Building That Foundation For Strategic Planning
Any strategist worth their salt knows that the quickest way to get into planning a strategy is to start some tertiary research. Even if a client or project comes with oodles of source material, you're still going to have to do a bit of online digging so that you can start seeing the forest from the trees.
Yes, we start with Google for the most part - asking the questions that we think need answered, but there's more to it than just putting in a bunch of keywords and hitting enter. There are a few tools outside of Google Search that I like to use when trying to get a handle on how to approach a strategy.
I love using Google Trends to do a quick analysis of topics, interests, competitors - it's my not-so-secret resource that's free and accessible to all.
(this is a live feed of current trends in the United States)
Another great tool that is useful when trying to understand behavior of the audience you're either tasked to getting to understand more, or are hypothesizing, are surveys and polls. If you are blessed with a client with a large number of followers on their social channels with varied socioeconomic backgrounds, run a pulse-check poll via their account(s). You can also run a broader poll, to new potential audiences, using SurveyMonkey. In the past, I used the Google Opinion Rewards app tool, which was an inexpensive way to reach an incentivized audience. It's no longer clear whether or not they allow anyone outside of the enterprise-level to develop the surveys, but it's still a great option to reach and understand key demographics.
Market research is so important when it comes to building a strategy, it's yet another piece of "knowing what your audience is" puzzle, and it also is key to understanding whether or not you have a USP (unique selling proposition) for your company/brand/product/idea. Market research is expensive, and if you're like me you do not have an enterprise account with Gartner or eMarketer, it can get a little discouraging. However, all is not lost to despair - over the last few years low-cost/high-value research companies have come into existence that allow the solo strategy consultant (or even smaller firms and intrepid in-house folks) to get their research questions answered by trained professionals. Companies like Wonder and Catalant are great resources for the budget conscious and they typically also include support benefits outside of the research report they'll compile for you. As we are tasked with becoming more nimble as strategists, it's reassuring to know that there are supporting services out there to help.
As analog as this may sound, there are some foundational texts out there that I've found helpful in getting into a strategic frame of mind. While some the following texts were assigned as mandatory reading when I was working on my masters of strategic communications at Columbia, I didn't resell them at the end of the semester because they are worth keeping around.
Some resources to keep on hand are books like David Rogers' "The Digital Transformation Playbook" and bookmarking HBR and Fast Company on your browser. I also like to keep on top of technology trends by periodically checking Wired and TechCrunch, since technology informs so much of user behavior and can influence any strategy.
These are just some of the resources I've been able to pull into my strategic arsenal - I hope they are as useful to you as they've been to me.
If you want to pick my brain about strategy, feel free to reach out to me here.