Strategic Planning | The Brainzooming Group - Part 8 – page 8
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We are working with a client to develop a content marketing strategy for multiple business units in the organization. The first step was for our client to talk with the presidents of the various business units to understand their strategic objectives. With that information, we will be in a strong position to identify a content marketing strategy specific to each business unit’s needs.

In Search of Strategic Objectives

One business unit president described his objectives as including employee retention, improving a critical aspect of the brand experience, and addressing a significant cost area. During the discussion, he apologized for not having any strategic objectives. He reported being too focused on near-term issues to have developed any strategic objectives to tackle.

His comment prompted a question from our client about whether something was wrong with the conversation since it did not lead to identifying any strategic objectives for the business unit.

My response was the conversation was incredibly successful and yielded exactly what we were seeking. For each area the president listed, there were natural content marketing opportunities.

Strategic-Objectives

What are Strategic Objectives?

Why didn’t the business unit president realize he had strategic objectives on his list? Why didn’t he see initiatives tied directly to the brand, its people, and significant factors for its financial success as strategic?

My suspicion is the business unit president didn’t think he had strategic objectives because nothing addressed growth, innovation, or things that would only come to fruition years in the future. It seems evident that he operates under a mistaken belief about what is strategic and what is not. He is not alone; many executives labor under that misunderstanding.

3 Helpful Questions

We have covered ways to identify what is strategic using various questions and criteria. This new situation suggested a three-question exercise to identify likely strategic initiatives and objectives. Simply ask these three questions about an opportunity:

  • If we do not pursue it, will its absence be widely noticeable?
  • If we do pursue it, will its impact be widely noticed?
  • If the underlying situation or opportunity is ignored, will it create significant issues?

If you get three “Yes” answers, it is a safe bet you have a strategic issue on your hands. Two “Yes” answers suggest a borderline strategic issue. If you cannot justify even one “Yes” to the three questions, it is likely not a strategic issue.  – Mike Brown

 

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Our buddies at Armada Corporate Intelligence addressed what sections you should include in your go to market strategy plan in their “Inside the Executive Suite” feature. They highlighted ten different sections to include your strategy plan. (Note: If you want to learn more about the Armada Executive Intelligence Brief system and get in on this great publication for an incredibly low monthly rate, please visit the Armada website.)

Go-To-Market-Space

10 Sections Your Go to Market Strategy Plan Should Include via Armada Corporate Intelligence

AEIB-GraphicThe term “go to market” strategy cropped up perhaps fifteen years ago. In b-school and for years in the business world, we created “marketing” plans. Maybe consultants coined the new term. We see the difference between a marketing plan and a go to market strategy focusing on how the latter incorporates an understanding of customers, what attracts them, and what a brand does to introduce and win share with a successful product or service. (For brevity, we’ll use “product” to represent both products and services from here on.)

We haven’t found a perfect list of what a go to market strategy incorporates. The list here, however, is what we’ve identified and used. It’s a starting point to adapt from as you work on bringing new product initiatives to market:

Target Market

You need to communicate the primary targets you are trying to reach based on a product’s design, intended experience, and marketing. “Everyone” is not an answer to describe the target market. You should pursue a definable, distinct portion of the available audience. Although targeted, it needs to be large enough to deliver on revenue and profit objectives. When targeting multiple groups, communicate which one is the primary target versus others you might include in your marketing.

Brand Strategy

This isn’t just about logos, advertising, and colors. That’s only a part of brand strategy. The go to market strategy should address alignment between your employees, product quality and experience, audience communications, and everything else reinforcing your brand and how you’ll introduce and market a new product. The brand strategy sets guidelines for the go to market approach and provides a platform for new, smart ideas to integrate the product within the overall brand.

Positioning & Messaging

Positioning addresses where you want to place your product in the marketplace relative to competitive offerings. The position (and messages conveying the position to the market) should be distinct versus competitors’ market positions. Developing a product’s ideal position incorporates what the target market expects and will accept from the brand. It also includes what customers will reward through positive buying behaviors. Articulating the position is a start; the remainder of your go to market strategy addresses delivering on the position daily.

Value Proposition

A value proposition can take various forms. Two common elements are needed irrespective of the format. Initially,  the value proposition must clearly communicate how customers, through using your product, will receive more in return than the sum of what they paid and the other “costs” associated with using it. The other essential is the value proposition isn’t just a statement. It must translate to real world product purchase, use, and support experiences.

Sales and Distribution Channels

This covers the varied means of selling and getting the product to customers. It could include strategies for direct sales, inside sales, inbound marketing, wholesalers, distribution partners, alliances, affiliates, etc. It also incorporates all the elements necessary to support channels and relationships, including recruiting, hiring, training, tools, deployment, and the supply chain.

Customer Touch Points

You won’t just reach customers through the sales and distribution channel touchpoints. This strategy component addresses how the product will rely on direct and indirect online contact (web, social media, content), front line service providers, the customer service team, and any other places where you expect customers will interact with your brand and form perceptions about the experience.

Pricing Strategy

The pricing strategy must fit with all other sections to strategically and effectively support the market position and value proposition. It’s impossible to cover creating a pricing strategy in one paragraph. There’s one common trap, however, we see trip up many companies: the pricing strategy may have nothing to do with the production costs. Pricing isn’t necessarily your cost plus a certain percent added as a mark-up. You develop a pricing strategy to support the right value proposition in the marketplace; getting costs in line to support that position is a separate issue.

Marketing Communications Strategy

As with brand strategy, many executives incorrectly think this is the only part of a go to market strategy. Within this section, make sure you have the right mix of online presence and content, advertising, collateral, event marketing, public relations, and internal communication to support the product’s position and intended messages.

Supporting Technology and Systems

More than ever, technology is an integral part of developing and launching products. Smart marketers invite the IT team to the table early when planning a new product. They can help identify innovative ways to use technology to maximize the customer experience and improve efficiencies that create a more attractive cost position.

Metrics

Whether at the start or end a go to market strategy, develop and refine relevant metrics throughout creating the approach. Rather than simply including only sales units, revenue, and profitability targets, metrics should be in place to help identify progress and challenges during the entire implementation process. – Armada Corporate Intelligence

 

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The folks at Armada Corporate Intelligence shared, via their “Inside the Executive Suite” feature, a number of ideas to improve the effectiveness of rolling out your strategic planning document for the upcoming year. They were gracious enough to let us feature the six approaches since there’s still time to improve the effectiveness of how you introduce your strategic plan. We list each of their suggestions followed by our own thoughts in italics.

6 Ways to Make an Impact with this Year’s Strategic Planning Document

New ideas and strategic planning initiatives are ready to roll out, but strategies often aren’t developed with a full understanding of the audiences most affected by them. This can create a mismatch between executives sharing new strategic planning documents and those on the receiving end that are expected to implement them.

New-Year-Strategic-Planning

While some approaches for smooth strategy roll-outs could be too late to implement, there are multiple possibilities to improve the experience and impact.

  1. Create messaging focused on audience benefits and motivations

While the inclination is often to communicate a plan based on the external factors that justify the direction, it’s far better to communicate a plan in language that motivates the relevant audiences to understand how successful plan implementation helps them be successful in helping the organization be successful.

  1. Make sure the plan language SOUNDS like the audience

If you’re strategic plan sounds like freshly-minted MBA consultants put it together, STOP! Even if you don’t have time to revise all the language throughout the plan, at least make sure the shortened version you share with your organization SOUNDS like they talk. Make the language so simple that anyone in the organization knows what the plan means for them individually and what they need to do to make it successful.

  1. Give potential influencers an early look

Who are the operations leaders, sales veterans, and others that all the rest of the organization will look to for cues on what to think about the strategic plan? Spend the time to identify the list of people matching these descriptions and then invest the time to reach out and give them an early look on what you plan to share with the rest of the organization. You want to make sure they’re bought in and saying ALL the right things about the strategic plan.

  1. Shorten what you’re communicating to a single page or infographic

Do whatever it takes to come up with a one-page version of the plan for each audience you need to embrace, own, and actively implement the plan. Make it easy for people to understand what they need to do!

  1. Identify opportunities for user customization in the strategy

Don’t be ridiculous . . . you haven’t covered EVERYTHING people need to do in your strategic plan. Be upfront and identify where employees have latitude to make good business decisions and customize how they approach and implement the organization’s strategic plan.

  1. Communicate the strategy in a compelling way this year

Don’t send out a plan and expect ANYONE will read your email with the plan attachment. Just as you try to cut through the clutter with your customer communication, think about all the boring, crappy internal communications that create clutter internally. Then do something completely different and exciting to share this year’s plan!

There Is Still Time

As the folks at Armada suggested, you can pick just one of these ideas and realize greater impact from this year’s plan. 

The big strategic thinking question is, “Which one will you pick?”

 

 

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FREE Download: “Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact”

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Leaders are looking for powerful ways to engage strong collaborators to shape shared visions. They need strategic thinkers who can develop strategy and turn it into results.

This new Brainzooming mini-book, “Results – Creating Strategic Impact” unveils ten proven lessons for leaders to increase strategic collaboration, engagement, and create improved results.

Download this free, action-focused mini-book to:

  • Learn smart ways to separate strategic opportunities from the daily noise of business
  • Increase focus for your team with productive strategy questions everyone can use
  • Actively engage stakeholders in strategy AND implementation success

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Checking our Brainzooming web analytics, “free strategic planning exercises” is a frequent search bringing people to the Brainzooming website. That is no surprise. We share all kinds of free strategic planning exercises, such as these, these, and these.

Those strategic planning exercises simply scratch the surface. In fact, there are only a few exercises we use that we DON’T share with you here – all for free.

If you are an executive looking for “free strategic planning exercises,” any place you find them SHOULD provide a corresponding warning label. Sometimes we mention some of the typical warnings, but we have never shared a full list of what the warning label should include.

5 Warnings for Free Strategic Planning Exercises

Warning-Sign

  • Prior to using free strategic thinking exercises, consider the participants, organizational culture, and layout of the room. All of these, and other factors, can impact your success.
  • Keep free strategic planning exercises out of the reach of untrained, unpracticed facilitators.
  • If you experience prolonged periods of silence after using a free strategic thinking question, stop immediately, and contact a trained facilitator.
  • Participants that have already been stymied by previous deadly strategic planning sessions will require a different approach than the recommended usage.
  • Common adverse reactions to the misuse of free strategic planning exercises include fidgeting, headache, yawning, slow burns, rolling eyes, doodling, head explosions, and shortened careers.

I’ve witnessed these a few times this year where someone used our questions, and nothing happened with a group. Sure the questions are important, but ultimately it’s how you ask them.

If you want help in using any of our questions and strategic thinking exercises, let us know. We’d be glad to help you!

Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 and let’s get started!  – Mike Brown

 

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The previous Brainzooming article was on listening for strategic insights in order to not waste strategic conversations. If you understand the types of information you need to develop a strategic plan, you can often get a jump start on completing it simply by listening closely to strategic conversations for valuable input.

This is the flip of that post. If you have the right people present, and they are in a chatty mood, how can you morph the gathering into a strategic conversation?

One way is by introducing strategic thinking questions that steer meandering conversations into strategic conversations.

9 Strategic Thinking Questions to Start Strategic Conversations

Strategic-QuestionMark

Here are nine strategic thinking questions to try and spontaneously generate strategic conversations:

  1. What do we want the result to be?
  2. What will we need to get started? (You can direct this strategic thinking question to consider resources, people, ideas, support, etc.)
  3. What would be the first steps to take?
  4. What has to happen after the steps we’ve identified to ________? (Fill in the blank with “maintain momentum,” “get ongoing support from the people who will need to support this,” and “be ready to implement it when we’re done”)
  5. How will we know we’re successful at each step along the way?
  6. How will the most important audiences for what we’re doing judge if we’re successful along the way?
  7. What things can stop us dead in our tracks at each step?
  8. How do we manage around those things that REALLY seem insurmountable?
  9. What absolutely has to be in place for us to be successful overall?

Along with introducing these questions to steer strategic conversations, apply the listening routine from the previous article to identify the right snippets you’ll need to turn strategic conversations into strategic plans. – Mike Brown

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  • Increase focus for your team with productive strategy questions everyone can use
  • Actively engage stakeholders in strategy AND implementation success

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I don’t have statistically validated data for this claim. I’d be comfortable speculating, however, that a high percentage of productive strategic conversations are wasted.

What do I mean by “wasted” strategic conversations? Those are conversations where no one is actively listening and capturing important ideas and information in ways those participating in the strategic conversations (and others) can use them later.

MAYBE one or more people in a strategic conversation happen to remember what was discussed. Perhaps someone took a few notes. The notes were probably captured, however, in chronological order (i.e., this was said and then this was said), and shared that way. Chronological notes, however, rarely add as much value as they might because productive strategic conversations don’t typically take place in an order that directly supports decisions and actions.

Strategic-Conversations-Thought-Pad

Here’s an alternative approach we use all the time during strategic conversations:  listen for specific types of comments and organize them as you go (or after the fact) into strategic deliverables.

For example, before a strategic planning workshop started the other day, an internal client leader held court with the project team. They discussed a large process graphic we were about to address. The strategic conversation was incredibly rich. It had great potential for shaping the foundation for our strategic planning. That was only true, however, because we knew what to listen for amid a lot of extraneous information and idea sharing.

12 Things to Listen for in Strategic Conversations

What types of information should you listen for amid strategic conversations? Here are 12 types of input we captured during the pre-planning conversation:

  1. Things that “matter” for the organization or initiative
  2. Aspirations the organization has for changing its current path
  3. Expectations for what a strategic initiative will include or deliver
  4. Numbers defining the size of the effort or quantifying its potential benefits
  5. Speculation about strengths and weaknesses the organization faces
  6. Facts about the current situation
  7. Factors influencing the initiative’s success
  8. Challenges standing in the way of progress
  9. Descriptions of potential objectives and metrics
  10. Organizational beliefs and biases
  11. Specific innovative ideas the organization wants to pursue
  12. Criteria that will shape decision making

Simply by having a plan for what we would need later during strategic planning, we were able to turn what could have been a wasted strategic conversation into a huge head start in completing our work.

Next time you are involved a strategic conversation, quickly assess what you need from it and start listening for valuable strategic nuggets.  Mike Brown

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Do you ever get stuck with a big list of items and struggle to make sense of it all?

We have been working with a client that had done a lot of strategic planning exercises about a new initiative. They identified a wide array of ideas related to what they were currently doing to carry out the initiative. This was even before formally launching the initiative.

The challenge with using the big list of ideas they had created was they simply documented the list in the order in which each idea was identified. Because of this, the list was worthless for doing what I suspect everyone hoped it would do: provide a starting point for the strategic thinking needed to back into a definition of and explanation for what the new initiative would turn out to be.

Taking a look at the list, we started trying different approaches to arrange the big list of ideas from their strategic planning exercises into sensible groups to help stimulate progress.

6 Ways to Organize Ideas from Strategic Planning Exercises

Strategic-Thinking-List-Order

Some natural possibilities for arranging a big list could include organizing items:

  • From Earliest to Latest
  • From Latest to Earliest
  • Mostly Alike to Mostly Not Alike
  • In Groups of Items Doing Similar Things
  • With Items Coming from Similar Sources
  • With Things Creating Similar Results

Those are six starting places we often use when trying to organize big lists of ideas coming from strategic planning exercises. What other approaches do you use?

Another possibility is always combining two of these groupings to create a matrix or a table!

If you have enough possibilities and really want to group everything tightly, you could create a table with multiple groupings. That’s what we did for this client’s big list of ideas. We organized the list into two groups based on one cut of what each item did. We then broke each of these groups into three separate groups based upon them doing similar things. And further divided the list into current and future activities. With those changes, we turned the previous work into a platform to both describe the new initiative and help brainstorm ideas for what new, future programs they could introduce to support it.

Several people from the client commented that they finally had something they could work with to move forward. The thing is, they had done the hard strategic thinking and already had all the raw material they needed. Their list just wasn’t put in order and organized.

If you’re dealing with a list of ideas from strategic planning exercises, but it isn’t helping you move forward, we suggest regrouping – no pun intended. Take the time to organize and order the list in compelling, action-inducing ways! – Mike Brown

10 Keys to Engaging Stakeholders to Create Improved Results

FREE Download: “Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact”

Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact Mini-Book

Leaders are looking for powerful ways to engage strong collaborators to shape shared visions. They need strategic thinkers who can develop strategy and turn it into results.

This new Brainzooming mini-book, “Results – Creating Strategic Impact” unveils ten proven lessons for leaders to increase strategic collaboration, engagement, and create improved results.

Download this free, action-focused mini-book to:

  • Learn smart ways to separate strategic opportunities from the daily noise of business
  • Increase focus for your team with productive strategy questions everyone can use
  • Actively engage stakeholders in strategy AND implementation success

Download Your FREE Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact Mini-book

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.

 

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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