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November 03 2014


Elliott and Associates Corporate Strategic Planning Review Europe Tokyo Paris Asia

10 Tips for Creating Your Strategic Plan

Given the current economic and media-industry environment, the best advice I can provide to publishers is to update your strategic plan—now.  And if you don't have one, then develop one. Why? In case you haven't noticed, profound changes are happening in consumer behavior, information needs and information-consumption behavior that are affecting your business. The marketplace is dynamic and highly volatile, with your competitors trying to re-invent themselves in order to gain an advantage.

Your strategic plan may cover lots of important topics, but it needs to specifically address the most important current issues and opportunities that are affecting your business. It doesn't need to be complex, but it should:

1. Clearly define your target audience. In fact, you should begin to view your audience as a constituency of current and future customers that want to engage with your brand. Cater to your core customers, and carefully define your new-customer acquisition targets and how you will engage with all of your customers.

2. Be clear about your brand promise to your customers. Know and deliver on what they expect. Think about the products in your portfolio from the perspective of how they help your customers, what unique benefits they provide. And, make sure that the delivery of your products or services is consistent across all media platforms (print, Web, digital editions, mobile, video, etc.).

Create, package and deliver content that delivers clear value to your customers. Whether your content is uniquely created by you, curated, or generated by your users, make sure that it satisfies a need and exceeds the expectations of your readers.

3. Optimize your product portfolio so that it delivers solutions for your customers and delivers the results that your company needs. Make sure to balance your priorities to include proper attention to your mature products, while investing in new products and services.

4. Price your products and services so that they are competitive and match your customers' value expectation for the medium in which they are provided. It may be more difficult to command premium prices in various digital media platforms. For example, print and digital editions of a publication may have similar price points for single issues and subscriptions, but consumer price expectations for mobile products are generally much lower—if not free.

5. Develop your products across all appropriate media platforms (print, Web, digital editions, mobile, video, social). Publishers now must truly become multimedia, and be sure to offer your products digitally.

October 25 2014


Elliott and Associates Corporate Strategic Planning Review Europe Tokyo Paris Asia: Four Tips for Better Strategic Planning

No great strategy was born without careful thought. That’s why the process of planning a strategy itself is an important vehicle for setting priorities, making investment decisions, and laying out growth plans. But for many companies, the activity has devolved into either an over explained budget or just bad amateur theater – lots of costumes in the form of analysis, charts, and presentations – but with very little meaningful substance that can be translated into action. As a result, many strategic plans end up as shelf decorations or hard-to-find files in crowded hard drives.

Since this is the season when many companies are engaged in strategic planning, it’s just the right time to break bad habits. Here are four steps that you can take to make better use of the hard work that goes into planning a strategy:

Insist on experiments to test the assumptions you’ve made. Strategic plans necessarily involve hypotheses that certain outcomes (increased revenue, improved margins, higher ROI) will result from a given set of initiatives. But too often those assumptions are supported by secondary research, educated guesses, or assumptions rather than field tests. As a result, managers are uncomfortable actually moving into action or committing resources, preferring to stay with the business they know rather than possibilities that may or may not pan out. To overcome this inertia, ask managers to include specific, short-term experiments, whose results will communicate what works and what does not. In one company, the senior manager called these “scouting missions” and made sure that each of his managers was responsible for at least one every quarter.

Banish fuzzy language. Strategic plans are often filled with empty phrases such as “Leverage our World Class Operating Capabilities” or head-scratching aspirations like “Reshape Our Pricing and Trade Strategy to Effectively Drive Demand While Maintaining Market Access.” Language like this can signal that a team doesn’t have a clear idea of what they need to succeed. To counter this dynamic, the CEO of a large financial services firm banned her organization from using a list of words and phrases such as “leverage” “synergy,” “disintermediation,” and “robust” (to pick a few of the most overused terms).

Escape from template tyranny. Templates are often a standard fixture of strategic planning. Ideally they force teams to consider important topics – competitive analysis, shifts in external markets, performance gaps that need to be closed – and more easily compare data from different divisions. But the rigid use of templates can lead a team to be more focused on corporate requirements than on doing the hard thinking about how they plan to grow their business. And when teams have to complete the same templates each year, the result can be stale ideas, rote responses, and plans that don’t fully capture – or worse, obscure – the key issues and opportunities that a business needs to address. Avoiding this problem may be as simple as eliminating sections of the planning template that no longer make sense; or it may mean more radically changing the requirements. For example, a large food manufacturer reenergized the process by shifting from a 3 year planning template requiring many different and overlapping pieces of information to a shorter, more open-ended format that gave teams greater latitude to develop their growth plans in the form of a narrative.

Ask provocative questions. In theory, strategic planning should foster intense debates and discussions; but when the process is rigidly structured, and the documents are dense with data, the dialogue can be stilted or constrained. To overcome this, it’s important to ask tough questions when the plans are presented – and to do this in a way that can lead to unscripted answers that will enrich the thinking and increase everyone’s level of confidence in moving forward. A few that we’ve heard include: “What are the top 2 or 3 things that must go right for this strategy to work?” “If we pursue this strategy, what are we deciding not to do?” and “What specific capabilities will we need to develop in order for this plan to succeed?”

The strategic planning process is an important part of most organizations’ operating rhythm. The leadership challenge, however, is to make sure that it’s more than just a corporate exercise – or bad theater.

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