How we avoid the 5 most common strategy mistakes

by Ophelie Lechat
November 10, 2020

In our work with hundreds of for-purpose and not-for-profit organisations, we’ve seen some common misconceptions and practices to avoid when developing a digital strategy.

Our approach to strategy avoids these pitfalls, and instead creates strategies that get implemented, and that get results. Here are five common strategy mistakes and how you, too, can avoid them.

Mistake 1: Your strategy is a 50-page document

Our strategies are rarely the first the company has developed. We commonly find a drawer full of 50-page documents, strategies and plans, painstakingly created a few years ago and never given a second glance—it’s just too complex.

Often “strategy” is one person’s responsibility, or the organisation has made a large investment in hiring an external consultant to create the strategy. In either case, the length of the document is often used to justify the investment of resources. But regardless of how good the strategy is, its length and detail mean teams miss the core elements, are afraid to ask questions, don’t know what to prioritise or how to translate it into action.

ntegrity’s approach: Our strategies include a few short documents, each carefully crafted to show the essentials needed to operationalise the plan. The strategy sits in a “plan on a page”, complemented with an easy-to-follow roadmap that clearly lists tasks, timeframes and owners. We’ve iterated this model over time to make our strategies easy to understand, to resource, and to implement.

Mistake 2: It’s owned by just one department

Strategies are often created by the department responsible for “digital” or “marketing”, without aligning with other organisational strategies. But when strategy is created in silos, the first stage of “execution” is influencing and getting buy-in from other teams. If these stakeholders haven’t been involved in the process, or informed of the project’s progress, , this takes months. We’ve seen this move so slowly that the strategy is already outdated by the time it is approved.

In our recent webinar on strategy development, ntegrity’s head of services Garth Stirling noted that your digital strategy is your corporate strategy. It shouldn’t sit separately. Working collaboratively is key to achieving this.

ntegrity’s approach: A core ingredient to our strategy work is working with an engaged leadership team who are visible and present throughout the process. We co-create strategies in collaborative workshops that include cross-functional teams and senior leadership, including an executive sponsor, ideally the CEO. This style of co-creation not only ensures alignment and buy-in but also leads to a richer strategy and organisation-wide understanding. It also helps elevate digital from “one team’s responsibility” to “an organisation-wide priority”.

A co-created strategy in the making, usually within a workshop environment with people from different departments.

Mistake 3: It’s not underpinned by financial modelling

Financial modelling is not a discipline that comes naturally to marketers.

We rarely see CMOs or directors of fundraising using financial models to underpin strategy, even though most strategies are produced to meet financial targets. This means the true value of the strategy can be vague and hard to get buy-in from the CEO or CFO, two key stakeholders you must get buy-in from.

Building financial modelling into your strategy shows the direct impact of the investment made to develop the strategy, and justifies the investment needed to execute it.

ntegrity’s approach: Include modelling for multiple scenarios, including what would happen if we invested in implementing the strategy vs. if we didn’t. Include expected investment (in advertising spend, technology and talent) and expected return over time.

For example, for a not-for-profit looking to grow its fundraising, we would build a model that combines one-off giving and the creation of a regular giving product over time. It would also include the ongoing advertising spend needed to reach, engage and convert supporter segments. This would give leaders an idea of the financial impact of the strategy, the investments necessary and any financial risks that could be involved if action isn’t taken.

Mistake 4: Technology first, strategy second

We often find that companies will invest in technology before they develop their strategy. Our 2019 research found this was because technology vendors are great at selling “the art of the possible”, where technology is sold as a silver bullet to all of the organisation’s problems.

In reality, technology investment decisions should be one of the final stages of digital strategy development, to ensure the technology you select acts as a tool to help you implement the strategy, supported by the right people, and with the right training in place.

ntegrity’s approach: After setting a strategic vision and understanding the customer journey for our clients, we’ll consider which pieces of technology will help carry out the strategy. When it comes to selecting new tech, the strategy should lead the conversation with tech vendors, not the reverse.

We also consider more than just the cost of the tool—hiring, investment, training and support decisions must be built into the strategy roadmap.

Mistake 5: It doesn’t consider your consumers’ needs

It’s easy to build a strategy based on what you (or your team, or your boss) want or need to do: internal pain points you want to solve, a market position you’d like to achieve, or aspirations of innovation.

But the truth is that if you build your strategy without research into your consumers’ motivations and context, it stands very little chance of being successful.

ntegrity’s approach: Our strategies start with thorough, data-backed SWOT analysis and include:

  • Tools like empathy maps or customer journey maps to understand the messages and channels that owned and prospective customers resonate with

  • Competitor analysis to understand what platforms and tactics other organisations in your industry are employing successfully

  • An internal audit of your team’s skills and current technology to assess your ability to carry out your growth strategy

Strategy must come before your technology investment. Source: ntegrity

The takeaway: successful strategies are sequential, easy to understand and underpinned by measurement

Strategy is a craft.

In our eight years delivering strategy, we have spent thousands of hours refining our approach to overcome these challenges.

We’ve crafted strategy for hundreds of clients in many contexts, from delivering jobs for people with disability, to building better relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, and helping Aussies and Kiwis entering retirement make informed decisions.

And for three years, we’ve invested in industry-leading research to unpack the drivers and obstacles to digital success through surveys and interviews with over 1,000 Australian marketers.

Year after year, the results confirm what we’ve known for eight years: that well-crafted strategy matters—and it’s what sets an organisation apart.

If  you’d like to learn more about our strategy process, you can download our free webinar here.