Spring has sprung, and the emergence of birds, green buds, and fresh air somehow create an urge to give things a good scrubbing and start anew. For those in marketing and other commercial roles, spring also means we’re in the midst of business planning season. What a great time to spring-clean our strategies!
Inspired by Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, perhaps we can reframe business planning as a way to declutter our work and free up energy for the years ahead. Applying Marie’s main criterion—“Does this item spark joy?”—I became curious: How can we assess and ensure strategies and plans spark joy in our business life?
Creating a plan that sparks joy begins by being committed to developing a focused, curated, and relevant plan that will drive impact in the market. Oftentimes, a good plan is associated with the opposite of choosing, you know, things like, covering all our bases, and keeping our options open. Unfortunately, this spread-the-peanut-butter approach results in the daily work life of endless to-do lists, competing priorities, and doing a lot of things “okay” at best. It’s an approach that makes it hard to excel at the most important things. It’s an approach that neither breaks through in a highly competitive market nor allows us, our teams, and our colleagues to have any semblance of work-life balance. It’s a plan of busyness in the hopes of something will stick and be successful. It’s a plan of burden, heaviness, and tedium.
We don’t have to settle for this mess! Imagine an ideal work life. What is the gap between what you have now and what you’d like to have in the future? While it can feel uncomfortable to our habits and cultural premium on “more is more”, tidying up our strategies—where “less is more”—can release new energy in our teams, ourselves, and the customers we serve. Creating a plan that sparks joy means making choices and staying true to these choices.
How can we apply Marie’s wisdom to our business plans? How can we ensure our strategies spark joy?
For Marie, tidying happens by category and always starts with clothes. (If you’ve watched her in action on her Netflix show, this is often the most significant undertaking.) In marketing, tidying up our strategies starts with the customer.
- First, you should have a small number of customers and stakeholders that you are focusing your efforts around. This focus should be evident in your plan. If you have not made choices about which customers are most important, then you need to start here to clarify this. You’ll want to be deliberate about: Who is this customer segment? How are their attitudes and needs different from other types of customers? What is the problem they have that is available to be solved and isn’t being solved completely by others? You should have no more than two priority customer segments (one is better!) and maybe one to two key stakeholders…but only if they directly influence how the customer segment makes its buying decision.
- Next, when looking at each strategy and key tactic, you should be able to say how this solves the customer segment’s problem. If it’s not clear how the strategy plays a role in solving the customer problem, it needs to be tossed. Period. Be wary of lengthy, highly indirect explanations for the role a strategy or tactic might play—that’s an indication it should head for the toss bin. (You can even further pressure test each strategy and tactic by asking: How will this strategy or tactic spark joy in the customer segment itself?)
- Don’t forget to interrogate your positioning, value propositions, and key messages. Are they single-minded in nature? Do your communication platform, channel plan, and/or key messages bring to life your positioning and key strategies? While it’s obvious that anything not aligned goes to the toss bin, it’s also critical to make sure everything you keep has a relevant job to do. Look at what is in a passive role, in other words, not contradicting but also not contributing to an active part in accelerating or moving strategies along. Toss out any of these efforts that don’t amplify what you are trying to do.
A second big idea in Marie’s wisdom is who helps in tidying up. Just like Marie includes the whole family in the tidying up process, you should include your extended team when clearing out your strategy and plans. This part of tidying up can be challenging because, at work, we often put a premium on inclusion, input, and consensus when building business plans. However, this inclusion, input, and consensus not well-curated only lead to increased clutter. It’s like that nice sweater your dear Grandma gave you that you don’t really wear, but also don’t have the heart to throw away. As a marketing leader, co-creating with your extended teams is critical for quality perspective and alignment…but remember, this inclusion doesn’t require the resulting strategy to happen by consensus. Confront things you might be adding in just because it’s easier than a conversation about taking it out.
Once input is gathered, choices need to be made. After all, like with clothes, in our business life, there is only so much room in the closet—resources like money, time, and people capacity are limited available. Moreover, we need space and breathing room to think creatively, find hidden patterns, and connect things in new ways. Making this space—making choices—can result in hurt feelings, especially if there are cherished items heading for the toss bin. This leads to Marie’s third big idea: Before getting rid of items, honor the role they played in the past, and sincerely thank each item for serving its purpose. That means as both a leader and coach, you should discuss with your extended team the goals of tidying up, and recognize that nostalgia for how things have always been done is not always a friend of future business success. Explore together the benefits of stopping work that doesn’t amplify what you absolutely need to do to win in the market. And, as you are tidying up, be sure to take time to celebrate the things you are no longer doing and the positive impact this lightness and clarity has on your team’s work life. Relish in your choices of things NOT to do.
It takes time to sift through and clean out our proverbial strategy closet. Habit is a powerful force. Moreover, the fear of leaving something out or walking away from something that we’ve been doing for years is very real. Applying a customer filter to the tidying process provides the soundness and confidence that our streamlined strategy will have an impact. At the end of the day, what is in the strategy should be relevant to the customer segment, reflect choices about what to do and not do, and should feel inspiring and energizing. Your strategies should spark joy!