Are you using strategy or art?

by Kelly Hobkirk

Have you ever chosen a work of art in an art show opening, frame shop, or *gasp* online catalog? Do you recall glazing over all of the choices until you came to the one that shined like a beacon to some part of your mind, practically screaming out to you, ‘Pick me! I’m the one! I was made just for you!’? Think about that feeling for a second. It’s a special one. And it has nothing at all to do with strategy, graphic design or marketing.

So why mention it?

Well, it goes like this: Design or advertising without strategy is essentially nothing more than art. Art is wonderful stuff, but it has little practical application or value in marketing communications. Strategy, on the other hand, allows your company to exceed expectations in its marketing efforts.

What makes art a valuable part of your marketing? Strategy.

What is design and advertising’s best friend? Strategy.

What’s the number one thing clients try to avoid in their marketing? Come on, take a guess — Why it’s Strategy!

Strategy turns mediocre into mega-successful, so why do people run, kick and scream to avoid it? Well, first off, making art is a heckuva lot easier. Strategy punches holes in weak concepts. It forces you to take your marketing seriously. Probably its worst offense is appearing to take the fun out of art. But honestly, strategy is incredibly fun. You may need to adjust your idea of fun, but as a benefit, you also get to raise your aspirations to an all-time high.

Strategy at its best
Let’s take a look at Lance Armstrong’s record seven Tour de France titles. People say that his dominance wasn’t fun. He turned winning the Tour into a science, methodically attacking absolutely every aspect of the race, from weighing out each meal on a scale, to his training, attack strategies, playing off the media to gain advantages, and surrounding himself with some of the sport’s top riders as lieutenants. After he did all that (and more), he rode his heart out to claim the victories.

Now, Mr. Armstrong has been gifted with exceptional physiology, and many claim that’s why he wins. While this may be true, it is advantageous for people to think that way. When you discard something great to prove you are not worthy, you are in fact employing a kill-strategy to avoid doing the one thing that can help you succeed. Why do that? It’s easier.

If you need proof to accept this, take a look at Armstrong’s competitors. During his reign as Tour champion, he released a book with his coach and even had a tv program detailing his training methods and life. What did his competitors and other people say then? Impossible. No one can train that hard and be so self-disciplined. Why would they say that? Simple, it’s easier.

What success takes
Everyone knows that it takes hard work to succeed. It takes a few other things too, such as calculated risk-taking, preparation, dedication, self-discipline, and strategy.

Big businesses have a sometimes not-so-obvious advantage here because they have the larger budgets and people to examine concepts from more angles. And sometimes, they do it. Those are the companies that live, thrive and dominate a market.

Small businesses, on the other hand, rarely have the people or organizational structure to even think about strategy. They are usually too close to their work to have the objectivity needed to succeed. The result is marketing that often falls on its face. Oddly, they are ok with that because it justifies not putting in the key efforts it takes to succeed. Of course, it also gives business owners justification to not budget for strong marketing efforts.

People get to go home early, there’s less to manage, less to spend, less outsider involvement, less less, less. And less profits.

Why would anyone sabotage their own business like that? Well, honestly, it’s easier to make just enough money to be profitable than it is to be wildly profitable. It’s not nearly as much fun though.

Strategy is so much fun!
In spite of Lance Armstrong’s methodical approach to winning the Tour de France, I would be willing to place a level bet that he was having fun. And so was everyone around him. Were there hard times and tough moments? Of course. Everyone had to rise to the occasion, with the benefit being greater success for nearly anyone willing to work alongside him.

It’s the same for business. When you get a high response to a measured effort, you feel awesome. Big smiles abound, everyone feels happy, and you increase profits.

Where there’s a leader there is success, and people will follow. If you own a business, you’re a leader, whether you like it or not. If you share your plan with your employees, they will follow you. The more detail you provide, the more personally invested they become. (If you fail to show a clear vision, you have a higher turnover rate.)

Now, apply purpose, vision, and strategy to your branding and marketing, and what have you got? You have the means to develop strategic plans for success. You have an identity that your employees can relate to. You have a brand that people can believe in. You have marketing that is wildly successful. You have increased sales.

First things first
It doesn’t work the other way around. You cannot show people a business that doesn’t believe in itself, and expect them to believe in you. You cannot passively market to prospective clients, and turn them into believers.

It has to start from within. You believe in yourself, and others will believe in you. Your employees believe in the company, and your prospective customers believe in what you are selling. You market to them with strategy, they buy, and you exceed your sales goals.

Do you think Lance Armstrong’s lieutenants, staff, and entourage went into his first Tour de France thinking he would win seven of them? Nope. But they came to believe in him. He built a following by first believing in himself, then he strategically attacked the race he wanted to dominate. And it worked.

What are you trying to win?
Lance Armstrong used strategy to make an art of winning the Tour de France. Whether you’re trying to win more clients, repeat business, a warmer feeling in your heart, or the front spot in the water cooler line, you can do the same.

Posted by Kelly Hobkirk • November 28, 2009 • Tags: ,