The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

How Many Times Can You Say The Same Thing?

Late last year, this chart was doing the rounds on social media:

Bloody hell.

I mean … seriously, bloody hell.

Don’t get me wrong, strategy is important – but the amount of people who continue to think it is more important than what it makes happen, is insane.

Almost as insane as this chart.

Because as much as there are nuances in strategy … and as much as they’re are a vast amount of frameworks you can follow … the basic premise remains.

+ Where are you?
+ Where do you want to be?
+ What’s stopping you from getting there?
+ What is your strategy to achieve that?

That’s it.

It’s been pretty effective for more years than anyone doing strategy has been alive and has worked successfully across every category – from adland to zoo management.

I worked at an agency who LOVED making strategic frameworks.

It’s not that they were bad, but they were basically the same 4 things I’ve listed above – just given different headings and placed inside a nice box so it looked like it was some sort of academic approach.

It wasn’t.

Oh I get why companies do it.

They love the idea of having their own proprietary strategic system.

Not only does it let them pretend they have a truly unique offering for the market – which enables them to charge clients a premium for following – it also ensures that if employees leave, the impact is lessened because the emphasis is on the proprietary strategic system rather than the talent of the individual.

In essence, it exists to lessen the importance of the employee.

It’s the same approach that McDonald’s have for their kitchens.

And the same reason Din Tai Fung manage the process of staff compliments.

But here’s the thing …

Clients who truly get strategy can see what they’re doing.

It’s not that they won’t – or don’t – value what these companies can do for them, it’s just they don’t blindly believe all the claims of uniqueness they say.

Which is why when clients ask me “what’s your strategic approach to solving problems?” … I respond pretty much the same way every time.

That there is nothing really that different between the process we follow and the process everyone else does. The key difference is the people we hire, the questions they ask and the people they ask them to.

Still stand by that.

Because even if there was a framework that was an amalgamation of all the strategic approaches listed on the photo above, all it really does is ensuring you’re achieving a minimum standard … because the most powerful strategies are developed by individuals who see where they can be, not where a box tells them to go.

23 Comments so far
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This post is everything. I can’t wait to watch the planning community meltdown.

Comment by Pete

I look forward to the death threats.

Comment by Rob

There’s a lot of money in complication. Even if it costs you your credibility. This is a great post Robert. I agree with Pete that it will be interesting to see the reaction. Especially if it comes from the people working in companies that actively sell complexity.

Comment by George

Yep … we were talking about this last night.

It’s like the entire discipline has had collective amnesia and now believes making answers more complicated is a job well done.

It reminds me of this post I wrote a while back. Featuring Lee, even though I’m not allowed to say it was Lee, hahaha.

Comment by Rob

A colleague once referred to a process overloaded strategy deck as fee justification rather than strategic direction. They had a point. So many of these processes are designed to convey rigour without realising they’re actually showing their approach is a tick boxing exercise. And clients fall for it. Or less informed ones do. The people who want others to make the decisions they are paid to make. Or have someone to blame when it doesn’t achieve what is “promised.” You have ignited the monster in me Robert.

Comment by George

if you need 200 fucking slides to explain your bullshit strategy then you dont know what the fuck youre doing or youre a fucking client crawler. sex workers have more fucking integrity than those pricks. kill them all. every last one of them.

Comment by andy@cynic

Strategy designed to pander means it’s already tainted. And that’s before we get to the 200 slides of saying the same thing. Hahaha.

Comment by Rob

fuck me campbell. youre not just biting on the hand that feeds you. youre fucking having a banquet. you might be a planner but at least youre not one of those motherfucker planners. this is the best compliment youll get this year.

Comment by andy@cynic

Oh I know it.

Comment by Rob

This is a fascinating post Robert. Do you know where the chart referenced originated? I would love to explore that.

Comment by Lee Hill

I’ll find it and send it to you. Can’t remember off the top of my head.

Comment by Rob

That’s a faster rise in mutations than covid.

Comment by DH

more fucking dangerous too.

Comment by andy@cynic

I’ll answer your question with a question. How many posts have appeared on this blog?

Sadly, repetition is required.

Comment by John

At least Rob’s post don’t evolve. Just repeat endlessly.

Comment by Bazza

+ Where are you?
+ Where do you want to be?
+ What’s stopping you from getting there?
+ What is your strategy to achieve that?

Comment by Flora

Been reading your blog for years but decided it was time to comment because this really connected. “the most powerful strategies are developed by individuals who see where they can be, not where a box tells them to go.” Keep up the great work.

Comment by Amar

Please write more posts like this.

Comment by Remi

Love this! Can’t stand the way strategy decks and ‘strategic thinking’ are often seen as an end goal. You’re right it’s about what it makes happen, what it creates.

To that, I wonder if strategy is entirely subjective and the only people who have the right to decide if a strategy is good or bad are creative people who will be using it? For example, an inspiring insight might spark something with one person, but not another

Comment by Rich

As you know, I don’t think that agencies do strategy at all, they do marketing planning. That’s why the “frameworks” featured on the left of the diagram are much more to do with which business or businesses a particular company chooses to operate in. Businesses not markets. Agencies rarely, if ever, influence those sort of decisions.

Layer on top of that a bunch of people who have limited knowledge of those frameworks and the fact that they’re mostly acts of differentiation rather than difference (e.g. 7Ps is just 4Ps with different labelling) and you’ve got the perfect recipe for insulting and/or boring clients while failing to address the problems they want solved. Solved with tactics that is. Tactics that align with the overall corporate strategy that emanates from the Board.

Comment by John

Planners love charts. Waiting for someone to use this and put a unique proprietary spin on it.

Comment by Mamun

Original image source: “Your Strategy Needs a Strategy” book by Martin Reeves, Knut Haanæs, and Janmejaya Sinha. 2015. Harvard Business School Press. (Figure 1-3, pg 4)

Comment by Matt W

[…] a reflection of a luxury of time and learning with which my generation had neither. Anyway. It was Rob Campbell who reminded me we have taken quite the winding path to get back to saying what we need to […]

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