Swimming upstream: can Strategy move beyond the brief?

  • Date 8th March 2021
  • Author Caspar Yuill
Swimming upstream: can Strategy move beyond the brief?

This week, an article from one of our favourite strategists, Faris Yakob, caused quite a stir in our office. Speaking to the evolution of advertising over the decades, Yakob examined how this has similarly affected the evolution of strategy; how it is practiced within agencies, and how it is perceived as a discipline by marketers.

In the golden years of advertising (read pre-internet), ads used to be the only way the majority of people would come into contact with a brand. Thus, advertising, and the strategy behind it, played a critical role in fuelling brand growth. Over time, the evolution of the marketing mix has relegated the perceived importance of advertising and media placements to the bottom of the CMOs list in 2020. Yet curiously, brand strategy and market analytics top the list.

This dichotomy is a symptom of the major technological shift that has affected how we relate to the world – the internet. Pre-internet a bad experience at a car dealership wouldn’t travel very far past someone’s immediate network of friends. You really had to launch a terrible promotion, like Hoover did with its Free Flights Promotion, or publicly badmouth your own company, like Gerald Ratner did with Ratner’s Group, to do serious brand damage. Now, bad reviews can spread quickly across the internet, as can great experiences.

It may be that brand strategy has not evolved at such a pace as advertising itself. The traditional role of strategy was to provide inspiration for creatives working on the next advertising campaign. But for modern brand strategists, Yakob argues the critical focus must be how a brand interacts with customers across the totality of the brand experience. AFFINITY agrees – looking at the connected (and disconnected) experiences across the entire customer journey is critical for making a significant impact on a business. It’s a goldmine for insights about your customers and how they behave.

But there’s a larger question for strategy departments at the heart of this article. Often, planners want to go “upstream” and have greater impact on business decisions. This article reinforces that to do that, we must broaden our skillsets past just writing killer creative briefs. We need to have the ability to dig through business data, think through the customer experience from mass comms to retention, propose new, creative ways of doing things, and justify the business impact in ways that the executive of a company, including the CFO, can understand and get excited about.  

If we want to go upstream, we’d better start swimming.

 Read the full article here.

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