This is a guest post from Dom Boyd, Chair of the Account Planning Group (APG).
There are many reasons for strategists to start 2017 full of excitement and optimism. Not least, because this year ushers in the return of the APG Creative Strategy Awards: our very own Oscars.
For over 20 years these have showcased the smartest thinking from across the world and how it unlocks fresh creativity to revolutionize the fortunes of an organization and brand.
Our last awards were no exception, recognizing the singular power of strategic thinking that lay at the heart of some of the most award-winning ideas in the world including Sport England's 'This Girl Can', Three #holidayspam and Always 'Like a Girl'.
We hope and believe that this year's awards entries will be even more awe-inspiring, and have a theme designed to showcase the very best thinking out there: 'Transformational Thinking'.
Why 'Transformational Thinking'?
Simply, because in transformational times the best strategic thinking and doing is helping transform client's brands as never before.
There's a number of aspects to this:
1. Brilliant thinking now comes from more diverse places than ever before
Just as ideas are differently shaped in this digital age, so is great strategy which now leaps beyond traditional boundaries as never before from brand to media, social to content, design to technology...and beyond.
So we're excited this year's entries will showcase the most boundary-less thinking to date from around the world.
2. Brilliant thinking now comes in more shapes and sizes than ever before
Just as brands' mental modus operandi have shifted beyond brand strategy, so have strategists' working practices. Boundary-less thinking tackles different kinds of problems, with different kinds of approaches and different kinds of solutions.
This kind of more 'diagonal' thinking can cut deeper, acting as a catalyst for deeper brand relationships, fresh commercial opportunities and even organizational change.
This kind of thinking is powerful stuff - it's here that strategy unlocks a unique commercial 'multiplier' value, which can inspire the next generation of clients. It's vital we do - in a fast-transforming world of 'open expertise', clients are already looking for fresh inspiration from fresh kinds of commercial partners. So demonstrating the source of transformational commercial creativity has never been more critical...or in demand.
3. Brilliant thinking is now blended with entrepreneurial doing
Stronger brands are profit rockets, which unlock stronger shareholder value.
But they've never needed to act and innovate as fast - as recent studies demonstrate shows that the lifespan of businesses is becoming much shorter.
Meanwhile the top 3 fastest brand value growers in BrandZ's 2016 report are also the world's most digitally innovative companies: Amazon, Starbucks and Facebook.
So, agility and adaptability are now the critical currency of our age, as the testimony of those who weren't able to change - Kodak, Comet, Nokia, BHS et al - makes clear.
Clients have never needed to innovate, execute and operate as fast and are creating more open-collaborative, less hierarchical systems to do so.
The opportunity for strategists here is both to move upstream and adopt a hands-on collaborative approach that spreads influence across multi-disciplinary teams to bring new executional solutions to bear on a challenge, and to influence the brand's 'operating system' itself.
Transformational thinking in practice: specific examples
If transformational thinking sounds a bit scary, it shouldn't. As APG winning cases across the years show, it's what great strategy has always been about, even as its role has evolved.
And let's face it, none of us want to just tinker around the edges - that's a sure race to the bottom. So to get your brain cells firing here's some examples of transformational thinking, using past APG winners.
Entrants don't need to show ALL the traits below, but the best cases do tend to have more than one aspect, so think about what aspects your potential entry could demonstrate:
This is about defining a compelling new strategic trajectory or approach.
That could come from a change in positioning. But it could equally come from switching towards a new digitally-led content model, or designing a revolutionary brand experience, a brilliant new target insight, or something else...
Sports England 'This Girl Can' (APG Grand Prix, 2015): identified a single unifying barrier across female target audience that needed to be overcome to get more women exercising - the fear of judgment.
Always 'Like a Girl' (APG Gold, 2015): found a perfect enemy to give Always a credible positive role in social culture - the stereotypes created during puberty that cause girls to drop in confidence.
British Airways 'Visit Mum' (APG Gold, 2015) - identified the best way to get more people flying from North America was not to focus on European, Middle Eastern or African destinations but to focus on a very specific route and audience: double long-haul routes to India made by ex-pats.
This is about doing things differently to find a fresh strategic approach, or going outside the comfort zone to push the creative output into more powerful places.
Examples:Banco Popular 'the most popular song' (APG Grand Prix, 2013): identified the opportunity was not to keep trying to sell financial service products to people, but demonstrate Banco Popular's relevance by confronting a huge disempowering social norm: welfare dependancy.
Sainsbury's 'it's always worth trying something new' (APG Grand Prix, 2007): identified the opportunity to increase revenue by £2.5bn was not to keep trying to shift attitudes towards the brand but instead get people to spend £1.14 more per transaction.
This is not just about positive results (this ISN'T an IPA Effectiveness award!), though this can be a useful part of the story. What we're after here is wider proof of effect of your thinking - for example, will it /did it last for many years; of being able to charge more money for the same service; of being copied in culture; of being used in staff training; used by the CEO in the staff or shareholder address?
Ikea 'Enduring Everyday Thinking' (APG Bronze, 2015): excavated a forgotten purpose at the heart of its furniture, sustainability agenda and store layout - to improve the everyday lives of its customers. It then put this at the heart of its communications.
British Airways 'Thank you for not flying' (APG Gold, 2013): turned a traditional sponsorship of the Olympic Games into a socially-media driven national cause célèbre, which then concluded with a thank sale after the games.
This is not just about the final output, but about how you achieved that breakthrough through inspiring others to buy into it - through persuasion, collaboration and even coercion. Whatever it took.
Banco Popular 'the most popular song' (APG Grand Prix, 2013): persuaded the client of the power of it's 'fight welfare dependancy' positioning by making a 5 minute documentary.
Sainsbury 'it's always worth try something new' (APG Grand Prix, 2007): to highlight the way shoppers currently made decisions on autopilot (aka 'sleepshopping') filmed a video showing how shoppers were so absorbed in their own shopping routines they didn't notice a gorilla shopping in the store next to them.
Pimms 'A pukka problem' (APG Bronze, 2015): identified a new untapped user occasion for Pimms - curries - by interviewing bar staff, filming how beer rejecters dined in a curry house, and doing a test pop-up store in London's east end to test the concept.
Did it unlock a fresh insight or approach which resulted in new audiences being engaged; new products being developed; new distribution channels included etc.
Three '#holidayspam' (APG Gold, 2015): identified a competitive new commercial opportunity to be the only network to let customers use their phone abroad at no extra cost. This led to the creative development apologizing to non-customers for the onslaught of 'bragging' about their holiday.
World Animal Protection 'why shout to the masses when you can talk to the few that matter' (APG Silver, 2015): focused its attention only on search behaviours of those who were about to book a ticket to got on an elephant ride, and then tricked Google's algorithm by pretending to be a tour operator authenticelephantrides.com...which instead hosted content highlighted how cruel elephant riding was to elephants.
If you've got this far, the chances are you're sitting on a good entry case...perhaps even a great one.
So, don't delay. Do something about it. Start by reading some past winners. Then simply writing down a headline and paragraph which outlines what you think is your own most compelling 'must-read' story. Then do it again with alternative angles, and share it with your team or another strategist to get their builds.
And don't forget to come to one of the APG's upcoming awards events.