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Why is it so difficult to get strategic planning right?

Strategy is about making choices where the end game is front of mind from the start

When you Google 'strategic planning' you get over 47 million mentions in 0.18 seconds. In addition, most clients and agencies have their own pre-defined proprietary approaches to the strategic process. So clearly there is an abundance of information available to use when developing strategy.

Nevertheless, when we launch a new product, reposition an existing brand or address a critical business issue, doesn't it seem that we frequently try to 'reinvent the wheel' when it comes to figuring out the optimum approach to solving a strategic problem?

If we're not trying to reinvent the process itself, we often get caught up with trying to use a predefined strategic process which doesn't work. For instance, we get so enamoured with 'the process', that we overlook the basic thinking, analytical assessment and judgements required to make the most important decisions.

Fundamentally, strategic decisions should have longevity and therefore we need to start with how the strategic decisions we make today will affect the long term. But do we really understand the implications of our decisions in the long term? We may think we do, but do we?

Strategy is about choices
First, strategy is about making the right choices. We should always think of strategic planning with the end game in mind first. For instance consider how the strategy will be implemented, and then make the necessary resource and business process choices in order to maximise the chance of success.

We tend to spend much more time on making strategic choices without the necessary time to assess resource and business process choices. Compounding this, there is often a tendency to carry out too many activities at the most economical price.

Strategic planning as an objective means to an end
Second, strategic planning, simply put, is about an objective means to an end. The key word is 'objective'. When strategic recommendations are being made, all too often, there is way too much of the 'my personal experience' bias which impacts on the final decisions.

This is not to suggest that personal experience is not important. Not at all. However, we need to consider all insights and information in the proper context to make the best, informed decisions.

Market dynamics outpacing marketing?
Third, the market dynamics are changing faster and we are struggling to keep up. Consider the shift we have seen in our industry over the past five years.

Not a discussion takes place without market access being part of the equation because our customers have become more price sensitive (meaning, the lower the price, the better, but that is a whole different topic).

Digital is the new norm, but it is still in its infancy in terms of application. Too many me-toos with little clinical differentiation.

The number of types of customers has grown substantially, but we still focus too much effort on HCPs. The regulatory environment continues to be more restrictive in what we can and cannot do. And, there are no indicators that any of these factors will get any better, anytime soon.

Our rasion d'être – creating value for our customers. Regardless of these hurdles, we still need to deliver on this.

The first step is going back to basics with robust strategic planning processes which address branding, positioning, messaging and life cycle management. Next, more sophisticated approaches to address customer segmentation, insight mining, competitive simulations, scenario planning, etc will allow for informed strategic decisions.

This is best summed up by Michael Porter, renowned marketing expert: "Operational effectiveness is about running the same race faster – but strategy is choosing to run a different race because it's the one you've set yourself up to win."

As a marketer, where do you really spend your time versus where should you really spend your time?

Ed_Stapor_700pixelsEuro RSCG
The Author
Ed Stapor
, partner, CEO Europe Havas Worldwide Health

20th December 2011


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