If you happened to have read one of my earlier blogs, The Slow Death of KPIs & The Rise of the Customer Experience (CX), then this one will help further frame the discussion.

Recently, I had a client here at Zion & Zion who was gaga over live streaming videos and wanted their marketing efforts centered around doing this for events and programs. When I asked how they thought that supported their social media strategy, and ultimately fed back up into their over brand strategy, I got back a: ‘oh, yah.’

Clarity Is King

Over the years, ‘strategy’ has proven to be more of an exercise in focus rather than an exercise in uniqueness or complexity. We see a lot of ‘let’s do this, and let’s try that, and we need to do more of this and that’, when maybe Occam’s Razor applies best; commonly described as ‘the simplest answer is most often correct.’

While this may be an oversimplification, the better interpretation is that activities should not be multiplied endlessly for the sake of just doing. Meaning, focus on what is in the best interest of being customer-centric. For example, do your customers care for and/or find value in live streaming videos (or their content), and will they act in your benefit based on it? Consider choosing between multiple activities versus executing one or two well. This will serve you considerably better then dividing your efforts across three or four, with mild returns.

At a recent conference I attended in Boston, they may not have used the ‘strategy’ word, but the consistent theme in many of the presentations was about focus and clarity. For example, what was termed a company’s Tech Stack spoke to the notion of multiple technologies used for the same basis premise, e.g. do we really need email, text, phone, IM, and Slack all to simply communicate, or can one or two vehicles accomplish the same task? A prime example of strategy at work.

Opinions Aren’t Solutions

There is a modest but powerful saying: “plan, or plan on redoing it.” Stepping back, making the time, and thinking of how we’re serving the customer from their perspective in respect to your business offering is never an easy task – yet a critical one. One in which, when we’ve done it at a strategic level, we ultimately appreciate how it drives everything that follows in a concise and meaningful manner. And I realize that you’re saying, “I have a ‘to-do list’ a mile long.” Yet, we never seem to question our to-do list as we’re so in the weeds doing the tasks that we ‘need to do,’ that we don’t even know if that to-do list is making an impact or the right impact.

Where The Rubber Meets The Road

This is all nice advice, but let’s make this a bit more practical. Do you have a clear path on how your sales, marketing, communications strategy, and tactics ultimately feed into your tracking, KPIs, and dashboard? And how they connect back to your strategic plan? Do you look at your data regularly and ask why this is up and that is down, but leave the meeting with no plan to take action or even how to act, rather just an unclear understanding of what’s happened? According to Gallup, “Companies often discuss analytics and strategy as though they are synonymous. This approach sets up their analytics program for failure. They end up with spreadsheets and trivia, but no actual plan. Analytics is not a strategy; it is more a means to an end.”

Many times, this lack of ‘what to do’ comes from a lack in grounding. Strategic plans (not necessarily the 80-page versions that end up sitting on a shelf) are there to ground the data, to help formulate appropriate actions, and to create the ability to focus back on what needs to be understood in the data and which actions are needed in achieving the goals set-out. Thirty years in the business and I continue to hear; ‘Well, I think XYZ and I think ABC’, and 10 minutes later we have six opinions, and not one actionable solution.

Strategy As A Moving Target

The other common phrase heard around the Senior Leadership table is: “Well, we’ve always done it this way, or in the past we did XYZ.” That’s not to say that certain tactics don’t continue to work well, and that innovation or new ideas aren’t worth exploring as a replacement for outdated methods. Rather, focus back on, once again, what drives the customer to action in a positive manner to build toward your strategic plan (or business model). If you don’t know what that is, as it can change constantly (and should be adaptable) with demographics, generations, and economic factors, then insight-gathering is paramount.

At Zion & Zion we conduct primary and secondary client research and use innovation techniques. But we also constantly look at industry factors (proprietary studies) that impact various verticals. These elements drive a huge part of the strategic direction and positioning developed for each client’s business model—based very much on the voice of the customer (VoC), as they’re in control in the context of your competitive landscape.

Or, take a page from Frog Design and their approach of reorganizing around the human condition and actively reimagining the entire business around the customer, enabling employees to be the catalyst for change. Or a simpler approach might be, as outlined by Trend Watching, to merely ask the question: “Why do your customers care that you even exist?” 

When you really think about it, who’s the only person that sees the overall experience of a company or brand? The customer. Most of us are focused on the role we each play within the company and not how the totality of what we each do is experienced from the outside looking in. Therein, every organization is really in the customer experience and perception business, i.e. what they think is reality and what the customer perceives (or experiences) is not always the same. “You can say what you want about who you are, but people believe what they experience”, Jack Mackey.

Napkins Work Best

I’ve witnessed great ideas simply sketched on a napkin and have seen a complete lack of actionable clarity in 100-page plans deemed strategic. However, the ones that I’ve seen work extremely well are typically the simple ones; the ones that have a strategic intent and defined proposition, i.e. Domino’s Pizza’s is focused on one clear strategic positioning and plan of action for and around the organization that’s clearly defined in just two words: order pizza.  How are we helping, engaging customers, and making it easy for customers to ‘order pizza?’ Any employee in the organization can certainly and easily comprehend and find a way that they can fulfill this strategy within each of their respective roles—and it all feeds back up to the company’s revenue model and strategic plan.

So, when you hear an opinion, what’s worked in the past, or stare at data and dashboards, ask yourself if it’s grounded in and around a focused strategy to allow you to be decisive, such as ordering pizza.