Strategic Strategy

It is easy to make fun of Strategy since constant market changes will challenge the most thoughtful plans. "Strategery" is good comedy.

Strategy + Business helps us admit that a great strategy should simply be unique, specific, and complete.

Strategy concepts should stimulate your thinking without substituting for it ... they should enhance your strategy without becoming it.

The key point is that your strategy can evolve but should be at the center of everything you do. The latest buzzword techniques should inspire your options but not distract you from your goals. In the last 50 years we have seen many flavors ... 

In the 1960s and 1970s, the hot concepts were the experience curve, the growth-share matrix, and SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis. The 1980s gave us five forces, value chain strategy, scenario planning, and total quality management. In the 1990s, business process engineering, customer loyalty, competing for time, competing for the future (core competencies), and growth horizons gained traction. Those ideas were followed by co-opetition, BHAGs (big, hairy, audacious goals), growth adjacencies, Kanban, and blue oceans in the 2000s. Now we are believers in lean startup, disruptive innovation, digital strategy, transient advantage, and agile. 

I believe what we are learning is to KISS...

Great strategies answer 5 critical questions:
1. What business or businesses should you be in?
2. How do you add value to your businesses?
3. Who are the target customers for your businesses?
4. What are your value propositions to those target customers?
5. What capabilities are essential to adding value to your businesses and differentiating their value propositions?


Of all the isms... let's make Reputationism a compulsion we can be proud of.

The Reputation Institute has been champions of which corporations have the best reputations and how. There should be no need to ask why. Being good is good for business.

Watch their reveal of this year's top 10 companies 

Rolex is still #1. Netflix jumped the highest. Microsoft is back. Uber saved it's sould. Facebook is really lucky they own the market.

What you will learn is this seemingly simple advice ... tell the world about your company as much as you tell/sell them about your products. Share how you are good ethical corporate citizens with an engaged workplace. Easy... right.

Your stories should be about how you are supporting the below 4 circled activities (click to enlarge)... They are: Positive influence on society, Fair in doing business, Ethical, Open and transparent:

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The Job of Your Milkshake...?

What Jobs are you accomplishing for your prospects? 

Know what they are REALLY trying to accomplish... Watch how Clayton thinks about milkshakes:

More from Mr. Innovator's Dilemma about "Jobs To Be Done" here.

Thrv has a platform and process to use JTBD. Check out more about the below list of 11 new ways to think (click to enlarge):

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3:00 Summary for your Digital Strategy

What is your number?... "Only 8% of companies believe their business model will remain economically viable through digitization."

We recently worked with McKinsey when this short video on digital strategy was created. The production is enticing, the content should be inspiring ... and appropriately worrisome and motivating:  

Click here to read details about these 5 pitfalls:
Pitfall 1: Fuzzy definitions
Pitfall 2: Misunderstanding the economics of digital
Pitfall 3: Overlooking ecosystems
Pitfall 4: Overindexing on the ‘usual suspects’
Pitfall 5: Missing the duality of digital

Where are you in this flow? (click to enlarge):

Who Owns Your Innovation?

About 60 percent of companies are only in the earliest stages of innovation maturity.
What is your plan?
Innovation Leader and KPMG surveyed 270 global companies about their corporate innovation. Get the entire report. Below is a summary from Inc.
According to the study, 73% of innovation, strategy, and R&D executives say that leadership support is the biggest enabler of innovation. Over 55% of executives report that politics, turf wars, and a lack of alignment are the biggest barriers to innovation. Strikingly, the biggest enablers to (and barriers of) innovation are related to who takes responsibility over a project rather than more concrete things like lack of budget, strategy or vision.
Responsibility for innovation is typically spread out across an organization. Champions are tapped from individual business units, innovation teams, R&D teams, skunkworks teams, corporate VC groups, challenge winners, and even outside resources. This is for good reason. Different parts of the business tend to be responsible for different types of innovation because of their background and expertise.
A large proportion of respondents (82%) said that business units "owned" incremental innovation, innovation designed to serve existing customers. This type of innovation involves improving currently existing products, services and processes, so having a specific business unit manage this process makes sense.
Execution of adjacent innovation, the creation of new value in an adjacent category, market or customer segment, tends to be dealt with differently. While 59% of executives said that business units were responsible for innovation in this area, 58% of executives said that innovation teams were made responsible. R&D teams are also more important at this stage, jumping from 35% to 41% for execution of adjacent innovation.
Less than one quarter of respondents (24%) said their business units were involved in transformational innovation, the type of innovation that creates an entirely new business in a new market. The majority of transformational activity was owned by central innovation (65%) and R&D teams (33%).

Since incremental growth for any size company comes from new products, services, markets, ideas, etc... What is your plan?
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Speed Thrills

 Why Move Faster?...
- Save money - make fast decisions to more efficiently learn HOW you make your best and worst moves.
- Build momentum - rally your team's commitment to a more focused strategy and tactics. 
- Snapshot Opportunities - Get in the market ASAP (with an MVP) to REALLY learn. Only build on that.
- Delays compound - It's WAY more expensive to catch up... if you ever do ... (cue squealing tires of your competitors).

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Awesome AI

The Amazon Echo as an anatomical map of human labor, data and planetary resources:
Click to enlarge

Read more about this art project that honors and questions the magnitude of Artificial Intelligence and automation.

Truth or Consequences

Advertising Agencies have more than an image problem and an alternative options problem

Since they all promise everything... what is a client left to do but consider them all commodities... and work with the cheapest.

Alternatives have been encroaching...

In-House Agencies can get closer to real data and accountability. Check out the fast growing and fun folks at In House Agency Forum -

Management Consultants are promising big-picture results that includes marcom... which are just a few cogs in the wheel. Their not-so-secret method is to charge outrageous rates that require the sharing of all client data and issues... then (and only then)  can actually really help.

Remember, Agencies have that conundrum of focusing services to be a defined brand but therefore not helping their clients across their entire ecosystem (the answer is working with trusted partners... I would love to talk to you about the right ways to do this).

Michael Farmer has been trying to help Agencies by being brutally honest in his book Madison Avenue Manslaughter - read it.

Excerpt from his recent post
"Transformed agencies will require sophisticated mid-level executives who can thoroughly engage with their clients to solve business issues, like underperforming brands. This will require a considerable amount of analytical and strategic expertise. Currently, there is an agency deficit in talent, training and salaries.

To pay for the required talent for agency transformations, agencies need to upgrade their fee levels. This is possible today only if agencies document the work they do and negotiate fees based on Scopes of Work rather than on client-controlled benchmarked salaries and overhead rates. My analyses show that agencies are currently underpaid by 15-30% for the work they do – and their poor Scope of Work documentation and negotiation practices are root causes of the problem."  

More on his methods at

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Mind The Gap

You and your team should have some heated conversations around what customers want and what they want you to provide...

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Blah, Blah, ... then BLAH!

Note to CEOs: 3 levels of "talking" is required before a successful tech development (i.e mobile app, new product site, enterprise fix, etc) results in growth of your asset value and delivers net new revenue.

The 3 Blahs spell ACT ... because that's the message.

Blah #1 - A - Acknowledge

You have been observing the market shifts and talking with your team about your customers asking for more... and about competitors freaking you out... and about your options being expensive and endless.

Blah #2 - C - Commit

You have decided to invest RIGHT NOW in your future ... with a budget and a "safe container" to protect a dedicated team from the cynical "white blood cells" around your organization. You are encouraging and training these special people to develop clear goals and innovate with enthusiasm (while honoring those clear goals). They have been researching market opportunities, business models, creating mockups, and talking to customers (a lot).

Blah #3 - T - Test

Now it is time to take action and build your ideas in the market ... for real customers (NOT just research modeling, focus groups and mockups). You are working with internal and/or external software specialists that love what you have been blah blahing about! Growing in the right direction should feel as validating as small tweaks and mass pivots!

Learning is tough because innovation comes from iteration ... and that means building and launching through lots of wins AND losses along the always bumpy road to an optimized product that is never done but finally working, adding value, and generating the results you want... usually net new revenue.

READ: Our much more eloquent and thorough 4-page overview of the "Pitfalls on the Innovation Delivery Journey" at

BONUS: from our partners at McKinsey:

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Trust... Earned

I am optimistic again about how you can be a well paid hero. 

Thanks to Rupal's riffs in AdAge on 6 ways Ad Agencies earn respect by delivering results from ideas.

Key line:
"Execution turns out to be harder, more strategic and more valuable than everyone thought and ... it's what clients are coming to agencies for." 

(FYI, what qualifies Rupal is her years as an industry journalist and then realizing the best way to provide value is to work directly with the digital developers)

This is what the most ambitious and successful Agencies are providing: a safe havens for creative problem-solving with a diverse and appreciated workforce led by sincere leaders that get out of the way of empowered teams focusing on their mutually beloved clients and their bottom lines. 

Well, that IS a lot...perhaps I have guarded optimism.

That key line above is about not spinning aimlessly around "innovation" when there are products and services to be built! Yes, it sounds obvious ... the best plan is getting SOMETHING out in the market into the hands of actual users is the only way to validate your assumptions .... and increase your chances of growing your client's revenue and asset value. The "i" word only works when it is applied beyond thinking, into and through production of something real. ONLY THEN can it be assessed accurately by real users and optimized. 

Because... Innovation = Iteration.

Let's all focus on what we do best but remember to include those that deliver. When you are talking about digital transformation, that's the frontend and backend engineers and coders.

Frankly, I am done with small talk about big ideas. The last several years have been great to open our mindset, setup our strategy processes, and delivery frameworks... Now, there are few good reasons not to take action.

Agency examples of how to grow businesses in this digital age should already be inspiring. By partnering with tech augmentors like Creative Chaos, you can deliver like R\GA, Anomaly, and (insert favorite Agency that helps clients grow their business here).  

If you want to know what you need to know, read Jules' 2016 State of the Digital Nation. Then look deeper at the new opportunities in the market to be yourself and read his 2020 update.

Again, support your trusted nerds ... include them early and throughout your process to develop a dynamic tech architecture that includes CI/CD microservice containers.

Since lots of us get lost in that last sentence, we are happy to discuss it. 

Any time... David - or 617-331-7852

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Diversity Required Around Tech and Everything!

At 10:30 Eric builds momentum on this helpful and very human speech on how to REALLY build a team of innovative problem-solvers... and he says:

Google, Apple, Facebook. Sixty-five percent of their open job opportunities are non-technical: marketers, designers, project managers, program managers, product managers, lawyers, HR specialists, trainers, coaches, sellers, buyers, on and on. These are the jobs they're hiring for. And if there's one thing that our future workforce needs -- and I think we can all agree on this -- it's diversity. But that diversity shouldn't end with gender or race. We need a diversity of backgrounds and skills, with introverts and extroverts and leaders and followers. That is our future workforce. And the fact that the technology is getting easier and more accessible frees that workforce up to study whatever they damn well please!"

Open Innovation = Ideas + Consensus + Process

Here are a few excerpts from another helpful HBR article:

... the reasons more ideas from open innovation aren’t being adopted are political and cultural, not technical. Multiple gatekeepers, skepticism regarding anything “not invented here,” and turf wars all hold back adoption.

in addition to having good ideas, those design agencies whose concepts were successfully implemented had a more flexible approach to all stages of the development process.

Successful designers took five strategic actions to cultivate flexibility and trust. … not to drive efficiency but to create consensus:
  1. Create a multi-layered network
  2. Foster equal ownership
  3. Establish interim milestones
  4. Build an open business case
  5. Prototype early

David Cutler is Managing Director at Creative Chaos. They provide tech team augmentation and custom software development for funded Startups, Agencies, strategy consultants, and corporate Innovation Labs, such  as: McKinsey  BionicSolutions and AB InBev's Zx-Ventures.

Digital Transformation Is Operation Optimization

Listen here as eMarketer interviews top marketers about the challenges of Digital Transformation.

This is my summary with my POV... well, at least what I am observing that works.

Key Take Aways:  #1 - The most important opportunities are beyond marketing. #2 - Have trusted nerds on speed-dial.

Digital Transformation is your Digital Strategy for your Business Operations. 

Most business leaders are in "shock and awe." Help them.

"Digital" is over... everything is Digital

Hard to keep up - new channels - IoT, Connected Home, Car, voice! Since it is a constantly evolving market ... ther should be less pressure to know everything

Embrace the iteration process. Get ANYTHING into the market to react to - test test test!

    - Use tech to deliver visibility and truth.
     -  Silos must intersect and flow around a consistent customer journey.
     - Do not rely on Facebook for an assessment of YOUR customers.
     - Get tech architects to connect the dots between platforms.
     - Opportunities are around them. Just make them more productive!

Have CTRL = Content, Timing, Relevance, Location 
Get out there and FEEL real retail experiences.
Emotional connections are NEEDED in this digital world
     - acknowledge our very human analog existence

Accept that there is ROI from learning 
Make it fun to find mistakes since they are the process
Embrace sharing and learning together between client, vendor, customer

Marketers must be:
- Data Scientists (know enough to see the truth)
- Social Butterflies (friend and critic of media platforms)
- Economists (choosing priorities ...that produce)

Set innovation funds to experiment (removed from brand P and L)
Support successes (Remember cross-corp knowledge sharing)

Again, Summary: Have trusted nerds on speed-dial

Our Only Hope ... Is TechDev!

Should Agencies be terrified that the market is shifting away from them to Management Consultants? ... Well, yes if they are not providing what the client needs (which is way more than creative marketing campaigns).

The "inside" Digitization needs of our corporate clients are not changing... they have been trying to evolve their Digital operations for decades.

The problem is that this transition to digital efficiency is difficult emotionally (who prioritizes what?) and technologically (who is coding what?).

The big Management Consultants have seized this opportunity by helping CEOs directly with this heavy lifting. Marketing Agencies are not... but they should and they can... by adding technology solutions beyond the Media Platforms.

Accenture, Deloitte, Mckinsey, PwC, etc. always follow the opportunity (so can you).

Here are some excerpts from the latest Advertising Age Cover Story - "Out of the Shadows, Consultants Creep in on Agency Turf." 

... bring together the agency's data, analytics, research, CRM and search technology capabilities with the goal of creating more personalized content for clients.

The big consultancies are underestimating the value of creativity [and] the agencies are under- exploiting the value of business analytics," said Ivan Pollard, senior VP-strategic marketing at Coca-Cola Co. "Someone's going to crack that soon because data plus creativity is the future."

... startups like Uber and Airbnb have built brands by disrupting traditional business models with easy-to-use consumer interfaces—not with big ad budgets.

"Historically, brands have been built by pushed messages" with ads that gave "suggestions about how you should feel, or emote or think about a product or service," he added. But "we don't believe that is true at all anymore." Instead, Accenture's philosophy is that brands are built through "hundreds of customer interactions," ranging from e-commerce experiences to how people are treated in physical stores

The new branding is this idea of building experiences for customers that allow them to experience you in ways that are much more honest and truthful and engaging than just standing on Mount Olympus shouting what it is that you want somebody to believe about your brand,

One of the things that the consultancies have going for them is that they are not going through the traditional marketing channels. They are either going top-down through CEOs, or they are even going through the board

Once inside, consultancies position themselves as cost savers via big reorganization projects, while ad agencies are perceived as cost drivers

Deloitte Digital's agency Heat says, " We won this account specifically because we understood their business. We could bring all of the competitive intelligence and business strategy to bear in the creative pitch process and ultimately brought a data-driven approach to world-class creative," Hatch said. "You've got to check all those boxes."

SO... the article headline is wrong. What the Managing Consultants provide has never been the "Turf" of the Agencies.

However, technology solutions integrated across a clients business goals is an opportunity AND an obligation for all vendor/partners.

FYI - Adweek also explodes this in the "Big Bang - New World Order - Global consultancies are rocking the agency world, creating a new universe of offerings that meld marketing and technology."

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Managing Your Agency's Sales Pipeline

Photos and Tweet from

Another MAB FABulous session at MAB 14 
Managing an Agency Business meetup series.  

Come next time to meet founders of Boston's top design, dev and marketing agencies

This event featured a panel discussion on "Managing Your Agency's Sales Pipeline" 
with topics including how to better qualify leads, managing your daily sales responsibilities, 
improving your scoping process and increasing your close rate on new deals.

Here are notes from this session on your Sales Pipeline:

Give free advice to connectors in your target markets
Get permission from clients to do your own PR

Share challenges publicly (podcast/Post) as process to solve… be that network of solving

Know target personas
And their networks
Who is funded, hiring. Read Venture-Fizz

Outbound prospecting = big pipeline
Find, meet, qualify, pitch, close

Read Predictable Revenue – segmentation of roles. cold-callers, Account person,

Know Persona details – their issues, needs, size, fears, competitors, what tech are they using,
Segment qualifying

A/B split test everything
Quality – Tier 1 - Priorities
Quantity – Tier 2 – General category
Practice – Tier 3

Owler – target account news
Google Alerts

Have top 20 accounts listed and printed… share with potential partners/everyone

Load emails to systematically touch - Yesware, Sendbloom,

Ask prospects, “How is this digital project going to help your business?”

Pre-qualifying – Speed process by asking if they appreciate this:
“up-front contract” – setup in advance “I assume you will want to know how 
we work, prices, relevant case studies.”  I will need to ask budgets, timing, how
you make this decision”

Give/Get Balance = Respect
Be careful not to condition your client to keep asking for more, time, scope creep
BUT they need to be asking for more. Healthy

Do - Scorecard… Prioritize a list of Gives/Gets. Match numbers for each ranked item.
List “Gives” – info, proposals. trials, better terms, Sales Engineer time, consulting, 
 extension on trial, discounts
List “Gets” – decision process, timeline, meetings with seniors, budget, 
  referrals, testimonials

Sales is making connections and helping people out
Be as objective as possible. Not emotional. Practical

Best sales movies – Pursuit of Happiness. Tommy Boy.
           Stop pitching – conversations
           Helping – not commissions

 – we cannot do everything. We have great partners
           Help wherever you can
Follow GaryV – “Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook”
Read Blinkest (book summaries)

“I’m confused”… “you said this, but this happened.” Hold them accountable
Never say,  “just checking in”
Pick up the phone!

Set expectations

Do – Summary email. Let them know before you send it
           List key action items for both … (active listening) … ask for confirmation
           Hold accountable
           Decision date? Put 15 minutes on the calendar
           Missed? Resend
           Confirm “what is best way to communicate with you”
                          I will get back to you within 24 hours… what can I expect from you?
           ALWAYS start “The reason for my call is…”
Influence - Reciprocity. Give reason

Keep emotions out
Have a walk-away line… do not cross it!

Handoff from Sales to production/service… (at 40:00+)
           Kick-off deck

Use “Summary Email” to follow up call… and start next meeting for clarification
 Get paid for pilot
Have detailed success criteria

Sales Stacks:

Owler – target account news
Google Alerts
Hubspot to Zapier to service tools
https://app.contactually -CRM (like Zendesk)
?...Todapt – email  – profiling, emails
Panda Doc – contracts, sow, stripe for recurring billing
      Custom token/fields
Sendbloom – good for workflows
> Leadsboost – data
Uber conference
Hunter – email
> Banana Tag – cleaner
Drift > Zapier > Slack
> Crunchbase
CharlieApp – meeting prep data

Any suggestions? (Should there be a collaborative MAB community wiki?)

FYI, I have a list of tips on "Selling Out" at

David Cutler
Managing Director -
617-331-7852  -

About MAB
Managing an Agency Business (MAB) is a quarterly event series focused on 
bringing Boston-area agency founders/owners/managers together to discuss 
the 'business' of running an agency. Topics of conversation include business 
development, operational management, developing culture and anything other 
than the actual services you offer your clients. MAB is not another networking 
event for hand shaking and business card swapping but rather an intimate 
gathering of peers looking to share their trials/tribulations in building successful 
agency businesses.

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