For some reason, this word ‘strategy’ has begun to irk me no end and I find it being used loosely ever so often. As a result it has totally lost its value for me. The irony is that I am known to be ‘strategic’ in my thinking, and I am saying the exact opposite, or am I?
Here’s the thing. What really is strategy? It is simply the way to achieve a goal or an objective, right? So my simple point is, if you know the problem well and if you know who is impacted by the issue, then you find an engaging insight to fix it. That’s it. No drama!
Unfortunately we like to make life complicated. So we go round and round the issue, complicating it with irrelevant information, data and a million theories. Why? Because if you don’t, you are not professional, and not ‘strategic’ either, sadly. I would rather go to the target audience and find a solution and execute it! But that’s not what us marketers like to do. We like to ‘develop strategies’ that go into pages with not much substance either! Yes. That’s what we are paid to do right?
I enjoyed working with two corporates who were polar opposite in thinking. One corporate spends months and years researching and strategizing possible solutions for their brands and the other found solutions on the run. I must say a lot of the times I saw that the corporate who found solutions literally ‘on the run’ did amazingly well with their marketing than the other, which labored with numbers and models and projections, driving everybody nuts.
I believe that an insightful idea supersedes all the strategies in the world, because an idea if properly hatched, would be a winner without having the label of ‘strategy’ and the usual road map. May be the whole journey gets processed in the mind instead of filling pages on a report.
I have tons of examples to prove my theory and here are just four of them;
Example 1 – There was a glut of chicken in the market. 30,000 tons to be exact. The industry was desperate. We were asked to come up with a marketing strategy to save the poultry industry from sinking! It was a tough one. We are a Buddhist country and we cannot ask people to eat more chicken for sure. So we thought of having some fun with the issue. I remember telling my team to ‘unlearn’ all the marketing theories and just have fun with the ideas. We realized we were about to face an election at the time and decided to make the chicken our candidate. ‘Api Kukulata. Kukula apita’ campaign was thus created. The candidate’s ‘promises’ took off like a bomb. We didnot do the usual 4Ps of marketing because the poultry association had no marketing strengths. The campaign became a hit and 30,000 tons of chicken was gobbled up by the market in no time. The reason was the freshness and the relevance of the idea. The poultry association was ecstatic and we sure had fun creating a crazy campaign! Needless to say we won a gold award for it too. This was the very first time the genre of a political campaign was introduced to advertising in this market which became a total cliché thereafter. Imitation is the best form of flattery they say.
Example 2 – A brand of tractors was struggling with its sales in the dry zone. They were doing all the text book marketing they could, with no success. We were asked to help them with the sales of the brand. We visited the farmers who were desolate in the face of a drought. Their common lament was that only the deities could save them. We knew we had the answer to the marketing problem just there. A ‘maha shanthikarma’ was organized (much to the annoyance of the then marketing director) to obtain blessings from the deities. The chairman of the company saw the relevance and value of this idea. It is not for us to question our culture and beliefs. The farmers needed solace and we provided it to them. The rest is history!
Example 3 – In the face of the market share being eroded of a global toothpaste brand due to a consumer relevant ingredient introduced by a local brand, the challenge was how the global brand could be made ‘emotionally’ relevant to the Sri Lankan consumer. The solution we came up with was for the toothpaste brand to be associated with the world famous Sri Lankan Smile, which is uniquely ours and ours alone. With this unique promise, the Sri Lankan Smile was captured in the Guiness Book of World Records too and the sliding market share was cleverly arrested. It was simply an action of identifying and applying relevant social and consumer insights to a marketing problem. Nothing else.
Example 4 – I was travelling to work and the car radio was playing ‘nobody’s child’. On the road at that moment was a tiny little boy walking on the road, all by himself, carrying a bag bigger than himself. I knew in an instant that he was a domestic worker. I went straight to my team and said we should create a campaign against child labour and in a few days walked into UNICEF with the proposition to curb child labour in Sri Lanka. A year and a half later, UNICEF together with the ministry of Child Care enforced the law against child labour. The campaign continued for many years in different forms, but the original idea was exactly that, ‘nobody’s child’!
This is just a handful of examples to prove that ‘strategy’ doesn’t necessarily have to be a complicated and laborious exercise and a big word that doesn’t mean too much. It is really understanding the pulse of the market and developing a set of actions that would resonate with the selected target group. No drama at all! What is needed though is a confident insight based idea creator and a client who says ‘let’s do it’ without batting an eyelid. Unfortunately, most of the time it is the vacillation and being unsure of a great idea that sends people round the bend that ends up developing meaningless ‘strategies’ that go nowhere!