Strategy is a Compromise
Communication strategist and an expert in branding, high-stakes pitching and strategic storytelling
Are you compromising? You should!
The first time I heard the words in the title was just after pitching a large client with a new marketing strategy. Immediately I knew that we lost the bid — it was a checkmate in one sentence. One amazing sentence.
The man on the second row
Imagine the situation, a medium-sized meeting room filled with executives. People sitting in two rows as they don’t have a place around the main table. The brand has large image troubles and we are pitching a large campaign with lots of positive vibes.
We went for a safe bet on those positive vibes, aiming for a consensus between the execs. I didn’t like the concept, but I wanted to win, so I… compromised. It definitely worked in the beginning — people around the table started giving positive remarks one after another. Until a soft-spoken advisor with graying hair that was sitting in the back opened his mouth and uttered just one sentence: From what I know, strategy is a compromise, and I don’t feel you made any right here.
That was all he said, sharply stabbing our pitch in its heart. I hoped no one had heard him, but the body language of the top execs showed that they did hear. The round of positive reactions continued — after all, we had people who liked us in the room — but the game was over.
The ease of adding things
In many strategic discussions I participate in these days there is this “positive vibes” dynamic I have learned to despise. You will hear people say something like: “This is great, I like it, and I suggest we also say/do this ….” The reaction is usually positive and the addition easily embraced.
You can blame a corporate culture in which people care more about relationships than truth, or maybe general human willingness to avoid confrontation and to find common ground. The bottom line is that people don’t think that adding things to strategy is such a bad thing. But I believe that this fear of negativity is the core problem behind most strategic mistakes.
Imagine this kind of attitude behind the major strategic decisions of all times: “This Normandy invasion is a great idea; I suggest we take some of these forces and invade something else at the same time,” or “this Moon landing sounds great, why don’t we try to land on Mars and Jupiter in parallel!?”
You can’t growth hack your way into strategy
This ease of adding things is especially characteristic to the segmented nature of the digital era we are living in. The ease of access to various audiences, together with the idealization of A/B testing approaches, creates thin spreading of resources and low commitment to any specific approach. One audience is not responding; let’s try another. Channel A is not working; let’s go for channel B. Funnel X is not working; let’s go for funnel Y.
Have you seen startup founders looking for a growth hacker to lead their marketing effort? It’s all there in this approach — instead of working on strategy, tactics are addressed as one.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of A/B testing and growth hacking. They are great approaches for optimization. But starting with A/B testing is like starting an artillery attack by shooting in various directions hoping to hit an enemy.
Your customers want you to compromise
This is somewhat true, you might say at this point, but when you do have strategy and budget, adding benefits is a good thing. From a consumer perspective, the more, the merrier.
Well… no! Our brain cannot handle a wide range of benefits — it simply cannot connect disconnected dots. A range of features, bulleted to perfection, creates a clutter our brain simply ignores.
Recent research shows that it all comes down to the hardwiring of our brain. It can only store information when that information is connected to meaning. Only when information is consolidated into a story (with an exposition, evolving action, climax, and some moral) can it be remembered and acted upon.
[I will expand more on this wiring of the brain in my following posts. Follow me if this sounds interesting, or read the background story of my own storytelling epiphany here
Connect the dots into one brand narrative. Some dots are bound to stay outside.
Compromise is needed in ALL parts of a business strategy
Years have passed since I heard the man in the second row. Gray has become the predominant color in my hair, and the second row is now my thing. But when I sit there I don’t talk about compromising — people are not big fans of this word. Instead, I talk about finding the essence, about reducing each part of a strategy to its core, about saying no to things.
Here are some nos you need to say in various parts of your business strategy:
- Vision — it cannot contain a bulleted list of unconnected goals but rather it has to be consolidated into one coherent story that can penetrate people’s minds and motivate them. Don’t try to cover all the bullets, just those that fit in naturally.
- Product strategy — product features should only consist of those that support the main value proposition for strategic audiences. If you don’t say no to additional features, you will never achieve product/market fit.
- Media strategy — a certain platform for telling your story is always more efficient than others. Once you find it, you should consolidate your budget around it. Yes, you can have additional channels, but those should always be secondary.
- PR strategy — no journalist is interested in reading and reposting a list of benefits. If they cannot be easily converted into a story, there is no PR.
- Social media strategy — the temptation to post things similar to the popular content of your competitors is always strong. But a large online following and organic results are only achievable through a very distinct voice. Say no to anything that might compromise it.
- Pricing strategy — each audience should be targeted with a specific, well-established offering. One group will get the “most popular” option and another the “best value for money.” Simply adding a pricing option in order to create pricing continuity can be a major mistake.
- Distribution strategy — here the compromise should come from finding the most suited platforms for your brand, as opposed to all those who are ready to host your product.
- I can go on and on…
This set of steps can be applied to any business in any industry, and will stop you from falling into the dreaded “the more, the merrier” dynamic:
Find strategic hypothesis based on understanding of customer needs => build simple supportive narrative (remove all unnecessary benefits) => test it with real clients until you know it works => Fine-tune product according to findings (it has to fit the narrative, not the other way around) => define the tactics — the quickest routes to spread the narrative to the right audience => A/B test nuances and remove anything that is not supportive of the main narrative => increase budget on efficient funnels => don’t be afraid to start over from the beginning at any time.
If you need help with reducing your strategy to its essence and constructing a business story, you are welcome to contact us at info@NewSpark.pro
, or simply to ping me here.
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