Adnalysis: Strategy no longer about positioning statements, platforms
by Bogosi Motshegwa (@Thinkerneur) Gone are the days when a strategist’s role was to meander through hundreds of slides, only to land on ‘positioning’ or ‘the strategic platform’ and to be criticised over a typo in the positioning statement or, worst-case scenario, to be told that what’s been presented isn’t a strategy. (The audacity — but that’s a story for another day.)
Not about the last slide
There’s more to strategy than just holding your breath until the last slide is presented. It’s disheartening that all that creatives care about is that three-to-four-word phrase that’s meant to encapsulate and capture the essence of the other 20-30 slides.
This approach used to work for a long time — and it still does — but, in today’s world, positioning statements and strategic platforms alone no longer cut it. I view this as a shortcut and a somewhat lazy approach to what strategy should be.
I use “lazy” and “shortcut” cautiously as a lot of work goes into strategic thinking or planning. We probe, we test, we put together, we pull apart, and we flip inside out in order to get to a rich, and hopefully uncharted, territory that may be the catalyst for compelling great work which pushes brand-building forward.
Defining & designing
Strategy today is about defining future business and designing future human behaviour. For businesses to thrive today, they need to plan for the future, as strategy isn’t and shouldn’t be about reacting to market conditions but instead shaping them. That’s what being a true market leader is: not having the bigger share of the market but rather a bigger share of the future.
While strategic platforms or positioning statements do have a role to play, that has shrunk and therefore a need for thinking and planning for future impact has become paramount.
I believe that any strategy presentation that truly has the business’s best interest at heart should at least initiate a conversation towards designing a brand narrative based on the future; the best way to do that is to ask: “What does the future brand ‘x’ look like?”
And the future is not 2–3 years from now; it’s 10–30 years from now. Gone are the days when we planned for the former. We need to think deeper and establish conversations that aren’t predicated on what’s happening but rather what could, and what should, happen.
Strategists are meant to shape and drive the future. As a strategist, you need to have conversations beyond ‘messaging’, and start engaging clients and internal people around possibilities and what lies ahead.
Strategists are underused in ad agencies. It isn’t surprising to see consultancy firms entering our territory with more authority and credibility, and that’s because they’re having completely different conversations with our clients. While agencies are obsessed with awards, consultancies are toiling with the concept of rewards for business.
Perhaps instead of doing competitor reviews, we should be doing ‘future reviews’. This would be a fundamental shift in mindset because what it means is that, instead of concentrating on what our competitors have done in the past, we now focus our energy and zone in on what we should be doing in the future.
We’ll never arrive where we never planned to go. Even if we arrive there, we won’t know that we are there because it was never conceived in our minds.
Bogosi Motshegwa (@Thinkerneur) truly believes that advertising can really change the world. He believes that brands, marketers and ad agencies can do even better branding building and advertising. He shares his thoughts on the industry and sometimes has unconventional views. A former committee member of AMASA, an Advisory Council member, a guest speaker and lecturer at Vega, Rosebank College and Red & Yellow, he also does speaker management at TEDxJohannesburg. He is currently a freelance strategist and has founded Thinkerneur, a brand consultancy firm, and is also the co-founder of Melanoid Éclat (for finding black entrepreneurs). He contributes the monthly column, “Adnalysis”, which analyses adland from a strategist’s point of view, to MarkLives.com.
— One subscription form, three newsletters: sign up now for the MarkLives newsletter, including Ramify headlines; The Interlocker, our new monthly comms-focused mailer; and Brands & Branding, launching soon!