5 Common Strategy Mistakes

by Richenda Vermeulen
December 2, 2019

Our research shows a clear link between digital success and having a digital strategy.

But for many organisations we speak to, strategy sits in a drawer. It may have been created with great intentions, but it’s never been implemented.

With over 7 years of experience as an award-winning strategy agency, here’s my take on 5 common strategy mistakes and how to avoid them.

MISTAKE 1: It’s 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.

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

Strategy needs to be simplified to make it actionable. Overcome this by separating the 50-page analysis from the strategy itself. Turn the strategy into a “plan on a page” and complement with an easy-to-follow roadmap that clearly lists tasks (in the order they need to be completed), timeframes and owners. Always consider accessibility of language, iconography and the communications plan for execution.

MISTAKE 2: It’s owned by one department

Strategies are often created by a department responsible for “digital” or “marketing”. This is detrimental because when strategy is created in silos, the first stage of “execution” is influencing and getting buy-in. In most cases, this takes months and we’ve seen this move so slowly that the strategy is irrelevant by the time it is approved.

Our 2018 research outlined that digitally successful organisations see strategy as everyone’s responsibility, both to create and execute it.

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.

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 with financial targets. This means the true value of the strategy can be vague and hard to get buy-in from the CEO or CFO (the key stakeholders you must influence!).

Building financial modelling into your strategy shows the direct impact of the investment made (to develop the strategy) but also justifies investment needed to execute it. A financial model we build into a fundraising strategy may blend the combined uplift in results for one-off giving and regular giving over time. It would also include the ongoing advertising spend needed to reach, engage and convert supporter segments. This gives leaders an idea of the financial impact of the strategy, the investments necessary and any monetary risks that could be involved if actions aren’t taken.

MISTAKE 4: Overestimates technology, underestimates skills needed

In digital strategy, we often find companies overestimate what technology can do for the organisation. 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.

“You will save SO much time/money while at the same time giving your customers an extremely personalised experience… all at the touch of a button!”

While strategies overestimate technology’s capabilities, they often miss whether their teams have the time or the skills to execute the strategy.

Consider skills from the very start. In strategy creation, conduct skill and resource assessments to decide if you need to invest in hiring more staff or training. When it comes to selecting new tech, the strategy should lead the conversation with tech vendors, not the reverse. Also take into account the resources needed to implement the tech, not just the tech investment alone. Hiring, investment and support decisions should be built in to your strategy roadmap.

Many companies make the mistake of seeing investment in tools as the only cost. Martech requires diversified investment for success.

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.

Strong strategies start with thorough, data-backed SWOT analysis – rather than being assumption-driven.

At a minimum, they should include:

  • A review existing data to assess your current performance – Which combination of digital activity is driving the best return? Are you using all that advertising platforms have to offer? Where are users struggling most on your website? What segments on your CRM are delivering the best return?

  • Interviews, surveys and wider research with current and potential supporters – Are you actually speaking your consumers’ language? Why aren’t you appealing to new target audiences?

  • An assessment of your market position and the movements of your peers – Which competitors are doing a better job of meeting your customers needs? What can you learn from their success, growth and struggles?

  • A clear picture of your internal conditions – Does your team have the resources and skills they need? Are your tools fit-for-purpose, and can your team use them?

The takeaway: successful strategies are achievable, easy to understand and underpinned by data.

Strategy is a craft.

In our seven years delivering strategy, we have spent thousands of hours refining our approach to best 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 Kiwi’s 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 felt for seven years: that well-crafted strategy matters – and it’s what sets an organisation apart.