Fall is here, and for many professionals that means setting goals and budgets for the coming year.

A large part of this process involves measuring how well you are doing meeting this year’s goals. Are you on track for a successful year, or did something trip up your progress? If so, you’re not alone. Amid the always-on, always-connected mashup of new ideas and messages, our ability to focus our energy in the right direction is an increasing challenge.

bellaTo illustrate, I’ll share a story about my dog. Bella is a sweet girl. She’s cute, clever, funny and has boundless energy. She’s also very pack-minded, as most dogs are, and she wants to please. To achieve the goal of helping her please others, we enrolled her in a training class. I’m sorry to report, she finished dead last – even behind a poorly socialized Chihuahua.

What sabotaged Bella’s success was an extreme case of ADHD. She gets distracted by EVERYTHING – she simply could not focus long enough to get the lesson. She did pick up bits and pieces, but in the end, we did not meet our goal of getting her trained.

Throughout my career, I’ve witnessed that people within organizations can be a lot like Bella – they can get distracted by shiny new objects and lose sight of the big picture. And, I’ll argue this problem occurs most in marketing, where new ways of communicating pop up more often than squirrels pop up in trees.

Challenge the Norm: There is a solution, and it is the simple idea of, well, simplicity. Strategy development is part art and part science, and the art involves keeping goals simple and easy to implement. At the heart of the idea of simplifying your strategy is the fact that no organization has unlimited resources, and no one person has an abundance of time.

In high-functioning, dynamic marketing teams there are usually no shortage of great ideas. After all, you hire smart people for their skills and creativity, as well as their enthusiasm and passion for the work. And nothing is a bigger let down than having your idea squashed by what you perceive to be a complacent bureaucracy. But letting ideas run amok is risky, too, so putting boundaries around what is actually achievable can help.

There are five steps to developing a simple marketing strategy:

  1. Set three to five strategic priorities. In the olden days of yore, companies designed complex five- and 10-year strategic plans. That’s simply unrealistic in today’s fast-moving environment of constant change. Today, smart companies review strategy annually. Only so much can get done in 12 months – even in the most nimble organizations.
  2. Develop SMART objectives. SMART objectives are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound, and they underpin the bigger organizational strategy and guide the activities of people and departments. The key to developing good SMART objectives is to pay close attention to the “R” – are they relevant, given the three to five organizational goals?
  3. Prioritize ideas and prevent distraction. Emphasize the relevance of your own objectives to sort through ideas and bring to the top those that best meet current strategic goals. When something new comes along (idea, technology, social network, etc.), you can measure its potential against your current SMART objectives. Does it fit? If not, it’s a distraction. Best to park it until the next planning session.
  4. Write it down. Hold yourself and your team accountable by writing down your strategy in a formal document. It doesn’t have to be a tome, but it needs to be specific enough to refer back to as a reference point throughout the year as new opportunities (and potential distractions) arise.
  5. Assign accountability, track and measure. Communicate who will do what and by when, and establish ways to track and measure your progress. Measurements should tie directly back to the three to five organizational priorities for the year.

Remember, strategies are set; ideas are fluid. Ideas will come up constantly and have the potential to derail your strategy if you don’t handle them objectively in light of the true north of your organizational goals.

The outcome of simple strategy is incremental progress. While that may sound trite and unexciting, it’s the foundation of progress over time, and it adds up. If you can keep the squirrels at bay, next year’s planning session will start on a more positive note.

Gayle Goodman, MBA, ABC, is executive vice president and partner at Dallas-based ExperiPro LLC. ExperiPro is an insights-driven marketing and brand strategy firm passionate about helping clients become their customers’ first choice.

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