How I Reached My ‘Strategic Zone’

TL;DR: Strategic work is necessary to move a company forward and shouldn’t be limited to executives. It’s necessary to occasionally take breaks in your work, to talk with others that do the same work, and to remove yourself from the daily grind so that you can be inspired by the work of others.

In my job where I focus on creating messaging, launching products, and checking off the next item on the To Do list at Televerde, it’s sometimes difficult to remember or set aside time to focus on strategic work.  When 20 items need to be checked off the list in the time allotted for ten, my brain either plays an endless loop of items in need of getting done and/or goes blank when I try to think strategically.

A top suggestion in an HBR article for how to develop more strategic thinkers within a company is to regularly set aside scheduled time for solo or group strategic thinking. This isn’t unlike how both 3M and Google are well-known for giving their employees 20% of their time to work on an internal side hustle of whatever fascinates them.

In my case, I recently attended the ANA Masters of B2B Marketing event this past week in Chicago as a perk for being an ANA Phoenix Chapter board member. Completely removed from my work location (and somewhat removed from the To Do list), I had the opportunity to hear about the branding work that others are doing at their companies.  Put in a room with the cell phone turned to silent and no laptop, I was able to truly listen to what the speakers were saying. And let me tell you – companies are doing some impressive things.

As Victoria Morrissey, Global Marketing and Brand Director at Caterpillar, presented the behind-the-scenes for recent brand work, she had the collective attention of 600+ marketers as she walked through the research and steps to create the newest branding that hit its mark with their customers. Tapping into a group of people that “do”, their tagline, “Let’s Do the Work” is short, blunt, and clear.

The tagline focused their efforts to create ads, videos, sales enablement and other content. But the added bonus of this presentation was the subtle differences for that tagline in different markets. In the US market where the biggest challenge for construction growth is paperwork, processes and delays, the message hits home to the doers that simply want to build, to create – from journeyman to executive.

But Caterpillar didn’t stop there. With an eye on their biggest growth region, China, they knew a direct translation wouldn’t convey the same message. Through research and slight adjustments that took into account the collective and consensus-building characteristics of the Chinese culture, they tweaked the message to say “creating our dreams of today”. This branding campaign resulted in an increase of market share both in the U.S. and China, even as other construction companies declined.

Another crowd favorite was Andrea Brimmer’s presentation for Ally Bank.  For those not familiar, although Ally’s origins started in the 1920s, they were one of the first online banks. As others joined the fray, including existing ‘brick and mortar’ banks, being online was no longer the differentiator it used to be. They needed to go back to the drawing board to show why they were different. And being customer-obsessive in a world of bank bailouts and consumer banking scandals paid off. They opened more accounts in one month than the entire previous quarter, a proof point that shows that if you know and understand your customer, it pays off for the bottom line.

Throughout the conference, I disconnected from the everyday tasks to listen to the amazing presentations of others. Nearly every presentation inspired ideas that could be applied to my own company and my notes are scattered between notes from the presentations and ideas jotted and outlined for Televerde. Listening to others – truly listening – was my muse for inspiration. Stay tuned for those projects…

As Morrissey stated in her presentation, emotion is not the enemy of logic. Your B2B buyers don’t check emotion at the door when they turn on their laptop for work. But that emotion – that connection that comes from truly understanding your customers  – doesn’t come out unless you do the work to understand and think about your business from a strategic level.  Whether it’s regularly scheduled break times, a library of books, podcasts for your commute, or conferences that drive your strategic thinking, we all need to make that time.

I’m curious – what works for you? How do you clear the mind to think strategically?

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