The Ultimate Guide to Strategic Thinking, Part 2
By: Lindsay Martin-Bilbrey, CMP
9 min read5/12/21 6:30 AM
“The key to becoming relevant in the marketplace is to add value. The more value you can add the more relevant you will become. ”― Germany Kent
In our previous post, we laid down the framework for all things related to understanding the basics of strategic thinking. An ultimate guide for strategic thinking would be nothing without providing relevant applications that you can implement in your career.
For the first part, we covered the following:
What’s the difference between Strategic Planning and Strategic Thinking?
What is Strategic Thinking?
For part two, we’ll be focused on applying the knowledge of strategic thinking by looking at the following:
Why Strategic Thinking is Important
What are the Components of Strategic Thinking?
Moving From Thinking to Action
All this information is compiled in a nifty guide along with bonus content, the must-have characteristics of every strategic thinker, below!
Why is Strategic Thinking Important?
The competitive landscape can change quickly for any brand. New trends may emerge quickly and require you to take advantage of them or fall behind. By incorporating everyday strategic thinking into your work and life routines, you’ll become more skilled at anticipating, forecasting, and capitalizing on opportunities.
On an individual level, thinking strategically allows you to make significant contributions in your role, become more essential to your brand, and prove that you’re ready to control greater resources.
What are the Components of Strategic Thinking?
So now what? We’ve told you that you can’t use your spreadsheets; you shouldn’t only rely on costs or a framework that you’ve used or your boss or normal strategic facilitator holds dear. Where do you go?
If you’re working on your brand’s marketing, creative, or events strategy, these four skills are a must:
- Decision making
- Leading through change
As you create a strategic direction or plan, you’ll answer the following questions:
- What is the actual customer pain you’re trying to solve?
- What are the empathies around that pain that we should be cognizant of?
- How does our value proposition relate to helping create a better experience as we implement a solution for the pain?
Plus, you'll analyze the following components:
- Business opportunities and vulnerabilities
- Feasible of each idea or risk
- The costs associated with each move you are considering
- The likelihood that various tactics will be effective
- Methods of aligning objectives with the overall plan
- The effects of competitors, suppliers, customers, and new substitutes might have on your strategic plans
As you discover obstacles during the planning process, you’ll problem-solve by:
- Gathering relevant information about the problem
- Clearly defining the problem from a strategic point of view
- Brainstorming possible solutions
- Imagining further challenges and how to overcome them
- Delegating assignments of various parts of this strategy to key associates
Strategic thinking requires agility and decisiveness in choosing a plan and sticking with it. However, you have to be aware of new, more promising opportunities. It is a balancing act between consistency and flexibility.
You and your team will uncover what scenarios are best to:
- Make sure decisions are well-informed by thorough research
- Choose objectives and accompanying metrics
- Prioritize objectives
- Follow a standard decision-making process
- Build consensus, when necessary
- Communicate, communicate, and then communicate some more
- Then actually have to put the action plan into action
- Report back on results from the choice you made
Simply put, strategic thinking in action is key to accomplishing a solid strategy.
Note, all of these things are analyzing, assessing, uncovering, discovering...none of these things are doing. They are thinking of ways to do.
When we think strategically, we focus more on problem-solving, develop clearer strategies, and promote proactive behavior. Plus, we develop a stronger bond with employees, attendees, clients, prospects, partners who feel more involved and empowered.
Absent of thinking strategically, we become stagnant.
We lose focus of organizational outcomes and will not remain competitive. Planning—the lifeblood of positive outcomes—is best facilitated with strategic thinking.
Moving from Thinking to Action
Marketing or events professionals need to develop an action thinking approach to working with stakeholders. In doing so, we gain a better understanding of business objectives and user goals and can translate these needs into meaningful action solutions.
Strategy and action work together to create better experiences for the customer, prospect, or participants.
From a tactical perspective, strategic thinking encourages marketing or events professionals to look at the action process as a problem-solving mechanism. They start by identifying the problem and working with both the client and the team to solve that problem.
It’s a “connecting the dots” approach to implementing a tactical solution. In this section, we want to show you how to implement strategic thinking in action but also how to improve your strategic thinking.
How to Implement Strategic Thinking in Action
Creating and executing a strategy is both art and science. Much like tactical execution, a strategic mindset is practiced and improved upon over time. Here is a useful structure for implementing strategic thinking in action:
- Assess - Gain an understanding of the project in a holistic way, including an analysis of constraints, opportunities, and seeing the bigger picture through the lens of the business.
- Understand - Make sense of the project in terms of the action and business goals. Tie the project’s outcome back to business objectives and show key results that will help support those objectives.
- Learn - Formulate the elements of the strategy by planning tasks and milestones that directly support the core objectives. Ask a lot of strategic questions, like “Who are we actioning this product for?”
- Execute - Act on the strategy and make sure to include the entire team. Strategic thinking works best in collaboration.
- Check - As tasks are accomplished during the action process, it’s a good idea to reassess their effectiveness in achieving the goals and outcomes intended.
Strategic thinking is a process that may seem a bit uncomfortable at first, but with a bit of persistence, it will create a stronger bond between the client and the action team, showing the value of action in an entirely new light.
Creating Your Own Strategic Thinking & Action Focused Implementation
Strategic thinking takes a tactical and action focused mindset. At first, the concept of strategic thinking will seem at odds with conventional tactician practice. It might even seem that a more effective strategic planning framework is to stick with the “tried and true” methodologies that have been always used. However, implementing your own strategic thinking in action implementation can be done without having to sacrifice results.
In fact, the benefits far outweigh the negatives. The marketing or events professionals who take this strategic approach typically see more:
- Efficiency - When we apply a strategic mindset to action, projects are better aligned with customer needs and there will be fewer revisions, less wasted time, and less wasted effort on actions that simply don’t work.
- Collaboration - Strategic thinking helps the entire team aim for a common goal, which means working together, as opposed to developing a myopic view of the outcome and working separately.
- Better Relationships - It is likely that a marketing or event team leader will involve strategic thinking if the brand or client shares the same mindset. The resulting action will be in closer alignment with business goals, and stronger relationships will be fostered as a result of strategic thinking’s cohesive nature.
- Longevity & Loyalty - Strategic thinking can foster an action strategy that leads all stakeholders to see that you’ve placed them at the center of the experience, rather than costs, revenue, or the brand.
An Example of Strategic Thinking in Action
Without Strategic Thinking
A client or internal stakeholder approaches a marketing or events professional saying that they need a new landing page because the current one is outdated, and it isn’t helping drive leads or registrations. The client uses phrases like, “We need something fresh” and, “It needs to be clean and modern.”
The lead marketing or events professionals agree to do a refresh. The project moves forward, starting with a standard questionnaire for the client to fill out. Once the form comes back, user research begins—with things like a competitive analysis—and the team proceeds with the project.
The action team performs the standard “back-and-forth” style of actioning, making numerous iterative changes until they eventually reach something that is acceptable to the client.
But what happens when the action team uses strategic thinking to approach the same project?
With Strategic Thinking
The lead marketing or events professionals work with the team to assess what the client has asked for, addresses any current constraints they may have—time, schedule, staff, etc.— and decides to move forward with the project.
Instead of sending out the standard questionnaire, the team works collaboratively with the client. They ask more purposeful questions such as, “Why do you need a new landing page?”, “What percentage of sales come through the landing page?”, “What kind of increase in sales do you hope to see after the reaction?”
From this discussion, they identify and agree on a specific set of tasks that will accomplish the client’s business objectives. They also agree on how to measure the results.
The project begins with a focus on the tasks and objectives that will determine a successful set of outcomes. Each step in the action process is done with a mindful eye on these objectives.
Implementing a Strategic Action Process
Strategic thinking can be implemented with a purposeful strategic action process.
By creating an action strategy implementation based on a strategic thinking approach, we become more like consultants, working with the client to find the problem that needs to be solved. Instead of approaching the action process by only thinking about deliverables, the strategic marketing or events professionals consider business objectives and outcomes, both your own and your stakeholders—be they customers, prospects, internal partners, or participants.
Understanding the end user’s real problem and approaching it in a pragmatic, tactical way will, without doubt, deliver an exceptional set of results.
Improving Strategic Thinking in Action
Strategic thinking improves with practice. Here are a few tips to stay sharp and polished:
Observe - Observe business goals, and look for trends around those goals. Practice seeing the bigger picture and why it’s important to the client. Pay attention to issues that are raised throughout the action process and communicate these with everyone on the team.
Ask Thoughtful Questions - Questions are the language of strategy. As strategic thinking marketing or events professionals, ask more questions and listen more often. Become curious and ask thoughtful questions about the client, the team, and the process. Dig deep and deviate from “the script.”
Sound Strategic - A great tip is to begin with structuring verbal and written communication in a way that keeps the team focused on the core objectives and results.
Focus on Issues - We are all masters of multitasking. We attend every meeting, and we try to be present for every event. A better idea is to plan time accordingly and focus on the issues, goals and tasks at hand to make sure we are executing.
Bringing It All Together
Executing a successful action strategy requires a strategic thinking mindset—a mindset that affords us the ability to focus more on problem-solving, execution, and better alignment with business goals. Remember, it takes a lot of practice, continually shifting in response to new factors, and the efforts of your entire team to get results with strategic thinking—but it's absolutely worth it.