Peter Elms, director at Alpaca Communications, takes a closer look at the 'art of strategy'

Peter Elms, director at Alpaca Communications, takes a closer look at the 'art of strategy'

Strategy is creative

When you write a strategy, you’re being creative. 

You’re imagining a future that doesn’t yet exist. 

When you put that strategy onto paper and into words, you’ve done something creative. 

If you’re the person that asks for a ‘creative strategy’, you’re the fool that asks for a ‘new innovation’. 

You’re asking for the same thing twice.

So, what is strategy?

I’m going to steal a definition from someone who’s thought about this more than I have. 

Strategy is ‘an informed opinion about how to win’. That’s all it is. 

Its complexity or depth is entirely down to how much work you bother to put into it and how you present it, but a strategy really is just a considered way to get what you want.

I’ll say it again, it’s just an informed opinion about how to win. 

Let’s place that in the context of brand communications.

To ‘win’ (often) is to sell more of something than you are at the moment. 

And ‘informed opinion’ is basically doing research to ensure you’re not just guessing. 

And for those of us that communicate for a living (in whatever form), any strategy is going to need to tell us what to communicate to ‘win’. 

For most of us then, a strategy is a researched opinion about what we need to say to get people to do what we want.

And what is a good strategy?

A good strategy tells you what you need to say, so that you can then you go away and work out how best to say it. 

A good strategy says, ‘tell John that fresh beer is better beer’ so that he buys your beer. 

A better strategy says, ‘show John he’s never tasted fresh beer’. 

That’s because a great strategy is developed to the extent that it’s close to solving the bit creatives like to call ‘the creative’. 

Great strategy limits you, and in doing so, inspires. 

When you’re in the shit you’ll have a better chance of having the right idea, largely because you’ve run out of options. 

Or, as a thought leader once said, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. 

A great strategy begs you to get the creative solution right. 

It lures you in because it’s shaped a business problem in a way that you didn’t know existed. 

It’s changed your perception of what’s possible. 

It doesn’t tell you to ensure Ian knows Guinness tastes good, it asks you to tell him it’s ‘worth the wait’ at the bar. 

Yes, a good strategy is built on research and facts or even human truths for those of us that need to sound intelligent. 

And yes, turning an insight into a strategy is 'creative'. 

It’s often said that comedians are fantastic at uncovering insights, things that are funny because they’re true, but they don't know how to use that information to get someone to buy a bar of soap.

Does it matter whether or not we consider strategy to be creative?

Yeah, it does. 

A good creative gets strategy because they know that strategy is inherently creative. 

That’s because they know that form follows function. Something we all say and often ignore. 

When creatives don’t appreciate strategy, the result is bad work because they’re putting form before function.

Strategy gives us function, creative gives us form. 

If there ain’t no strategy, there can be no form. 

Who cares what colour the chair is if you can’t sit in it? 

Without strategy your work has no meaning, it’s just ‘oh that looks cool’. 

We need to be able to see the art in strategy to enable us to do meaningful work. 

The Mona Lisa looks nice, sure, but it’s not creative, not as we should define it. 

For our work to have value it must put form before function, and to do that we’ve got to be able to see the art in strategy.

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