Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What can Baby New Year teach us about strategic marketing?

Two common New Years traditions in America include creating resolutions and checking the annual horoscope (Tarot cards, tea leaves, etc.) to see what the New Year will bring. It’s a light hearted sort of personal strategic planning – we project into the future and make plans to improve our lives.

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time in volatile environments, such as the West Bank and Afghanistan. Many MFI managers there complain to me – quite rightly – that strategic planning is difficult because things change so quickly and unexpectedly.

“What’s the value of planning,” they ask, “when the future is out of our control and impossible to predict?”

The real value of strategic planning (and strategic marketing) isn’t the plan itself. It’s the process.

We may not know what the future will bring, but the strategic planning process makes us aware of possible futures, and better prepared to cope with what may come. It helps us keep sight of our goals, so when circumstances shift, we can shift with them and keep on track, rather than lose our way altogether.

Still not convinced that forecasting is feasible in your crazed environment? Then you might want to try something called “backcasting.” With backcasting, one first visualizes a desired outcome, and then works backwards from that outcome to your MFI’s present state. NASA successfully used this technique to develop a plan to get the first man to the Moon. They began by imagining the astronaut’s successful return to Earth, and then worked backwards, step-by-step, to figure out how to get there.

Action item:

Sit down with your managers and decide where you’d like your MFI to be three years from now. Like NASA’s moon shot, create a “stretch goal:” an ambitious, perhaps even fantastic, long-term goal that will inspire your team’s innovation and creativity. What market share will your MFI have? Will it have successfully attracted donor or investor funding? Work backwards to figure out how to get there from here.

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