In these frenetic, pressured times it’s increasingly common to see businesses pushing to do more, more, more. A leader in one of my old businesses called it “the power of and”. Oftentimes, this multitasking ability is painted as a virtue, a desirable trait. Bold leaders, macho businesses, taking on more, broadening scopes of responsibility, acting like superheroes. It is a shorthand: leaders who take on more are leaders that achieve more. It’s likely that this sounds familiar to you. Perhaps this describes what is expected of you in your role.
Alas, it is a load of old conkers.
The more I work on brands, helping businesses decipher what drives their brands, their business and what the priorities are, the more I realise that the desirable trait in a leader, the desirable trait in a brand in fact, is the ability to understand that landscape and prioritise. No, more than this, to sacrifice. Eminent business strategy ‘guru’ Michael Porter, he of ‘The Five Forces of Competitive Strategy’ wrote, “the essence of strategy is choosing what not to do”. He was referring to business strategy, but the point still holds.
In fact, ‘and’ is pernicious, dangerous. Helping a client with brand planning recently we reached a great place. Throughout the session there was committed agreement that with limited and tightening budgets, the brand had to do significantly less in order to cut through. In fact, the brilliant news was the brand would focus on just one major activity in the calendar year, hunkering down tightly on a single target group, devoting its total resources to one time period and leaning all the investment against it.
But in the weeks that followed it unravelled. An alignment meeting with the senior team was the root cause: one sales director had asked for more to support a competitive threat in his channel. The marketing director had asked why they weren’t putting some effort into another, slightly older demographic; the trade marketing controller pushed for greater category investment. Ultimately, the plan was more focused than the previous year, but ‘and’ had done its damage. A brand with a chance to cut through won’t now do so.
Of course, this isn’t a call to restrict your agenda such that it is so narrow you lose your competitiveness. Rather, it is about finding your agenda – for example, your brand positioning or your corporate purpose or your people strategy – and then asking ‘or’ questions around it. What if we were to focus our investment on these two activities? Or what if we were to put everything behind one? What if we moved all our media online from traditional sources for a year? Or, what if were to put it all into an experiential programme. ‘Or’ focuses, ‘and’ dissipates.
The promise of the ‘next big thing’ leads us into temptation: ‘we can do this as well” or ‘look how cost effective the new widget is, we can add it to our mix’. Truth is, what marks winners out is the ability to focus and sacrifice. Find your agenda, keep it tight and watch out for the weakening effect of ‘and’.
David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that helps brands find a direct route to long lasting success. firstname.lastname@example.org; +44 (0) 7885 408367; www.thecrowflies.co.uk; @crowflieshigh.
© The Crow Flies, 2015