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Are Your Tactics Telling Your Best Story?

By Mike Fox

Written by Mike Fox

Everyone loves jumping into tactics. And for a good reason! Tactics are appealing, active, and fun to devise, delivering immediate results upon execution. They are tangible, memorable activities within your marketplace. As a strategist, I strive not to become consumed by tactics, yet more often than not, I find myself ensnared in them.

But organizations also like longevity. And to win in any sustainable way, those tactics need to be in service to a strategy. Without it, you find yourself playing the game without a clue of how to win it. Consequently, tactics become a slog.  

This is obvious, but time and again, businesses reach a juncture where their tactics have no discernible relationship with their strategy. Or worse, they dive into tactics without a strategy altogether.

From our point of view, there’s an egregious amount of “strategy-sliding” happening with one of the organization’s most powerful assets – its brand. 

Whether creating a brand (or sub-brand) from scratch or rebranding an existing organization, the process can easily drift from brand strategy to brand tactic. 

One driver of this unintended shift? The brand framework.

This isn’t a knock on frameworks or the people who refer to them. There are extraordinary ones available across a bounty of consultant publications and textbooks. It’s an important tool to get started. But, as Dee Hock, the founder of Visa, quipped, “Only fools worship their tools.”

Brand frameworks, by nature, are inflexible. Too many enterprises have embraced them, forcing their activities into them to be more of an organizing tool or a checklist than a guide to help you make choices. This is a recipe for short-sighted brand building and derivative brands. 

Why? Because frameworks are excellent at outlining the plot. You still have to know what story you want to tell. Plot is simply the sequence of events that tell your story—aka your tactics. Story is what it’s all about—aka your brand. 

 

You have to know what story you want to tell before you organize the plot.

 

How do you find that? Well, it’s really hard. And it takes more than frameworks. 

Let’s first identify all the ways, no matter how small, in which you consistently create value for people. Once these are assembled, we’ll need to determine how that value is differentiated, complemented, and perceived across circulation. The consistencies and anomalies will surface, and suddenly, your story will crystallize. 

That’s when we’ll know which of your tactics fulfill that value, and which tactics are just things you’re doing.

Doing things to do them is to exist. Doing things to create value is to thrive. Tactically built brands exist, but strategically developed brands are created with the potential to thrive.

Creating and activating

Plenty of people today can take claim to creating a brand. It can have aesthetically pleasing brand assets. It can happen with or without branding experience.

But the real challenge goes beyond the surface of a framework’s prompts and the veneer of a brand mark.  

Anyone doing meaningful branding understands that deep research, ongoing assessments, and pressure testing are the points of entry to creating a brand that is accurate and true to what the organization values and seeks to achieve. Through that in-depth process emerges a creative vision borne of the brand strategy.

Activating the brand is the challenging work of moving from a strategy to both conventional and unconventional applications. This involves all the choices, each calculated risk, every intentional interaction and experiential moment needed to bring the brand to life in memorable ways.

This is what branding experts are passionately in pursuit of:

  • Stimulating brand recall and affinity among audiences;
  • Driving call-to-actions that actually get acted upon;
  • Creating experiences that inspire loyalty and lead to word-of-mouth among every customer-turned-influencer who influences within their sphere of influence;
  • Leaving no creative stone unturned to build on brand momentum; and
  • Committing to find novel ways to do it again, and again, and again

A framework on paper or in a presentation deck is incapable of doing this critical heavy lifting. You need experts who live and breathe the nuances of brand activation and who want to do the work to understand the unique story you’ve earned the right to tell. 

Insular views vs. worldview

Let’s make this personal. Imagine you have a large sum of money. You need to invest it wisely to allow that money to work for you. You have two options: invest it yourself or seek a trusted advisor who has a day-to-day lens on the complexity of current markets and investment options. Most of us are willing to pay for the expert guidance of an investment professional to achieve the desired returns.

That same principle applies to branding.

The cost of collaboration for a strong ROI far outweighs the risk of going it alone.

Here’s the reality occurring inside most organizations, which is no secret:

Internal teams are called on to be agile, conduct sprints, and operate at the speed of business, translating to a perpetual state of urgency. It leaves little time to do deep thinking and be creative. And it leaves no time to explore new ideas to existing challenges, or dissect solutions occurring in unrelated industries for transferrable clues and connections to be brought forward. It affords barely enough time for a get-it-done, down-and-dirty framework.

This is where brands need an outside lens.

Many brands arrive on our doorstep out of curiosity, with big aspirations, and quite a bit of frustration. They are stuck, unable to see a path forward that gives them peace about investments they need to make and just how much value they have to give to the world. In other words, brands are a lot like people—so caught up in surviving that we can easily forget what makes us great and why people really care about us.

So we remind, and in many cases, teach them.

They learn how offering customers an easy button means more when you first empathize with how difficult and complex our lives really are.

They learn how in the myriad of choices and eccentric trends, a lot of people just want a well-crafted beer that’s as reliable and timeless as a lifelong friend or a great neighbor.

They realize that in the speed and complexity of a multi-faceted merger and acquisition strategy of 19 companies across three industries, their unifying purpose is one of connection and protection that accelerates growth through premium partnership.

More importantly, they recognize that our knowledge across industries is more beneficial than entrenched thinking within their industry. They see that our work – both conventional and unconventional – subscribes to finding what works, not simply retreading what previously worked or in pursuit of what the market leader is doing.

And crucially, they get our fascination with story to find creative ways to tell a better version of theirs. 

Those are some ways we create value for our brand partners. Whether we use a framework or not.  

Strategy – or something else

In a world that too often devalues brand to mean name, logo and tagline, anyone is capable of constructing that kind deliverable.

It’s super tactical. It can be done ridiculously fast. But know that it is fully disconnected from thoughtful brand strategy and often devoid of any compelling story.

However, if you want the kind of brand that occupies the mind of your desired customer, who loves what you stand for and how you appeal to her with thoughtful packaging, engaging messaging, at every touch point and with every experience – that’s the hard but necessary work of brand and business building.       

The good news for your brand is that you get to choose and influence the path and trajectory it takes. Just choose strategically. Your brand depends on it.