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Strategy Matters

Good strategy matters, but it isn't easy, and it's a fairly new idea, at least in the advertising arena.


On the weekends, I sail with a friend. A mechanical engineer. An inventor, a maker, a strategic thinker. We set out from various concrete boat launches, all of which are designed for fisherman, for pleasure boaters in their craft large and small with motors and the ability to slow down, back up, turn on a dime independent of the elements.

Not the case for us. It’s always tricky getting the catamaran out and it’s a lot tricky coming back in. Because cats are designed to beach, to just ride up hard on the shore That’s not an option for us. So we need strategy.


He sees the wind and weighs it against the flow of the tide. Calculating just when to turn, is late this time, maybe early? We have to miss the bridge that the mast would surely lodge under, but also avoid the fisherman who just jumped ahead of us not realizing that we are on final approach.

It’s a big picture view, and it all has to be considered, even though what we’re aiming for is an area just a few feet wide. And the strategy is never the same of course. How could it be? The context and conditions change every time. He figures it out, barks out the steps, and we execute. It’s a lot like what we do for our clients at Paragon, but without the barking.

Good strategy matters, but it isn’t easy, and it’s a fairly new idea, at least in the advertising arena. In October  McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm,  released a study on the communication strategies used by B2B companies, which found, to a great extent, that these companies weren’t talking about things their customers cared about. At all. Bad strategy.

Look at the discrepancies between what these 90 global B2B brands considered important compared with their customers when it came to assessing of brand strength. Something enormously important.


“Themes such as social responsibility, sustainability, and global reach, which many B2B companies cast in a leading role for brand imaging, appeared to have a minimal influence on buyers’ perceptions of brand strength. The inverse was true, as well: two of the most important themes for customer perceptions of brand strength—effective supply chain management and specialist market knowledge—were among those least mentioned by B2B suppliers. Honest and open dialogue, which customers considered most important, was one of the three themes not emphasized at all by the 90 companies in our sample.”

How B2B companies talk past their companies, McKinsey Quarterly

Here’s another case of strategy gone wrong. Companies, like Pepsi and Target have in recent years asked their customers to help them choose where they should send their charitable donations. Seems like a great idea, no? Giving your customers a real stake. Allowing them to really engage. Not so, according to a recent Cone Communications Echo Research study.


In fact, the study found:

1) Choice reduced impact.

Only 39% of consumers supported companies that offer cause marketing with choice of cause compared to 61% of consumers who supported companies that make a long-term commitment to a focused issue over time.

2) Choice caused paralysis

Having too many options actually lead to people to stall and avoiding making a choice at all. They disengaged completely.

3) Choice lead to more regret

Anxiety and second-guessing were frequently the result, completely ruining people’s experience of these charitable campaigns.

4) Choice lowered perceived value

High company-cause fit became more difficult to achieve the more cause choices that were offered, which in turn resulted in consumers seeing less value, and being less likely to contribute.


Effective strategy, focusing in on the audience and what they’re really looking for, what they care about, how to truly engage with them, and determining where best to meet them to talk about this is critical to avoid these kinds of disconnect. It requires constantly reframing the question, the strategy, and always, always from the customer’s perspective.

We have a little glassing to do on one of the hulls where our strategy failed us one time and we careened hard into the dock. I may or may not have been at the helm at the time. We’ve (I’ve) not made that mistake again.

Strategy. Something we’re always working to do better at. At Paragon also.

Alison Christie

With a Major in witty comebacks and a Minor in motherhood, Ali is all about the words and has been sharing them liberally with all and sundry for years. Oh! The stories she could tell, but for those million dollar non-disclosure contracts she has signed. Moving swiftly on.