...plus ruminations on Online Marketing Summit 2009.
I’ve often said that people tend to focus on the differences between thought leaders’ approaches to strategy rather than the similarities, where the real clues to success exist. For instance, I don’t think there’s a single successful entrepreneur or business person who contend that alignment, communication, and values aren’t important business principles. As I’ve noted ad nauseum – Business principles don’t change. Applications do.
While attending Online Marketing Summit in San Diego last week, I noted that the biggest rallying cry of corporate marketers this year seems to be, “Strategy before tactics”. Since this has been something we’ve preached since the inception of eBoost Consulting in 2006, I encourage the chants. The problem here is that while everyone talked about strategy before tactics, no one taught the audience how to create a strategy.
Worse yet is the imminent trend that’s inevitable to follow: when something becomes a buzz phrase, you’ll have clueless people popping out of nowhere trying to capitalize. In this case, it’ll be individuals attempting to teach companies how to strategize when they’ve never done it before. These faux-fessionals tend to make things too complicated when simplicity exists.
“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.” - E.F. Schumacker.
If you talk strategy, know strategy. If you don’t know strategy, it’s time to learn. We’ve waited three years for the industry to recognize strategy comes before tactics, we don’t want to wait another three years for the businesses to figure out how to do it.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a lot of time to get it together. Hence, this new column: “5 Minutes a Day”. Give me 5 minutes of your time and you’ll work away equipped with a powerful business tool that you can use immediately.
Today’s topic – Strategic Thinking (using the 3-Box Framework)
One of the biggest goals of any client engagement is to help corporations escalate their thinking around strategy. This is an imperative in every situation, but especially in downturns when reactive behavior and bad decisions are amplified.
All else held equal, the best time to invest in marketing and strategic innovation is during the downturn. Regarding the former, brand reassurance is vital to establish for your consumers. Research from the past two recessions demonstrate that companies that invest more in marketing in the downturn exhibit heightened – and lasting – customer loyalty when the business cycle hits the upturn. To the latter, when the economy is in a recession, assets and talent are cheap to acquire and build.
One of the best frameworks to illustrate how well your company is leveraging downturn opportunities for upturn rewards is the 3-Box Framework (link of VG's video will open in new window), devised by one of my business role models, Vijay Govindarajan, Professor of International Business and director of Tuck’s Center for Global Leadership at Dartmouth School of Business.
To summarize Professor Govindarajan’s work, your corporation’s projects in 2009 should land in one of the following 3 boxes:
- Box 1: Manage the Present
- Box 2: Selectively Forget the Past
- Box 3: Create the Future
The ideal approach is to achieve balance across all three boxes. What’s “real” is that in typical reactive fashion, most corporations tend to focus too much of their resources on Box 1. Potential problems that may occur are (a) your competitors makes a game changing move that renders your corporation obsolete (b) you will get to the upturn in a precarious and equally frantic position – a position that is seeks to normalize, not capitalize.
The aim of the 3-Box Framework is to help organizations set strategic priorities. I’ve found it to help organizations diagnose blind spots in strategic thinking.
How to put it to work for you. Note: this is simply an application of the framework that I’ve found works.
- Step 1: Get a load of bricks.
- Step 2: Write the strategic initiatives you currently have planned for 2009 on the bricks, one per brick.
- Step 3: Place each initiative in one of three buckets representing Manage the Present, Selectively Forget the Past, and Create the Future.
- Step 4: Lift the buckets and it’ll be clear which bucket you’ve been focusing too much and not enough on.
Read the latest HBR to learn how GE uses the 3-Box Framework. And if you try this out, please let me know how your results turned out!