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The Top 5 Strategy Taboos

Current Forward Founder and CEO Kaitlin Maud polled members of Sweathead, a Facebook group for strategists, asking about strategy taboos. Her query led to an interesting and self-loathing collection of responses. We recapped the top five here.

1. Strategy isn’t creative Research and observations might be highly analytical, but uncovering insights is an art. Translating the synthesis of all your findings into a meaningful and relevant path on which to execute upon is a creative act. Is it the same type of creative act as writing a tv spot or designing a web page? No. But good strategy and good insights require creation. 

Capital-C Creatives in the marketing industry who’ve been lucky enough to work with talented strategists have experienced the head start that a good strategy provides when developing campaign concepts. Advertising programs and agencies still tout the benefits of a good brief with the belief that it contains that all-important golden nugget that will focus and sharpen the ideation process. The reality is that those insight-driven briefs are few and far between because strategy, all too often, stops at research and observations.

2. Strategists are all talk, no action There’s no output. No deliverables. And therefore no value. Or is there? Talking in a room can also yield no value. Whether you make great deliverables or deliver smart, actionable insights with your voice at the front of a room, it all boils down to creating value for the team or the clients you’re working with. 

Value comes in many forms, but for strategy, it should inform action. It should make your next step smarter, the campaign better, the users more satisfied. There’s not right or wrong. There’s only the data, the insight based on that data and what you do with it.

3. PowerPoint is lame PowerPoint presentations can be awesome, they just usually aren’t. Ever seen an awesome Ted Talk? Of course you have. Bet the speaker used a powerpoint. You can blame the format all you want, but it all boils down to how valuable the insights are and how they’re delivered. 

4. Briefs suck Briefs can suck. A lot of the time, briefs do suck. Templates are uninspiring. And loads of unnecessary information doesn’t spark greatness. Oodles of research and links and competitive examples don’t fuel creative fires. 

But, briefs don’t have to suck. If the strategist creating the brief is good at their job, research and observations and volumes of information turn the corner into a show-stopping insight. Briefs with a clear and unique insight serve as an amazing launchpad for ideation. Good briefs have those. It’s the one thing your brief needs to not suck.

As far as briefings being boring, they’re as boring or as inspiring as you want them to be. If you’re getting in a room to read a long document to a group of people, newsflash, it’s going to be boring. If you put in the effort to create an immersive learning event, then chances are, you might just inspire someone.

5. All strategists loooove brainstorms Well, some strategists do love brainstorms. But not all. If you’re the someone that has never experienced the misery of sitting in a room with a group of people trying to talk louder than the person sitting next to them or trying to hide under the table, then please tell the world about the amazing drugs you’re taking. Brainstorms are not always the solution.

This group ideation format can be effective when there’s a clear goal, a small group of people and a sole decision maker who actually makes decisions. Bigger groups, lack of decision making and that feeling that no one really understands what they’re trying to accomplish won’t ever make for a good brainstorming session. 

Brainstorms are also best used for generating lots and lots of early-stage ideas, not for walking away with a finished concept of anything. Often, the real work begins after the brainstorm when a person, or a very small team must take the tiny, little baby ideas and love them to life. Thinking you’ll wrap up a brainstorm with an idea that’s ready to go to market is setting yourself up for failure. Or simply being ignorant of the process that other people working on the project must do to make any of the ideas a reality.

Want more? Take a listen to the podcast If you’re craving a deeper dive on strategy taboos, check out Kaitlin’s episode of the Sweathead podcast. She sounds like a strategy boss because she is. And you’ll be treated to some great conversation about the things strategists don’t usually talk about, but should.

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