Monday, November 10, 2008

OnlineSpin: Your Strategy RULES -- But, How Practical Is Your Tactical?

Last week Kendall wrote "Firepower For Convergence: The Connected Mom."

Bill Sullivan wrote in response, "Great insight, Kendall. It is has been amazing to see the 'firepower' these women bring to their communities.

Their use of technology and the convergence going on within this segment has certainly been underestimated..."

Bug menot says, "Hi Kendall. Think you hit this issue dead-on.

Just got back from the Marketing to Moms (M2Moms) conference in Chicago, and the space is very hot - especially anywhere that can get that 'connector' effect along with scale.

The grass-roots nature of this trend is great, but it also often means either a) having to live with much-reduced scale; or b) repeating work multiple times in order to find enough connectors to get scale.

It's part of what we love about connecting with the involved leaders of school PTOs and PTAs.

They were those connectors even before Twitter and blogs, and now - with electronic tools at their fingertips - they're an even more powerful engine.

And with 80,000 PTOs and PTAs across the country, there's built-in scale.

Kind of wild to watch this all happen."

Monday, November 10, 2008
Your Strategy RULES -- But, How Practical Is Your Tactical?
By Kendall Allen

On our best game, we plan for business and get to market; we move with clarity from strategy to plan to brass tacks. It all ties together. But, given the potential to miss the mark and disconnect horribly, there is an open, perpetual conversation about strategy vs. tactics. In almost any business circle, it buzzes. You can jump in on this confab almost any given day of the week. What is the talk?

Well, I'm sure you've noticed that some people truly cannot distinguish between strategy and tactics; it's all a blur, or they just flat-out jump right into the weeds and operate more as tacticians than critical thinkers. Many of those either lazy or clueless go as far as to say, "Strategy and tactics, one and the same." So, we talk about them. There's a collective guffaw among the righteous -- and the conversation that extols the difference goes from there. Seriously -- just think how many opinion pieces you have seen on whether people -- marketers, agencies, media companies -- get it or not. It even extends to the world at large --other sectors and even presidential debates. Strategy vs. tactics -- what's the difference? We love this topic.

With an emphasis on the high end, as we judge not only the presence of strategy but its quality and influence on a proper plan, it always becomes a an issue of perceived intelligence. We are in effect, evaluating another's ability to assess a business situation and lay out strategy to drive plan, program and execution. Strategic chops are your starting credentials. However, within your enterprise, sometimes, unfortunately, it's a matter of limited bandwidth to slow down and get it right. There are reasons that poor, misguided strategy happens in companies -- or doesn't happen at all. Clearly, it's imperative to alleviate those obstacles and free up thinking -- if we are serious about getting it right, and enabling our staffs to get it down.

Flipping the Question
Something struck me recently. We are often so focused on the "smarty-pants" beginning of proper strategy that we don't scrutinize the caliber of tactics themselves as we get down to making things happen. What if the question becomes, "How solid, how practical is your tactical?" If the strategy were a given -- are we sure we even know how to execute these tactics? Are we sure they work; do we know what they will impact and how we will measure everything? I mean, really how -- not kind of how.

On Giving Real Guidance to the Trenches
This issue came up for me given a recent panel topic that was unabashedly tactical: a discussion on search engine marketing how-tos on emergent media platforms. The moderator assembled a group of known industry thought-leaders, all current or former practitioners, to dish on a whole range of very specific trench-level considerations. And we did. Solid session -- especially once Q&A was factored in.

But, short of an outright workshop, where participants are able to bring in their own live work or issues for dissection and advice -- can the guidance ever really connect in this kind of forum? Just think about how frequent this kind of forum is. If I were in the congregation of information-seekers, I would wonder:

  • That trend rings true or that idea sounds right, but what does it mean as far as actual steps? You are telling me I should "think" like my consumer and measure consumer demand and query volumes on search to build a keyword list and create a portfolio. Come on - 1, 2, 3, how do I do that?
  • Testing? Tell me what to do. I mean DO! Really.
  • Do I have the right talent for this?
    ? Does my tools set have secret powers I can leverage? What are they? Take me under the hood, please.
  • Hmmmmm, leveraging learning across the media mix, let's see some very real examples. And what do we really mean by leverage? Is my plan really that fluid? All this media is bought. Are media companies really going to work with me aggressively? How can I drive that collaboration?
  • "Start the conversation." OK, I get it. I think. I am empowering influencers and giving them tools to drive my brand. This seems huge. Can we please start at the beginning? Infrastructure, means of engagement, dialog drivers, incentive, tools... how do all these elements come together to ramp up my efforts? How do I avoid creating a brand morass?

    When Facing the Client
    The other scenario to examine is the day-to-day of client and new business pitch work. As an agency, if you are a good one, you likely have a collaborative process that taps into research and insights to support the front-end and really breaks down the market. Then, as a team, with the right people around the table, you move to sound strategy to inform plan, programming, structure and ultimately media mix and measurement approaches to evaluate on metric. But, as time itself compresses, and you run out the door to present your thinking to the client, have you, as a recent trusted chief of mine said, "really tied it up with a bow?" Taking a hard look:

  • Have you thought programmatically about the tactics? Are your methods all purposefully chosen to play together - vs. a litany of actions? "And then, we can do this. And, next up -- this. Then, we'll try this."
  • Is your objective clear for each tactic?
  • If you've recommended an element, what are all the benefits of that element? Are there reasons to customize this element, and how will you do so?
  • How will you measure -- and not just in aggregate, down to the chosen tactics -- how things are working?
  • Do we know how to do, in the best possible way, all the things we are advising? How many are known skills; how many are experimental? Do we need to set expectations accordingly?
  • Have we thrown in cool stuff that is kind of hanging off the edge here? Are we sure it's on target?

    Either Way - It's About Getting Specific
    In a day in the life, at least for me, both scenarios come up -- giving guidance to a room and working with client or pitch teams. In the former, I believe your essentials are:

  • Demonstrations on-screen of things you are telling people they should try.
  • Real, well-articulated case studies that show how success was made possible or how failure was driven -- through action.
  • A core inner vow to deepen your guidance past jargon and use vivid, descriptive language.
  • If the Q&A seems light -- reach out into the audience and delve into people's day-to-day. They came to your session; they want to connect.

    In the client or pitch situation, try to:
  • Make sure your front-end is strong and that when it is time to sit down and devise program and tactics, every person at the table is aligned. Don't enable silos.
  • Make sure your recommendation ties together, and that there are no dangling, inexplicable but cool things that cannot be explained beyond their mere coolness.
  • Assure that all tactics have a purpose, a value and a place. Don't be afraid to remove errant stuff that you cannot truly validate. Save it for later.

    As we turn for a moment from strategy, and focus on the more practical extension -- the tactical -- it comes down to not being presumptuous. On any level, are all known questions asked and answered? In a market and times like this -- such accountability from top to bottom is the very pivot of confidence and ultimately, scale.


  • Kendall Allen is senior vice president of Digital Marketing Services at MKTG, headquartered in New York City. Previously she was managing director of Incognito Digital, LLC, an independent digital media agency and creative studio. She also held top posts at iCrossing and Fathom Online.

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