This post is by Ethel Sanchez, Deputy Head of Planning for BBDO Guerrero.
So another year comes to a close and it is, again, performance evaluation and training design season. I think the best thing about designing a training plan for junior strategists is that it forces you to take a step back, away from the comfort of routine to once again anxiously find and fix imperfections; detached from the numbing day-to-day "one-pager factory" job to once again be inspired to imagine how things will and should be.
How is the world changing and how can we, strategists continue to lead or handhold the brands and the businesses we serve through it?
As the nature and manner of consumer engagement evolve, so should the role of strategists. And while the ever-essential insighting-story-telling skill set requirement remains, I see very specific core competencies crucial to brands and companies aiming to keep pace with change.
The new construct of strategic consumer engagement is one that is heavily data-driven. More and more new technologies are making it possible for marketers to track every location, activity or purchase data for targeted engagement. To a strategist, this means striking the right balance between targeting efficiencies and delivering real, context-relevant benefits to consumers. As it has always been in the past, there is no running away from the rigor of swimming in data, making sense of it, making connections, and in the end, humanizing it all into insights and human stories through which consumer connections are built or made stronger. We can expect tons of data landing on our plates in the next few years. We, strategists need to keep the faith and joy in spinning straw into gold.
We all need to be braver at attacking brand and business problems in new, unconventional ways. There is much to learn from design thinking – 1) the pursuit of unexplored solutions throughout the human experience; and 2) going beyond communication to deliver real, hardworking, behavior-altering solutions.
My favorite example here is the Nestle Kitkat chair. The brand didn't just keep saying, "Have a break," it provided people with the means to actually have one. In the social development world, there's the famous Font Raiser project. Instead of asking for donations for the tsunami-stricken businesses of Japan, the very unique signage letterings proprietary to the business enterprises were developed into fonts, sold and the proceeds of which were given back to the entrepreneurs so they could recover and rebuild. Recently I stumbled upon an article about utensils with colors and shapes specially designed (and scientifically proven) to help patients with Alzheimer's eat better.
To a brand strategist, this whole new innovation game means being able to lead the understanding of complex consumer behavior patterns and spotting new, unconventional points and manners of behavior intervention. It means going beyond communication to see how every element of the marketing mix can be tapped. As innovation takes more and more weight in defining the success of businesses, I believe we, strategists should strive to be psychology, technology and design savvy like never before.
We all need to learn to fully embrace content creation, and what this means to strategists is learning to explode a single-minded brand idea into multiple content themes that are of value to consumers way before there is any interest in a product or service. It is about designing content that addresses life needs, not just category or product needs. And at this point where everyone starts feeling uncomfortable, wondering, "how do we then make sure it all goes back to brand and business-building?" the strategist should be able to say "don't worry, it is one inter-connected content journey where every piece is strategically designed to build our brand and our business eventually – even if it doesn't seem like it does at the onset!"
The strategist should be able to design a way to measure progress and conversion throughout the journey. What we used to do with communication messages throughout the path-to-purchase funnel, we now use to design content journeys – the same strategic discipline, but with crucial shifts in approach from that of an advertiser to a publisher, from a marketer to a problem-solver, from a disruptor to an experience-creator. In this new world of content creation, everything is still powered by insight, but this time not just real and resonating but more proactive. Helpful. Imaginative.
They say a brand strategist is a writer, an entrepreneur, a statistician. I believe so, too. But in the next decade, we can't just "borrow" some skills from these roles anymore or be a little of everything. We need to restructure the way we think and the way we do things to be closer to the true nature of each discipline – to create and write with the reader in mind, to bravely challenge status quo with brilliant fresh thinking, to passionately bring out the magic in even the most seemingly dull or odd pool of numbers.