In an era of shifting consumer behaviors and an unpredictable global economy, many marketers feel the pressure of having to deliver instant results. In situations like this, taking the time to outline a long-term vision may seem like a bootless errand—leading short-term results to be favored over the promise of a thought-out strategy. However, the idea that a strategy can throw a spanner in the works couldn’t be further from the truth.
Strategy plays a fundamental role in agile marketing. It’s not an oxymoron: every business plan needs a strategy, because while being agile is to focus on the how’s, having a long-term strategy is figuring out the what’s and the why’s. Nevertheless, the process of outlining a strategy is more than just lining up a series of short-term initiatives. These should be expressions of a broader vision that stands the test of time—and it’s the role of a strategist to help marketers navigate this reality in today’s quickened pace.
Strategies are not cast in stone
A strategy delineates how a brand is going to act, feel and look for years to come. But it can be flexible. “A lot of the time when people hear ‘strategy’ they confuse it with rigidity,” says Nina Kong, strategy director of Media.Monks Shanghai “Once you put a strategy in place, it doesn't mean that you can't flex or change your mind or make new choices. In fact, the marker of a great strategy is also a very flexible one.”
The goal of a long-term strategy is to future-proof the business, meaning it has to be forward-looking and adaptable to market events. Ideally, it should guide your tactics so that you know how to respond to emerging trends, without feeling like you need to backtrack and adjust it all the time. “If that’s your experience, it probably means that you need to rethink your strategy, which is something that happens, and it’s no one’s fault. It’s a very experimental process,” says Kong.
Strategies help steer you to the right audience
In agile marketing environments, brands need to be perfectly conscious of who their target audience is. Strategy can be a very powerful market driver, as long as it’s aimed at the right people. “The most interesting conversations we’ve had with marketers is when we help them see their target audience differently,” says strategy director Stephanie Tyan. “Even for brands that think they’ve hit the right target audience; strategists can uncover other market niches.”
There’s a good reason why uncovering these niches can be a game changer. In a highly competitive market, tapping into a more specific audience makes it easier for brands to establish a loyal consumer base. It also helps craft a more effective message, as a unique narrative rarely appeals to all. “Every brand wants to catch them all. But if everybody loves you, nobody loves you. Your core audience is going to be your fanbase and a lot of marketers are quite afraid to bet on that, actually,” says Tyan.
Even if you think you’ve found the right target audience, strategies may open your eyes to new communities as they emerge, or others you simply hadn’t considered before. A furniture brand, for example, may significantly expand their business by targeting single-parent families instead of doing what everybody else is doing.
A transformative strategy is about taking risks
A strategist’s role is to ensure that a business is able to build their space in the market and meet customer expectations. Now the question is, how do you create opportunities in a crowded market? Instead of chasing trends, good strategies deliver on what consumers might not even know they want or need.
The element of surprise is what leaves a real mark. But to unlock it, teams need to reach a stage in which they are no longer losing sight of the future trying to get through the day. Therein lies the value of strategists: they act as thought partners for brands to help them apply market expertise through different lenses and reimagine the possibilities. It all boils down to identifying and crafting that differentiator that enables a brand to have a unique voice that will deeply resonate with people and culture.
Of course, being different and transformative requires that you occasionally take risks. Not risks for risk’s sake, but well-informed choices that make an impact. Cashmere Agency, the award-winning lifestyle marketing company that joined Media.Monks last year, worked with Google on a culturally-driven strategy to support Asian-owned businesses in the United States. The strategy included the launch of an attribute that allows merchants to opt in to identify as Asian-owned on their profile, as well as Google Maps and Search. For the brand, this move didn’t come without its risks, as describing a culture can often lead to perpetuated stereotypes. But after spending several weeks researching different symbols, colors and designs, we were able to come up with a fresh icon that helps support an entire community.
Make better decisions, faster
As the markets become more complex and the economic uncertainty grows, strategists can help ease some of the pressure on marketers’ shoulders to come up with long and short-term tactics. We don’t know when new tech, channels or trends will emerge, so start by getting a good grasp of the value that your brand has for people and what your long-term goals are.
Next time you sit down with your strategist, focus on your differentiators, and be prepared to uncover new opportunities, adapt and evolve. At the end of the day, having a well-defined strategy will help you make better decisions, faster.
Stephanie Tyan is the strategy director of MediaMonks Southeast Asia and Nina Kong is the strategy director of MediaMonks Shanghai.