What Makes a Strategist, Strategic?

There’s a reason the moto for the Jay Chait awards, an industry award show that recognizes breakthrough strategic input, is “Good enough is not enough.” Great strategy isn’t defined in a one-day brief turn around or in the whirlwind on-boarding sessions. It’s a product of deliberation, mulling, marinating and consistent reassessment. So, what does all that consideration result in? A small, focused set of human (or customer) truths and cultural insights that transform businesses through actionable and meaningful outcomes, by way of a cohesive story (presentation and creative). That’s what goes into great, envy-worthy strategy. Let’s go a bit deeper and break down the facets of strategy:

  • A small focused set of insights: If you’re ever looking to hire a strategic thinker, look for someone with insatiable curiosity. Strategists will dig and dig because we’re perpetual learners. However, the signature of great strategy is knowing when to trim. So often curious minds are eager to share every detail (myself included), when, in reality, the strongest story is well supported, but to the point.
  • Human truths: Strategists work to solve real business problems. However, what’s driving those problems is often a lack of customers, upset customers, or unaware customers. The point is, behind every business problem lies a human truth. We’ll keep digging until we discover what’s really going on—something you can’t get by restating the business problem.
  • Cultural truths that transform businesses: What leads to transformative ideas is looking beyond one’s industry. It’s something creative and business books have written about for years, but it’s easier said than done. You need to go out in the world and truly experience it.  Experience it through brands you’re not familiar with and circles you don’t usually travel in.  This allows you to see the patterns and correlations that may help your business situation. This step could be the key to differentiation or first-mover-advantage in one’s industry, but it is often overlooked.
  • Actionable and meaningful outcomes: Often, in a world of quick timelines and excess data, the initial problem is lost in shuffle. Without this, what are we really doing? A strategist’s job is to answer the business problem, often by reframing it, establishing the approaches to solve it and working to realize it by measuring it — all the while not losing sight of the initial problem. Volume of data isn’t a problem these days, it’s determining what to measure that can confuse us. Strategists focus and trim so that results are framed in a clear, meaningful way.
  • Cohesive story: Just as your English teacher once relayed to you, a great story has several chapters, a rise and a fall—and ultimately settles on a through line. A great strategically led story looks a little like this: a dramatic rise of insights that led us to a-has, that feel revolutionary, yet strangely comfortable and logical in their approach to solving the reframed business problem. From there, it unfolds into creative problem solving that naturally builds form where the insights left off and reveal their own set of ohhs and ahhs. Finally, we get into the approach to measurement that yields only the relevant points.

The case studies are the greatest outcome of the Jay Chait awards—a reminder of what’s possible when a solution is insights-driven. They’re also a strong reminder of why affording even the smallest bit time or investment for strategic thinking can truly transform brands. Check out last year’s winners on the Jay Chait Awards website and look for the 2018 announcement coming soon.

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