The Invisible Strategy

I’m a strategist who doesn’t like strategy. Well, I suppose that’s not entirely true. In fact, I love strategy. I just don’t like seeing it. A strategist should be like an actor — the audience should never see the actor at work, they should only see the performance. Great strategy is like great acting, when it’s done well it becomes invisible.

Many strategists fall into the bad habit of wanting to show their work. They want everyone to know how much research they did, how many great insights they uncovered, the complexity that they have overcome to deliver their brilliant strategy. This instinct probably comes from a good place — an enthusiasm for their craft — but it’s a creativity killer. Rather than laying out a clear roadmap or problem to be solved, it puts the onus on someone else to parse out and decipher the task at hand.

If you ever want to see me become physically uncomfortable, show me a brand positioning that takes more than a sentence or two to explain. If every word in your brand purpose needs to be unpacked, then it isn’t a very good brand purpose. That is the actor at work. The journey of how you arrived at the positioning, the plan to deliver the positioning, those can be nuanced and complex, but the positioning itself must be succinct and intuitive. How can a 10 slide positioning ever fit into a six-second video (shot vertically, with the sound off and branding up front)?

Earlier in my career I used to be self-conscious about the brevity of my creative briefs. I’d worry that because they were so short, people would think I hadn’t done any work. But in fact, the opposite was true. It’s much easier to write a long brief — you didn’t have to make any choices. The words that aren’t on the page aren’t the words I haven’t thought of, they’re the words I’ve chosen not to include. They are the words I’ve worked very hard to make invisible. I read them, so you don’t have to.

Storyteller, problem solver, bon vivant. Chief Strategy Officer at Ogilvy Toronto. @thomaskenny