Strategic planning is sometimes perceived as a solution only employable by larger organizations with deep pockets and resources to burn. I disagree with this, contending that strategy is accessible and beneficial to all sizes and types of businesses — including the brand experience category. From exhibiting to show organizing and everything in between, a clear and effective strategy guides all messaging, media, and measurement, deeply connecting your marketing to your audiences, and driving home long-term results for your brand.
How beneficial is strategic planning? Statistics from The Economist show that 65 percent of the “best strategy executors” benchmark financial performance well above average, with only 18 percent from all other companies.
Strategic planning works and can work for your brand experience or exhibit, especially if you keep it simple with this easy, three-step process:
- Create a vision or mission statement with an aspirational goal. Are you looking for increased sponsorship at your show? More quality leads for your booth? To successfully reveal new product offerings at your annual conference?
- Articulate an omni- and multi-channel approach that paves the way for the actualization of the mission statement (email marketing, promotional campaigns, highly-designed booths, etc.).
- Allocate resources and budgeting to support the approach that will ultimately realize the aspirational goal.
But how do you know if these steps are working during an event lifecycle, especially if you’re part of a small- to mid-sized organization? I’ve found four signs that indicate your strategy is catching feverish fire.
Plans are nothing; planning is everything.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
United States President
Sign #1: Your brand is discovering who it is
Good strategy begins with self-knowledge, plain and simple. Once the core teams begin brainstorming on a goal and objectives for an event, new dimensions of the organization will be revealed. You will see the difference between what the brand thinks it is and what it really is. Not only will your brand’s strengths become apparent, so will its weakness... and that’s a good thing to know before embarking on any budgeting or resource allocation.
As examples, you might notice that your digital capabilities haven’t evolved enough to keep up with audience demands, or that not enough client data or insights have been provided to creative teams for them to determine the right design. The point is, you will see!
Through this process, stakeholders will likely discover much about a company’s culture, including what should be optimized, and that in itself can go a long way to enhancing your brand and building trust among teams.
Helpful diagnostic tool: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) Analysis is a useful technique for understanding your organization’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as opportunities ahead.
Sign #2: You’re continually problem solving
United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously said, “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” This means that during the journey from A to Z, there naturally will be some bumps on the road. For that reason, organizations must always remain in planning and problem-solving mode. In fact, problems you didn't realize were there often materialize during the process — for example, you could discover your social media marketing strategy overlooked a specific channel your audiences utilize heavily. Or a change in weather could delay the delivery of a booth hours behind schedule just as it might strand your keynote speaker on a plane. Very much like design thinking, good strategic planning takes potential problems under consideration and determines forward-thinking solutions and backup plans.
Sign #3: You’re being adaptable
A wide misconception about strategic planning is that it’s static. Once the checks are written, the “send” button has been pushed, and everything is going jolly good, then it’s definitely a sound idea to stay the course.
Wrong. Good strategic planning is fluid, not rigid and unbending. You should create and develop concepts that adapt to changes in the marketplace. The point is, don't ever get too comfortable with your strategy. If you feel nervous, it probably means you’re ready to adjust to any variations that arise, even positive ones. Academic and economist Roger L. Martin said the objective of strategy is “not to eliminate risk, but to increase the odds of success.”
Helpful diagnostic tool: Balanced Scorecards is a management system that aligns and measures your strategic planning to your aspirational goal.
Sign #4: You’re seeing the big picture
Sometimes organizers and meeting planners focus so hard on achieving goals it results in tunnel vision. The reality, however, is that continually surveying the competition and trend landscape fuels strategy and then drives your brand to success. If possible, don’t limit your explorations to your vertical or industry exclusively. As an illustration, a show organizer can learn much from a retail chain on tactically placing booths to optimize the flow of traffic (or at least know where to place your phone charging stations!).
Once you see the big picture, you’ll gain a wider perspective to make brand discovery, problem-solving, and flexibility flow better into your campaigns.
Helpful diagnostic tool: Political, Economic, Social, and Technological (PEST) Analysis helps identify big picture opportunities (and threats).
Effective strategic planning is very much about the journey as much as the destination. I like to say that good strategic planning is both a science and an art, where the right data leads to the right humans while empathy, intuition, and curiosity propel the process. Data won’t show you everything, so it’s important to strike a good balance between data and intuition.
Lastly, here is another essential element of good strategy: review, review, review! That is sadly an exception today. Research shows that 86 percent of executive teams spend less than one hour per month discussing strategy. This means that by focusing on strategy not only can you be the exception, separating yourself from competitors, your entire organization will be burning with the wonderful flames of killer strategy.