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Google Firestarters - Good strategy is Purposeful, Precise, Prosaic and Profound (view on full screen)
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Google Firestarters - Good strategy is Purposeful, Precise, Prosaic and Profound (view on full screen)

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Presentation given by Phil Adams, Blonde Planning Director, at Google Firestarters 16 on June 10th 2015. The event was entitled The Magnificent Seven. Seven CSO's and Planning Directors were each given 10 minutes to talk about "The most useful thing you have learned in your career to date."

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  • @Isabelle Quevilly Thanks Isabelle. I can probably understand why you'd question the idea of prosaic strategy. In the context of the presentation, and the planner/strategist audience, I wanted to labour the point that strategy shouldn't be over-complicated or self-consciously "creative". Strategy is the end for planners but it is the beginning for those that have to implement it. Simplicity, clarity and credibility are much more important attributes of strategy than cleverness. That it what I was driving at with Prosaic. Thank yor for taking the time to comment.
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  • Thanks Phil! Like the point of view you share, especially 4Ps. The only one I disagree with is "prosaic". I believe a great strategy can be encapsulated in a brief / visual idea. Something that anyone can understand and work with. The more prosaic it becomes, the less likely it is to create personal interpretation and confusion. I like inspiration from military officers on this who would resume their strategy by "win this town next to the river" and every soldier needs to make all decisions to attain this, "win the war" doesn't need mentioned. In the example you give - "the company believes..." slide 10, this doesn't provide strategic differentiation that should drive the business... My two cents. I wish I could have been in the room, sounds like an exciting evening !
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  • Thanks Phil! Like the point of view you share, especially 4Ps. The only one I disagree with is "prosaic".
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Google Firestarters - Good strategy is Purposeful, Precise, Prosaic and Profound (view on full screen)

  1. 1. This  is  a  10  minute  talk  given  to  an  audience  of  London  strategists  and  planners  at  Google’s  London  HQ  on  June  10th   2015.  It  was  a  Google  Firestarters  event  curated  by  Neil  Perkin  and  enHtled  The  Magnificent  Seven.  Six  of  London’s   finest  planners  (and  me)  were  invited  to  share  “The  most  useful  thing  you  have  learned  in  your  career  to  date”  in  the   form  of  a  provocaHon.  I  was  third  on  out  of  seven.  Hence  the  Htle:  ProvocaHon  3.  
  2. 2. I  felt  a  liSle  like  Pete  Best.  “Who?”  you  say.  Exactly.  Pete  Best  was  the  Beatles’  drummer  before  Ringo  Starr.   SomeHmes  referred  to  as  the  FiYh  Beatle.  He  is  a  relaHve  unknown  and  that  is  how  I  felt  sharing  a  plaZorm  with  the   great  and  the  good  of  the  London  planning  scene.  
  3. 3. Here  is  my  meandering  career  path  to  date,  by  way  of  some  form  of  credenHals.  I  studied  Chemical  Engineering  at   university,  but  never  pracHsed  as  an  engineer.  However  I  carried  an  engineer’s  appreciaHon  of  precision  and  elegant   soluHons  with  me  into  adverHsing,  along  with  an  engineer’s  fascinaHon  for  how  things  work  at  a  fundamental,   under-­‐the-­‐bonnet  level.   I  spent  6  years  at  BBH  as  account  director,  12  years  at  The  Leith  Agency  (the  last  6  as  managing  director),  and  9  years   and  counHng  at  Blonde  (a  digital  agency)  as  planning  director.  So  I  have  head  a  variety  of  roles  in  a  variety  of   agencies.  And  I’ve  tended  to  stay  in  each  place  for  a  reasonable  amount  of  Hme.  I’m  either  careful,  lucky  or  docile.  
  4. 4. Neil  asked  us  to  share  the  most  useful  thing  we’ve  learned  in  our  career  to  date.  Which  I  guess  falls  under  the   heading  of  “wisdom”.  And  he  asked  us  to  share  that  wisdom  in  a  provocaHve  manner.  So  just  what  does  provocaHve   wisdom  look  like?  Well  maybe  a  liSle  like  this.  Marsellus  Wallace  talking  to  Butch  (Bruce  Willis)  in  the  film  Pulp   FicHon.  
  5. 5. So  this  was  my  provocaHon  to  a  room  full  of  people  for  whom  strategy  is  the  job.  I  realise  that  I  was  at  least  flirHng  with   arrogance  by  saying  this.  But  it  wasn’t  my  intenHon  to  to  put  myself  on  some  kind  of  superstar  strategy  pedestal.  My  point   was  that,  for  an  industry  that  talks  a  good  planning  and  strategy  game,  there  are  a  lot  of  pracHHoners  who  don’t  have  as  firm   a  grip  on  what  strategy  is,  or  what  strategy  done  well  looks  like  as  they  should.  I  have  seen  this  Hme  and  again  from  senior,   well-­‐known  people  who  should  know  beSer  in  the    presentaHons  they’ve  given,  and  briefs  they  have  issued.  A  common   mistake  for  instance  is  the  failure  to  disHnguish  between  objecHves  and  strategy.  You  see  this  a  lot.   So,  for  the  purposes  of  this  talk,  the  most  useful  thing  I  have  learned  is  to  have  a  clear,  well-­‐honed  point  of  view  on  what  good   strategy  looks  like,  and  to  have  some  simple  models  to  ensure  that  your  strategy  is  proper  strategy  and  that  it  is  both  clear   and  robust.  The  rest  of  my  slides  are  an  example  of  such  a  framework.  This  one  has  served  me  well  and  seemed  to  resonate   with  a  decent  proporHon  of  the  audience  on  the  evening.  
  6. 6. I  think  that  one  of  the  reasons  for  strategy  done  badly  is  that  it  is  the  end  product  for  the  planning  discipline.  So   there  is  a  tendency  to  view  it  as  an  end  in  its  own  right.  Which  brings  with  it  the  temptaHon  to  try  too  hard  to  make   strategy  intellectually  saHsfying  or  to  make  strategy  overtly  “creaHve”  in  its  arHculaHon.  We  would  do  beSer  to   remember  that  strategy  is  but  a  means  to  various  commercial  ends.  This  framework  helps  to  keep  the  planner’s  feet   on  the  ground.   The  four  P’s.  Good  strategy  is  Purposeful  and  Precise,  Prosaic  and  Profound.  Let’s  look  at  each  alliteraHve  couplet  in   turn.  
  7. 7. I  menHoned  that  one  of  the  basic  mistakes  that  people  make  with  strategy  is  to  confuse  strategy  with  objecHves.  I   use  a  decepHvely  simple  framework  called  “How  can  we…?  So  that…?”  to  ensure  that  my  team  and  I  differenHate   appropriately  between  the  two.  When  you  arHculate  strategy  using  this  construcHon  it  forces  you  to  make  the   disHncHon  between  mean  and  ends.  It  also  helps  with  your  evaluaHon  framework  because  it  makes  obvious  which   units  and  metrics  pertain  to  communicaHon  means  and  which  pertain  to  (more  valuable)  commercial  ends.  This  is  a   simple  model  ensures  that  your  strategy  is  rooted  in  a  valuable  purpose  and  that  it  arHculates  a  precise  plan  to   achieve  it.    
  8. 8. Here  is  an  example  of  that  framework  in  acHon  for  one  of  my  clients.  Our  purpose,  our  commercially  valuable  end,   was  brand  health.  That’s  the  same  purpose  as  TV  adverHsing,  measured  in  the  same  way  through  the  brand  tracking   study.  Our  means,  our  digital  strategy,  was  to  deliver  adverHsing-­‐scale  audience  reach  through  social  channels.  This  is   where  precision  is  important.  There  are  a  myriad  of  apparent  success  measures  available  to  digital  comms.  This   statement  of  strategy  makes  it  clear  that  we  are  only  concerned  with  audience  reach.  And  delivering  reach  cost-­‐ efficiently  means  content  that  gets  shared.  Shares  and  reach  were  the  ONLY  things  we  focused  on  for  this  client,  to   the  exclusion  of  all  else.  And  it  worked.  This  is  not  a  case  study  presentaHon  and  I  didn’t  have  Hme  to  go  into  detail   with  results.  The  point  is  that  such  precision  and  single-­‐mindedness  have  profound  implicaHons  for  the  execuHon  of   strategy,  and  that  is  as  it  should  be.  In  this  case  a  dedicaHon  to  shares  had  profound  implicaHons  for  content  quality   control.  This  apparently  simple  model  can  be  profoundly  powerful.  
  9. 9. The  “How  can  we…?  So  that…?”  model  is  designed  to  ensure  that  strategy  is  Purposeful  and  Precise.  But  the  whole   thing  breaks  down  if  you  slip  into  imprecise  thinking  such  as  is  implied  by  the  use  of  the  word  “engagement”  or  any   variaHon  on  that  theme.  Engagement,  engaging,  engage  is  the  language  of  the  lazy.  Engagement  is  the  anHthesis  of   precision.  It  can  mean  almost  anything.  And  therefore  it  effecHvely  means  nothing.  Engagement  is  a  pox  on  strategic   rigour.  I  have  banned  my  team  from  using  it  and  strategic  thinking  is  ALWAYS  beSer  for  it.   Next,  what  do  I  mean  by  Prosaic  and  Profound…?  
  10. 10. I  am  of  the  opinion  that  some  of  the  best  examples  of  strategy  done  well  can  be  found  in  the  annual  reports  of   publicly  listed  companies.  The  primary  audience  for  these  statements  of  strategy  is  investment  analysts.  The  CEO’s   and  CFO’s  responsible  for  corporate  strategy  know  that  this  audience  is  exacHng  and  unforgiving.  Strategy  needs  to   make  sense.  Strategy  needs  to  be  credible.  And  the  analysts  need  to  believe  that  the  strategy  will  deliver  results  –   namely  sustainable  long  term  growth  in  profits  and  dividends.   This  balance  of  credibility  and  potency  is  oYen  delivered  in  statements  of  strategy  that  are  Prosaic  in  arHculaHon  but   Profound  in  implicaHon.   The  example  above  is  a  statement  of  strategy  from  a  well  known  brand.  It  is  Prosaic  almost  to  a  fault.  
  11. 11. And  here  is  the  Profound  implicaHon  of  that  strategy.  The  Apple  Store.  The  “Theatre  Of  Screens”.  Good  strategy   forces  you  to  do  things  that  sound  simple,  but  which  are  not  easy.  That  is  perhaps  a  yardsHck  of  good  strategy.  It   takes  you  into  the  arena  of  the  simple  but  not  easy.  I  read  a  KMPG  paper  recently,  which  suggested  that  strategy   done  well  generates  “beneficial  confrontaHons”  wherein  the  strategist  has  to  choose  one  path  over  another  -­‐  simple   choices  that  are  not  easy  to  make.  
  12. 12. Here  is  another  example  from  Marks  &  Spencer.  Like  all  listed  companies  its  objecHves  are  a  variaHon  on  the  theme   of  long  term  profit  growth.  One  pillar  of  the  M&S  strategy  to  achieve  this  is  to  improve  gross  margins.  That  is  preSy   Prosaic  –  “Our  strategy  is  to  improve  gross  margin”.  But  it  has  very  Profound  implicaHons.  For  instance  the  company   plans  to  bring  60%  of  clothing  design  in  house  by  2016/17,  up  from  20%  at  the  end  of  2014.  That  sounds  simple,  but   you  can  bet  that  it  won’t  be  easy.  
  13. 13. So  that  was  my  “provocaHve  wisdom”.  Save  the  high  faluHn’,  overtly  creaHve,  self-­‐consciously  inspiraHonal  stuff  for   mission  statements  if  you  like.  But  keep  your  strategy  Purposeful,  Precise,  Prosaic  and  Profound.  

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