Is Strategic Planning Still Required In The Era Of Disruption?

Last week we introduced the concept of strategy & planning the agile way. The biggest area of feedback that I received asked if businesses still need strategies and plans in a world that changes so rapidly. The answer is clear: strategies and plans are vital for setting clear direction across an organisation, but the way we create them has to change. In this blog we share the concept of a FLEX approach to strategy and planning with practical examples and ideas for how to make this work in your business.

In strategy & planning the agile way we found that the most successful businesses have defined a purpose for their growth that is more meaningful than simple numbers. This not only sets the goals strategies and plans should deliver against, but also gives the business direction about why growth matters. Unilever is a great example of a business that has taken this approach by creating The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan: “Our purpose is to make sustainable living commonplace. There is not ‘business as usual anymore’. Sustainable, equitable growth is the only acceptable business model. Our strategic vision is to double the size of our business while reducing our environmental footprint, and increasing our positive social impact.”

Having a future focus means we spend more of our time imagining what the future may hold rather than analysing the past. Gone are the days of data-heavy situation analyses – what’s needed now is a curiosity about the future trends that will affect our business and alignment around those which are most important going forward. Testing and experimenting enables us to explore hypotheses about the future quickly, learn lessons from them and move on.  

Agility is one of the most commonly used terms in strategy & planning literature these days. Yet it means different things to different businesses – what might seem agile to Shell, for example, would be unlikely to meet the needs of Facebook or fashion retailers like Zara.  

For an agile approach to strategy and planning seek to embed the following approach – a task, whilst challenging to achieve, is hugely beneficial:

If a business is clear on what it is trying to achieve, new opportunities that emerge can be evaluated in that context. I love this quote adapted from Lewis Carroll: “If you don’t know where you’re going, Google Maps will be of no use to you.” Simply put, strategies and plans do not have to be set in stone – they should evolve based on feedback and learnings and they should always be set in the context of a clear purpose and goals.

Alexandre Ricard, CEO of Pernod Ricard, stated “Clarity of purpose and speed of action is my personal call to action… At Pernod Ricard we have decided to develop a strategic plan every 3 years instead of annually, saving 5 months’ work for thousands of people.”

The customer journey has changed so much over the past few years that we can no longer think of strategies and plans based on the 4Ps or any other disaggregated model. Customers (consumers for FMCG folk) are looking for personalised, seamless experiences at all stages of their journey and interaction with our brands. Patrick Cescau, Chairman IHG, challenges:“Do we have a single view of our customer interaction across touchpoints over time?”That’s a question a good CEO is able to ask. Then “what does our customer expect from their experience?” Finally the question to ask is “are we able to meet and surpass their expectation?”

Strategies and plans must be based on an insightful understanding of the consumer journey – considering what consumers feel, think and do at each stage. This means we can develop activities that address all relevant levers of the desired consumer experience.

LEGO is a brilliant example of a brand who have mastered the consumer experience. They say “Our ultimate purpose is to inspire and develop children to think creatively, reason systematically and release their potential to shape their own future – experiencing the endless human possibility.”They use a wide range of online and offline channels for a seamless experience – including retail, theme parks, online games, movies, polls, The LEGO club, LEGO social networks, and community platforms including ‘LEGO Ideas’ which enables Lego fans to submit their ideas for new toys. This approach enabled them to grow from a $200m loss in 2013 to sales of $4bn in 2018 and profits of $1.2bn 

Because the customer experience needs to be integrated across all touchpoints, it is essential that we work in a joined-up way ensuring all teams are clear on the role they play. Strategies and plans must be developed, executed and optimised cross-functionally ensuring that consumer; customer and channel considerations are integrated throughout the process.

Nina Bibby, Marketing and Customer Director explains “we form fully integrated teams across marketing, the consumer P&L, technology and the channels so that they are all aligned with a single focus in order to deliver a seamless experience for our customers.”

‘Collaboration’ involves silo-busting teams, trust, honesty, openness, strong internal and external networks and open information flows. Microsoft illustrates how to collaborate and involve employees effectively. They introduced a hackathon to their annual weeklong conference, allowing thousands of employees to collaborate in small groups to propose and create changes to anything in the company. The results were concrete actions that could be taken forward. Employees were energised, involved, and felt part of the company’s direction.

They, as we, believe that robust strategies and plans are more important than ever – and the best ones will be based on these 4 principles:

One company who has used Strategic Planning in the disruptive era well has been BrewDog.

CMO Perspective: James Watt – BrewDog

BrewDog has had quite a year trying to establish itself as a household brand while retaining its edgy outsider status. Despite not always getting it right (pink beer for International Women’s Day, for example) its ‘Rate My Beer’ campaign baiting its macrobrewery rivals certainly did. In September, the brewer took on four of its biggest corporate-owned competitors, using print, digital and outdoor to show consumers why its Punk IPA is the superior beer.

The campaign, created by agency Isobel, took the overall consumer score of big brewers’ lager brands from the website, and put them right next to that of BrewDog’s Punk IPA. It directly compared BrewDog’s score of 97/100 to Budweiser’s 0/100, Carling’s 1/100, Fosters’ 3/100 and Stella Artois’ 9/100.In typical BrewDog style, shaming them was not enough. It also parodied the brands’ taglines on the ads, asking ‘Wassup, Bud?’ and ‘Good Call, Fosters?’ to add insult to injury

It was a direct attack on the big brewers but it also put the question of taste front and centre. An ad that highlighted Punk IPA’s high score alone would wash over consumers but comparing that to its competitors with a tagline baiting them got it noticed.

It was a good move from BrewDog, which has dominated the UK craft beer sector but is looking to solidify its position among the big dogs. Marketing Week columnist, Mark Ritson, put it best when he said: “BrewDog is building a brand, not despite the presence of the major breweries but because of them.”

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