December 29, 2014

Why You Need A Strategy

Here at Ad Contrarian Global Headquarters, we're in our final week of year-end reruns. Today we reach back to September for this oldie about ad strategy. Next week we return, 5 pounds heavier, with new things to whine about.

In the 1950's, the western powers devised a strategy to deal with the threat they perceived from the communist world. The strategy was called "containment."

In dumb-ass blogger terms, containment was essentially this: we'll let the communist block exist but we won't let it grow through military means.

This strategy informed the decisions western powers made and gave them a basis for deciding what to do and what not to do.

The strategy had its tactical successes (Cuban Missile Crisis) and its tactical failures (Vietnam War), but in the end it succeeded in accomplishing its two primary goals: avoiding nuclear war, and staunching the spread of communism.

Today the western powers also perceive a threat. The threat is from jihadist extremists. The difference today is that the west has no strategy. Every challenge is dealt with ad hoc. There is no unifying principle that gives rise to a strategy. The result is that just 8 weeks ago we were contemplating arming the Syrian rebels, and today we are bombing them.

Because we have no strategy, we are not clear on what our objectives are or what we are trying to do; we have not defined who our friends are and who our enemies are, and the result is a confused policy with too many failures and no definition of success.

Don't worry, this post is not about politics. It's about marketing.

An analogy can be drawn to most marketing. One of the disheartening effects of the proliferation of media options has been the ascent of tactics and the decline of strategy.

Far too many brands are buying into the nonsense of "360° marketing" which is code for trying to be everywhere. 360˚ marketing is not a strategy. It is absence of a strategy. As David Ogilvy said, "The essence of strategy is sacrifice."

There are two inevitable consequences of this folly.

First, nobody has enough money to be everywhere. The result of trying to be everywhere is that you spread yourself so thin that you are not very effective anywhere.

Second is that the tactical drives out the strategic. Each media type is assigned its own objective. And as each media type is optimized for that objective, it gets a little farther from what's going on in every other medium. Like our stellar universe, the brand universe keeps expanding. Each initiative moves farther away from every other one.

There is only one way to avoid this. Have a simple strategy, be clear on what it is, and make sure everything you are doing conforms to this strategy.

And remember, it is better to do three things well than thirty things half-assed.

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