Strategy with heart

Hampstead heath lovers. And proof that analogue photos are always a bit hit and miss.

“Without passion, all the skill in the world won’t lift you above craft. Without skill, all the passion in the world will leave you eager but floundering” Twyla Tharp

Recently I have been sharing a little of my approach to strategy and brand strategy in particular.

By now you might well be bored witless totally riveted, It’s hard to tell when you are on the other side of a keyboard. Either way, I thought it might be a good moment to take stock and give you a sense of where I’m heading. And why I think this series of posts is really about creating strategy with heart.

But first I want to get some 101 stuff out on the table.

Anyone that has been in the business more than five minutes should look away now, as the next few paragraphs are an exercise in the bleeding obvious. But for the avoidance of doubt…

This series of posts is about brand strategy.

That is the way in which businesses and organisations intervene to define who they are, what they do, how they are seen and why people should engage with them.

I realise that strategy is a terribly big word. Big and intimidating. Its the kind of word used by people that want to seem more important than they actually are.

But it’s really very simple. Strategy is just about having a plan. Strategy sounds terribly intellectual and contemplative but it’s just a plan for action, for doing things. So, strategy of any description needs to be incredibly practical, since people need to put it into practice if it is to make any difference. Strategy is always a means to an end and never an end in itself.

Brand is also a rather big word but it’s not quite as simple. Well, it is simple but it’s also a bit weird. A brand is the set of associations that people have in their minds about a product, service, business or organisation. In other words, there is nothing tangible about a brand. It exists only in the mind. In fact, the truth is the things we often call brands like logos, colours and names are really just symbols that access those associations. What we often think of as the brand are merely a reminders of that brand. See I said it was a bit weird.

If you bring these two concepts together, brand strategy is therefore a plan to improve the associations people hold in their minds about, well your brand whether it is a product, a service, a business, a person, a cause, a political movement or a country.

And we do this because the more powerful, rich and rewarding those associations the more likely you are to have a powerful, rich and rewarding business. Healthy brands are engines for growth and value.

For a long time I have been trying to inspire people with glimpses of what I think and how I work in this space, often in rather contrary columns and articles. But now I want to record it in some way, hence the posts since new year.

You’d think this would be eaasy bit it’s not, as there I have no process in the formal sense. I can’t show you a series of models or tools. I don’t have the 5 charts that every strategiest should use. And I don’t have a schtick.

What I do have are a set of approaches and an overall belief in trying to connect with people.

So in the absence of any better thought I’m calling this whole endeavour, Strategy with Heart.

Maybe that’s a bit stupid. Because I have no interest in creating brands that people love more than their families or any of that nonsense. And for abosolute clarity I never bought that ‘lovemarks’ stuff. Nor is it about brands with a heart, that endlessly obsess about their purpose in the world and their role in making it a better place.

The truth is that it’s your heart I am mainly talking about.

Strategy is seen as an intellectual pursuit, delivered by really clever people using their minds. This is only part of the story, one usually told by the really clever people to scare everyone else off. While your brain needs to do the work in creating brand strategy, your heart should be guiding it.

And that’s because of that simple and slightly weird truth I touched upon earlier. Brands don’t live in powerpoint decks, in factories, on boardrooms, in research documents, in spreadsheets or in data. They live in people’s minds. And people’s minds like things that appeal to their hearts.

And I believe that this begins with the brand strategy. Otherwise, the emotion that you seek will be reduced to mere execution. I want to dispel the idea that strategy is dry and rational and that the way that you think about and create strategy should be dry and rational.

Strategy should be full of heart and passion and conviction and drama. In its creation, and expression. And as the architect of that strategy, you should be full of heart and passion and conviction too.

Winston Churchill said of public speaking, and lets face facts he was no slouch on the matter, that “The orator is the embodiment of the passions of the multitude, before he can move them to tears his own must flow” (I quote this in its orignal and gendered form for accuracy).

Just think about that in relation to your job as a strategist for a tiny moment.

You want to build brands that serve and move people, that connect with them on a fundamental and emotional level but what chance is there if you, as its creator are not moved?

So, while this series is about brand strategy, it is not intended to be dry and intellectual. Nor is does it advocate an approach that is dry and intellectual. As I said I am not revealing a cast iron process for building strategy. I am not giving you a series of tick boxes to fill or questions to answer. You aren’t going to find endless models or formats to slavishly follow.

You are going to have to do more work than that. And critically you are going to have to bring yourself – heart, mind and soul – to meet me.

This what I mean by offering you ‘self-think’ not ‘self-help’. Self help books, courses, teachers and writers want to reveal the one true way to success and implore you to follow them. You know, the seven habits of highly effective people type stuff.

But encouraging self-think is a different matter. Through this approach I may or may not end up making you clearer on what I think about brands and brand strategy but I sure as hell will make you clearer about what you think. Whether you are a marketer, a brand strategist, a business owner or someone outside the brand world trying to get their heads around the subject.

The result will be greater clarity in your own mind.

And a desire to put your your heart into the strategy for your brands.

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One Reply to “Strategy with heart”

  1. Well, it’s taken me a while, but thanks to you I now understand what a brand strategist does, and what strategy and brand really are. Phew. Thank you! I love the idea of ‘self-think’, I shall think on that more this week.

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