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Archive for March, 2010

“They were worried that I would get bogged down in wanting to do things, not just create strategy.”

- David Polinchock / @lbbinc

One of the topics covered during the #LikeMinds Summit this past weekend was precisely this: The chasm between strategy and execution, especially as businesses struggle to understand how to leverage, integrate and operationalize Social Communications (what you do with social media platforms) in the coming 6-24 months.

Unfortunately, because the C-suite tends to look to itself when it comes to “strategic masterminding,” the focus too often shifts from execution at the customer level (the most important thing a business should be focusing on on) to… being the guy who came up with the game-changing strategy that will secure more funding and increase influence within the organization.

When this happens, strategy becomes a product, and that’s bad. Strategy isn’t a product. Strategy exists mostly in support of execution.

Any idiot with a powerpoint deck can deliver a “Social” strategy:

“We’ll create a facebook fan page, a twitter account, a LinkedIn Group, a YouTube channel, a blog, and a Flickr account too! We’ll convert all of our customers who participate in social networking into fans and followers, and we’ll engage them with content at regular intervals throughout the day. We’ll embed hyperlinks into our tweets and facebook updates so we can pull them to our website to increase traffic there. We’ll get lots of extra clicks. We’ll gain mindshare by being there with them on their favorite social platforms. When they talk to us, we’ll respond. We’ll monitor sentiment and mentions. Our social media strategy will be a success.”

Um… yeah, except… no.

Sometimes, companies focus so much on developing and implementing strategies that they forget to focus on what’s important: Focusing on the customers. That’s priority numero uno. As a consumer, I don’t give two shakes what a company’s latest strategy is. I really don’t care. You want to gain 4% market share in the next quarter? You want to dominate the tablet PC market? Okay. Great. What’s that to me? All I want is for you to improve my life. How are you planning on doing that? How does your strategy actually make anything happen on the ground? Have you thought about what happens when your theories actually touch the real world?

The gap between high level strategy and ground-level execution can usually be summed up this way: Do you understand the tactics and ground level dynamics enough to ensure that your strategy will turn into something more than just an inspiring powerpoint presentation? Yes = small or no gap. No = huge gap.

On the ground, in the real world, what does your grand strategy do to make me want to spend more time recommending you to my friends? Spend more time wishing I could fill my garage with more of your stuff? What’s your strategy to make my experiences with your brand outclass and outshine my experiences with every other company? What’s your strategy to be awesome?

Don’t just look at strategy from the top down and the inside out. Also look at it from the outside in. How does it play in terms of influencing customer perceptions and behavior? How does it differentiate you or increase preference?

Let me illustrate the difference between tactically-agnostic strategy and tactically-savvy strategy:

What could you do TODAY that would change the way customers feel about you?

a) Give them a 10% off rebate that may take 30-60 business days to process. (We’ll worry about eroding margins and loyalty later.)

b) Knock their socks off with incredible customer service. (Smiles are free and being helpful makes customers come back.)

- or another choice -

a) Try to nickle-and-dime a guest with a $10 bottle of water in their hotel room (hey, going after that incremental revenue looks genius on Excel. Let’s charge extra for everything! We’ll make billions off premium pillow mints.)

b) Slap a note on the bottle that says “It’s water. Of course it’s free.” (The repeat business, loyalty and recommendations are worth more than the odd begrudged transaction.)

Which hotel chain is more likely to get repeat business and earn recommendations?

Which of these options do you think a disconnected top-down strategy might have generated? a) or b)?

Strangely, few companies have an “awesomeness” strategy. They have growth strategies, sales strategies, reach strategies, campaign strategies, pull strategies… all of which include a lot of content creation, content distribution and push/pull schemes created and directed from the top echelons. Great stuff, don’t get me wrong. But also lots of wasted energy working its way down to customers through less than fluid “channels.” Lots of energy wasted encountering friction and resistance on their way to the customers. Encountering snags and problems.  That’s the execution gap. That’s the part of implementation that too much emphasis on strategy, coupled with an operational chasm between the “strategists” and the “doers” creates.

So, your company isn’t short on strategy. You have dozens if not hundreds of powerpoint presentations to prove it. The quarterly deluge of strategic plans and “bullet points” and budget proposals to prove it. Social Media-related or otherwise. How’s that been working out for you?

Social Media – as it relates to Brand Management, PR, Marketing, Business Development, Community Management, recruiting, internal collaboration, product innovation and crisis management – isn’t about developing the winning strategy. There’s no “win” in developing or delivering a strategy.  Any strategy. Ever. Anywhere. I mean, yes, you’re smart. We get it. Thank you. That’s wonderful. But now what?

The reality here, the nugget, is this: The emphasis on top-down strategy is completely wrong for Social Media and Social Communications. The way to truly make Social Media and Social Communications WORK for business requires a focus on enablement, not strategy. Strategies don’t generate revenue. Strategies don’t win market share. Strategies don’t make customers loyal. Strategies are bullets on a slide, ink on paper, words across a conference table. They’re essentially worthless until you can use them to move a needle.

The disproportionate investment in strategy vs. implementation and execution is at the heart of why “Social” works for so few companies right now.

1. What are we trying to improve? (What should we be trying to improve?) <– Start with customer experience. Always.

2. What will it take to make that happen?

3. Does Social fit in?

4. If so, how?

5. What can Social help us improve?

6. What will it take to make that happen?

That’s it. Those those 6 questions. Start there. Stop talking about it. Move towards something your customers will be able to grasp, enjoy, value and convey.

Next time someone wants to sell you on a strategy, tell them to come back when they can show you exactly how they plan to implement it. Always make the strategist responsible for the execution. You’ll save yourself a lot of headaches, and things will get done a lot faster.

Cheers,

Olivier

PS: The upcoming Red Chair double-workshop in Portland, Oregon (PDX) on March 11 and March 12 focuses on precisely that: How to actually put all of this into action. How to make it work. One session is designed for enterprise space management and executives, and the other for account management and Social Media for small business. It would be lovely of you to help spread the word, even if you can’t attend this time around. :) For registration and information, click here.

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