Strategy = Sharp Axe

Abraham Lincoln was famously quoted with saying:

"If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend six hours sharpening my axe"

This is one of my favourite analogies for explaining the role and benefits of investing in strategic thinking to clients.

I've lost count of the number of meetings I've had in my career where the person/s on the other side of the boardroom table from me have wanted to jump straight to discussing tactics.  If they were up against Abe in this tree-chopping analogy, they'd be the ones with their blunt axes madly hacking away at the trunk, sweating up a storm, frenetically changing their tree-felling techniques as quickly as it took them to work out that the current one wasn't working. Sure, they make decent dents in that trunk, they might even snap off a few hefty branches in the fervour of their activity, but will they beat Abe?  I don't believe so.

No matter how tough the challenge (or tree trunk), if you spend the time sharpening your axe - which in marketing means uncovering the genuine customer insights, the cultural tension, the category opportunity and then framing your business challenge and product benefits in the context of these insights - then the solution you come up with will just slice right through that challenge.

Good strategy comes down to an ability to ask the right questions.

For example, consider what types of solutions your mind immediately goes to when the business challenge is framed in a way that ignores customer insight:

"In what ways can we sell more of product X to consumer Y"

You went straight to tactics, right?  Advertising, promotions, point of sale, specials...

What about if I asked this question instead:

"Consumer Y is motivated to consider buying product X when/after they experience situation Z.  When asked, the majority of Consumer Y said they would research online first, ask family and friends for advice/recommendations before considering which brand of product X they will buy.  In what ways can we ensure we are the first brand they think of or discover when they need product X, and then harness the power of recommendation to influence the likelihood of them choosing to purchase our brand over the competition?”

Do you see how that's sharpened the axe somewhat?  Rather than haphazardly trying any number of sales and marketing tactics to sell more widgets, you've spent some time getting to know your customer, their thoughts, motivators, triggers and influencers and framed your business challenge in the context of this. The tactics you go to now will slice through to the heart of the business challenge. Sharp question = sharp axe.

How will you spend time sharpening your axe today?

Photo credit : Joey Kyber