The 3 Phases of Strategy Building
Creating a strategy can be as complicated or as simple as you want to make it. You can have a 200 page bible of the do’s and don’ts of running your marketing, or it can be a one page scribble of notes. Neither of those versions is necessarily more useful or useless than the other. As long as you find a way to match the needs of a group of people with the product or service you’ve developed, then you’re off to a great start. And to be able to do that, there will naturally be three phases that you follow.
So here are the phases of strategy building:
I’ve shown the stages here as one following the other which is vaguely correct!
There’s a natural starting place which is to do your research and listening to stakeholders (customers, staff, suppliers, distributors etc) to get a good grasp of the current situation - the Exploration stage - but as you start the process there will certainly be some overlap of the stages. At times you'll jump forward with ideas on how you could really strengthen the business in the next 5 years, and then stepping back to do a bit more research to plug gaps in your knowledge.
Part of having a good strategy is that it’s never finished and that's why we present the phases as a continuous cycle. You’re continuously observing the present and the past (in the form of analytics) to improve your Foundation, and looking to the future to stay relevant and exciting.
If you stop observing, or stop strengthening your foundation or stop considering the future, your strategy will become weak. This consistency is what is lacking with so many strategies out there.
So let’s go into a little more detail of what’s involved in each of these stages.
Phase 1: Exploration
The goal of Exploration, is to get a 360 degree bird's eye view of the current situation, strengths to amplify and threats to address.
All the work we do in this phase is understanding our internal environment in comparison to the demands of the external environment and we do that through research, listening, observing and questioning.
You've probably heard of the SWOT analysis, which stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats which has been around since the 1960s. It’s still used to this day as it’s one of the most common sense ways of getting a good big-picture view of where your business stands in relation to the market and external factors.
We use the same concept here but make it more action-oriented. It's more of an SWT + O. Not as catchy but let me explain! We look at the areas in which you excel (strengths) and fall short (weaknesses and threats) and then turn these into positive actions (opportunities).
And so the culmination of the Exploration phase is to look closely at each of the sections of the Strategy Canvas to define all of the problems and risks to the business that can be solved through marketing:
1. Internal Strengths - what is the company doing very well in comparison to solutions offered by other companies. These must be real stand-out differentiators. To say "we're nice to our customers" really isn't going to cut it. Something difficult to beat such as an innovative and patented method of product delivery.
2. Weaknesses - areas in which your business is lacking in comparison to the rest of your market or the expectations of your customers. For example, your company lacks online presence that limits the amount of research a prospective customer can do on you. There is a risk then that the customer will go to a competitor purely because they can easily access all the answers they need from them.
3. Threats - often this relates to competitors launching new, more innovative products or creating far more noise with their marketing. Or it could be changes in the law or regulations.
The most important piece of this phase is that we want to challenge you on how you go about collecting information. Whilst it’s pretty common to take the easy route and produce a SWOT from the knowledge of your staff, we instead want to push you to make your findings much more meaningful by reaching out and engaging with people outside of your business.
This is often not done because it can be a scary thing to face home truths and of course it takes a bit more effort and time, but actually you should see this as a really exciting opportunity to dig deeper and uncover insights that you would never have known if you’d relied only on your internal knowledge, assumptions and biases.
What you get out of Phase 1:
Understanding of the market you play in and your place in it
Which customers you need to focus on and what they want from you
Identifying quick fixes and short term opportunities.
Phase 2: Foundation
The goal of phase 2 is to gather the findings from Phase 1 and use them to create a solid basis on which to build your business and your marketing.
This phase is the one most regularly skipped. All too often we go for the big campaigns and the more exciting social media and digital marketing, the fun ideas, before we actually understand what is at the core of our business that attracts our ideal users in the first place.
By putting foundation in place we create a solid identity on which to build on.
The foundation is everything that makes up the core of your business and brand, including:
Clearly defined ideal customers
The right product mix
Efficient internal processes
Consistent brand messaging that clearly outlines your reason for being
All staff know the priorities and how their contribution impacts the rest of the business.
What you get out of Phase 2:
Clear goals and direction for the next 6 months
Team buy-in and ownership
Introduce marketing efficiencies
Streamline activity for greater impact, efficient use of budget
Defined topics, messages and goals for your marketing.
Phase 3: Future Proofing
Phase 3 goal is to Define and plan high impact strategy to secure market relevance, growth and long term profitability. These are the big ticket items for your long term success.
When making investments in products, people and marketing, everything you do works towards the business you want to have in the future.
Future Proofing is about planning higher impact strategy to secure market relevance, growth and long term profitability, including:
Building strong, mutually beneficial partnerships with other strategically aligned business / individuals
Expanding into new markets
Developing a social impact strategy
Diversification of products and services
What you get out Phase 3:
Expand your horizons to reach ambitious goals
Work towards market leadership or domination of your niche.
It all leads to exciting Opportunities
As you complete the SWT, it will become obvious as to what the Opportunities are for your business and whether they fall into the Foundation bucket or the Future Proofing arena.
Quick Wins - problems that can easily be solved with little time or effort that will clearly make a customer happy or a process or more efficient.
Experiments - problems that obviously need to be solved but it's not clear exactly how and so there are a couple of quick solutions trialled to decide on the right option.
Bigger Picture - problems that need further investigation or brainstorming to figure out whether the problem is worthwhile solving and how to best solve it.
Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments section below if you get stuck on anything.
My aim is to share super practical, useful and simple tools with you to help you do more strategic marketing. Let me know what you like and how we can improve, either on our Facebook page or email me at amy [at] adaptationprojects [dot] com.