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Strategy, thy name is Athena

Nir Wegrzyn muses on developing a brand strategy.

  • Opinion
  • BrandOpus

owl - strategy, thy name is athena

The word Strategy comes from the Greek ‘stratēgia’, which, quite literally, means - ‘to lead that which is spread out, or (an) army’. The leader of the army - the ‘General’ - translates to a CEO, or CMO as the modern business leader, and it’s imperative that, like a General, the business leader to lead.

The very notion of Strategy relates directly to the successful maintenance of any organisation. It enables progress, growth and, importantly, resilience. Simply put, strategy’s role is to bring any potential chaos into successfully functioning order. What that means is that any strategy inherently needs to be focused on what’s potentially coming down the line and instinctively working with, and against, the resulting ebbs and flows. Strategy is necessary to solve the complex problems of marketing, without which ultimately chaos and waste will take over.

The Greeks associated strategy with the figure of Athena, and it might be worthwhile to consider this archetypal image when we consider the elements that contribute to a successful strategy. Athena was imagined as born fully developed out of the head of Zeus, (lead by intellect) helmeted and armed with sword and shield, (prepared for battle) bearing the terrifying image of the Gorgon, (fighting irrationality) with her owl (wisdom) sitting on her shoulder. As she is considered to be the personified image of strategy, we can take learnings from this depiction and apply them to how we approach marketing strategies.

With all of her qualities, Athena shifts us from being blinded by perceived necessity to becoming intelligent, from spinning to weaving and from erratic action to intellectual foresight. From this we can learn that a successful strategy is where a business is moulded into a streamlined form, capable of ‘weaving’ and adapting effortlessly, which is achieved through thoughtful judgment, as opposed to unstable action. Just like the owl perched upon Athena’s shoulder, a good strategy enables you to have a full 360-degree view with the ability to see clearly when those around you struggle to focus in the dark.

It’s also worth noting that Athena signifies the difference between analysis and strategy. She does not rule coldly from a distance through contemplation as analysis would. Analysis is often best done from afar, however it’s simply impossible to strategise from a distance. It’s necessary for anyone in control of developing a strategy to be deeply immersed in the business itself. When working with an external brand strategist, such as ourselves, it’s imperative that we are involved and immersed within the organisation, not simply provided with an unobstructed view of the business. Immersion enables us to gain a full insight into where the challenges and opportunities lie.

The fundamental elements of a successful strategy are; being able to guide the business from a vantage point, which is generally where one has the widest view possible, coupled with brilliance of intelligent and insightful action. Strategy doesn’t take the form of a spreadsheet. Strategy should never be confused with analysis, which is where data comes in to play. Although analysis is integral to the smooth running of an organisation, any leader who remains face down in spreadsheets is not focusing forward on strategic action.

The biggest threat to any strategy is the element of surprise. Strategy cannot account for the surprise of the unexpected, and we can almost guarantee that the unexpected always happens. Analysis and data are helpful for forecasting, however they’re incapable of spotting potential surprises, and certainly can’t react to them. The reaction, and subsequent conquering is the role of the strategy in play.

When developing a marketing strategy it’s necessary to have direct access to the business leaders. When we work with clients to develop a brand strategy, it’s crucial we have that access. For us to determine a strategy without knowledge of, or insight into, the individual responsible for actioning it, means there’s no way for us to judge how best to tailor it to them. Like trying to write a script without knowledge of who the character delivering the lines will be, it’s never going to work.

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