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Hands on Thinking

Posted 19 September 2014.

by Murray Streets

​Disruptive business models, accelerating product lifecycles, media fragmentation and rising consumer expectations are our new reality.

To unlock competitive advantage today, clients must combine creative thinking with brilliant execution at a pace that matches their consumers living in the “Age of Now.”

In the face of this uncertainty and complexity for marketers, the role of the strategist as a “‘hands on thinker” has never been more vital.

Clients are looking for strategic thinkers with three attributes:
• a wider field of vision to inspire new thinking and see opportunities, far beyond advertising;
• an ability to identify insights and tensions brands can solve; and
• a broader set of tactical skills to help implement integrated solutions.

Ambitious brands are identifying new ways to create customer value. Niraj Dawar in his recent book Tilt: Shifting your strategy from products to customers argues that competitive advantage can be created more efficiently downstream where businesses interact with consumers, not upstream in manufacturing,
R&D or product innovation.

This approach demands a new breed of strategists, rendering obsolete the traditional “ad planner” dedicated to crafting the perfect brief. Labels like “communications planner,” “creative planner” or “context planner” have simply obscured planning’s most valuable role: to provide clear-headed, insightful and useful thinking, end-to-end.

“Hands-on thinkers” are capable of discussing business and marketing strategy, committed to developing insights and creative solutions but also driving implementation of these across channels.

“Hands-on thinkers” blend respect for marketing fundamentals with an appetite to embrace digital innovation. Digital isn’t just another channel. It’s far too pervasive and fast changing to compare to billboards, print or TVCs. For consumers digital is simply an expectation – of ease, of relevance, of intimacy, of immediacy, of utility and of social currency. If we’re not designing marketing solutions to thrive in these ways, then we’re not doing enough to help brands unlock value for consumers.

In agencies, “hands on thinkers” thrive in flatter, more collaborative and diverse teams. And they travel with the solution rather than handing it off. It’s a game of rugby, not a relay.

Clients should demand “hands on thinking” from their agencies, inviting them in to their business to spot opportunities well beyond marketing and communications. This requires confidence, vision and leadership from senior marketing clients and business leaders. Ask for less theory and tidy models and

more direct engagement from your agency strategists and you’ll increase the potency of your work.