in how the tone of language and design is used to communicate. Creating an interesting generational divide on preferences. 

Take for example the use of emoticons or visuals which are used as a way of framing a short statement. Essentially they are used to set the communication tone. Short text with visuals are preferable to longer text emails as a way of effectively communicating for many. 

Technology and social language memes are being used to effectively set the tone of messaging. The sharing of responsive, visual and authentic dialogue is highly pervausive,even for serious messaging. I would argue that this is not viewed anymore as an informal or superficial way of communicating. The coin is flipping in this regard.

There's another interesting messaging convention forming as well. The idea that not all information needs to be conveyed at once. That there is a place for a short attention grabbing message in one channel, that leads an audience to finding out more information in another channel. The initial tone sets the scene for a larger informational piece to come. 

It will be interesting to see how it all plays out. It is exciting to see the generational change coming through so boldly. I like the simplicity and approachability of modern messaging. The way that visuals set an emotive tone which is 'human' in style. The way that every message doesn't have to be verbose,  just honest. How it breaks through cultural language barriers. Is not a strict structure rather an authentic approach. How at its best is a positive and accessible way to communicate. Mostly I like how tone is being rethought because this is what we relate too the most.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Taking a Strategic Approach to Social Communications:

Social marketing communications are often approached as an add on media channel for messaging. Communications are posted across platforms and audiences to increase message reach. Planning and measurement is part of the communications matrix and therefore does not have a focused strategy and approach on it's own. Many organizations are passive about their approach to social channel marketing, while they are utilizing the channels they do not formulate objectives or take the time to understand how each platform in terms of audience or engagement relevance. The end result is organizations talking at audiences or using social media like a dynamic message board.

Building a strategy and plan sounds like an obvious suggestion, yet it is often not a focus. It will will change the way you 'go to market' with communications to each channel. Simply because when you view each social platform as a unique media channel that attracts a unique audience it will focus messaging.

Time and internal commitment are the key barriers, and sometimes there is internal push back with social media being viewed as 'something we need to be in. It is treated as an add-on communications tool. Recognition that it needs to be part of the MarComms mix is a positive foundation to build on.

There are areas of consideration that will assist in defining the role and approach to social communications. Developing a strategic approach will help bring others on the journey as there are still a lot of organisational skeptics, fanciful expectations around what is achievable, and lack of knowledge about how it works and what can achieved.

1) Strategy - Define a 'stretch yet achievable' 3 year social media vision statement. It must fit with the overall business and marketing plan so there is clarity on it's role and contribution. The reason this is important for social media more than other marketing communication channel is that it is still unfamiliar to many business leaders. A vision provides a guide to benchmark success against which builds credibility over time.

2) Brand, Design & Consistent Voice - Social media channels are often where  brand inconsistency and image damage occurs. This is because it's often viewed as a channel where the brand needs to change to fit in, rather than a place for the brand to reinforce it's values and personality. 'A too cool for school' mentality. 

Think about what your brand values are and what tone of voice is relevant in social media channels. Often you can be more approachable and even 'a little cooler' with brand messaging due to the nature of the medium. It's important to be true to the brand and consistent. 

One of the most exciting areas of social media is the focus on design and creativity. Thinking through design elements is an important part of the planning process. Meme's, graphics, colours and feature designs stand out. Changing design elements will engage audiences by surprising and maybe even delighting them. Even if you have a serious product benefit message or are a conservative brand, there are design elements you can vary to show the audience that you are attentive and not rigid.

3) Audience Mapping: Identify which audiences you want to reach and which channels are the most relevant to them. Take a segmented approach and remember that most audience members are using more than one channel. Also, this helps identify which audiences are less likely to be reached on-line, which platforms to ignore and which ones to focus your efforts on.

Once you've identified this, the next step is to identity which type of content and messaging the audience will be interested in. This is likely to challenge the need to blast the same piece of communication out on every social media channel you have a presence on all the time.

4) Objectives by Channel: Once you know what audiences you want to reach and which channels are relevant, it is worthwhile identifying what the engagement objectives are for each channel. Is it to build a community of endorsers? or Position the brand to a new segment?  Whether you grow, incite to action, reward, inform, interact with, utilise the knowledge of a community...engagement objective setting shape and direct your communication efforts.

5) Image vs Promotion: One question that deserves some thought is whether the key objective relates to brand image or brand promotion. While these areas are not mutually exclusive, there is a lot of community building through promotion without an ongoing community engagement plan. Brand image, values and benefit reinforcement gets overlooked. 

Not every community member will be brand loyalists or even interested, however they will take notice of good content or relevant messaging when it appears. Otherwise the pace of social is such that audiences forget quickly and look to the next brand or promotion of interest.

 6) Conversational vs Informational: As above, both styles can work together however being clear about which voice leads by channel and for the brand helps direct content development. 

 7) Organisational commitment:  It is important to consider how much commitment there is before launching into social channels. Social media content is becoming more sophisticated, so being realistic about what is achievable in terms of content generation is a smart approach. 

Is your organisation ready and committed to blogging? Are there internal resources allocated to develop videos, tweet, monitor community comments, respond to service issues or requests, or share news and stories?

Going it alone can become a frustrating task without internal commitment to generate content. 

Developing a strategy and plan will assist in getting organisational commitment.

 8) Practical tools: Producing a 'one page' matrix of channel, audience, objectives, key messaging and measures will guide annual execution. 

Identifying key initiatives on a marketing calendar as a seperate social media plan assists in giving this area a seperate focus so it is not lost in the marketing mix. 

 9) Be weary of the term VIRAL: There are high expectations around this promise and great disillusionment when it doesn't happen (which is unlikely after all given that there are few content pieces that ever go viral). By all means state it out  loudly if it is a true campaign objective with the creative input and flair to achieve it.

These are a few thoughts and guidelines. Undoubtedly there are are more.

Do you have any more considerations and guidance to share?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Breaking through the pacesetting leadership style stereotype

Early in my career I was in highly analytical roles.  I felt if I ever wanted to be taken seriously as a leader with organisational impact I needed to get out of my comfort zone and transition to an executional role. It was a compelling mind shift change that impacted my approach to so many things.

What I learnt was being action orientated is a skill, and it sometimes intimidates others. I can understand this having spent the early days of 
my career watching in 'awe' and even avoiding those that seemed to push me faster than I wanted to move.

Pacesetters can be viewed as self serving workaholics, who are uncaring. I have experienced some of this demanding dominant style of pacesetting leadership which is demoralising - to the point of being bullying. 

Most of us pacesetters are not like this. We are just trying to get things done and help others do the same along the way. Yet our motives can be viewed as suspicious and others fail to see our good intent.

The pacesetters that I admire and have role modelled myself on,  expect more of themselves than others. This is not because they think others are incompetent, but because they are self motivated and will pick up tasks to keep things moving along . They need to do, share, direct, discover, solve and create. To turn ideas on paper or in thought into reality.

This is what can be misunderstood about effective pacesetters. They navigate the way for others as much as themselves. They take responsibility for ensuring the right people collaborate or connect the dots to get to the next step. 

Pacesetters have an eye on the time. They intuitively know when things are looking like they are going to miss a deadline. It takes courage to remind others about this. Pacesetters will find the courage to say the things that others won't. It can be a lonely and thankless task keeping an eye on timelines and end goals, especially if you don't own the actions to get things moving.

Effective Pacesetters do care! Probably to their own detriment at times. They care about the integrity of their work, they care about the efficiency of processes, they care about follow through, and mostly they care about getting to an outcome. They don't walk away from actions or take a responsibility lightly. This often makes it easy for others to take advantage of them. They can be relied on. When a pacesetter drops off even half a beat it is noticed.

Effective Pacesetters are outcome focused. They will find a way to get things done and put in extra effort to gather stakeholders views. They try to identify and over come road blocks. This may make them appear highly political when in fact they are trying to positively influence and lobby.

Pacesetters can sometimes move so fast it can seem difficult to keep up with them. They action things immediately and follow up promptly. They state their opinions and move on. They tend not to dwell on things too long. 

Great pacesetters want their teams and projects to succeed.They tend not to give up and feel that people are happiest at work when they have a sense of achievement.

Finally, knowing what goes into developing pacesetting skills I know how vulnerable a style it truly is. Think about a pacesetter you admire. They may be a little annoying always driving the agenda, chasing up on things, and seemingly being overjoyed at ticking off their 'to do' list

Without dynamic pacesetters in an organisation there would be ideas without action, great conceptual thinking without structure, and lots of information exchange without a way forward. 

At some point someone has to be brave and make the move to get things started. Pacesetters do this, even when others resist creating some traction for momentum. 

This is the great irony for pacesetters who truly do care and put ourselves in this state of vulnerability. Being  outcome focussed is the way we show we care. We are looking out for rather than controlling others. After all, business success is about what gets done, and one of the main causes of frustration in organisations is activity that goes nowhere.

That's the different between effective and non-effective pacesetters - those that  are outcome focused vs those that are activity focused. There is a distinct difference.

So here's to all you pacesetters who enjoy the chemical rush of getting things done so everyone feels a sense of achievement,  who make yourself vulnerable everyday, and care enough to know that nothing happens without the tenacity make it happen!