Applied strategy: a new model for the next normal


Data, content and agility will drive the successful campaigns of the future.

When the world is changing on a daily basis, there’s no time to overthink. 

In the past, a full-fledged campaign strategy required planning every aspect before releasing it into the world. Today, marketers have to build strategies while executing campaigns at the same time, keeping teams agile as they scale. 

The dilemma for brands becomes, how do you continue to produce high-quality work and achieve better results in less time?

Rather than planning a monolithic campaign before executing, create multiple options and pieces of content to reach your goal. Then use analytics to quickly filter to those that will be most effective, reducing the barriers to getting things done. 

1. Be flexible 

In the “old” normal, marketing teams worked tirelessly for months on one big idea, and then hoped that it would work. If it didn’t, they’d start all over again. 

Today, teams should design options to allow flexibility. Focus on your ultimate goal, whether that’s building brand equity or gaining market share, but be flexible in how you get there. That should be open-ended for your team to interpret. 

Uber, for example, was completely disrupted when the pandemic hit, but it quickly pivoted to its food delivery business to make up for the lack of demand for its drivers. The company began to focus on contactless home delivery and community support. This quick pivot gave the brand a more relevant voice in the market and separated it from the competition.

2. Talk with, not at 

Stop dictating what your brand is about and start conversing with your audience. 

What are people saying about your brand? Evaluate options and possible outcomes, stretching to anticipate what you might not normally expect. Marketing today is heavily organic, and messaging is a two-way street. Be willing and ready to adapt based on your audience’s reaction. 

Burger King pulled this off masterfully when it picked up on a viral story about a McDonald’s cheeseburger someone kept for over 20 years that looked exactly the same as it did the day it was purchased. That spawned the provocative moldy Whopper campaign, which drove the message that BK’s burgers are fresh with no artificial ingredients or preservatives. 

Because Burger King got into a conversation that its consumers were already having, it was able to gain traction online, where people amplified the message.

3. Quality and quantity

With your ultimate goal in mind, make lots of fit-for-format content and use data to test what works best. 

When looking at a creative concept, think about how different sets of content can evolve into hundreds or thousands of assets. Look at the story as having multiple outcomes in various formats, whether that’s a conversation on Facebook or a display ad. 

When the story of the Netflix show “Narcos” shifted from Pablo Escobar to the Cali cartel, Netflix deployed assets across different mediums as unique stories. They ended up with around 1.5 million possibilities for content, giving them plenty of traction to promote the new season. 

4. Marry data and content

Data and testing is the name of the game. Brands should continually test in the wild to see what works and what doesn’t, and then quickly pare assets down from there. 

Who could forget Spotify’s holiday 2018 campaign? It was a great use of data, and one of many campaigns they’ve run to create compelling and exciting messages based on real users’ playlists.  

5. Build agile teams

Your team should be like small, special forces, constantly collaborating and responding to changes on the fly. Use Kanban boards, scrums or whatever works best for them.

Most importantly: eliminate unnecessary approval processes and other barriers that will slow the team down. Top leaders should only have to convey the ultimate goal, giving small teams the power to create multiple assets and let the audience decide which they prefer.

Back when I worked at Verizon, our team leveraged our sponsorship at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to show off 5G technology. We built a platform with a 360-degree view of the parade that felt like viewers were actually there. We developed the idea without a brief and was quickly approved by leadership, allowing us to bring it to market without delay.

Be bold

The world is only going to keep changing. So stop planning as if we were still in the “old” normal. This is the time to embrace uncertainty. Be bold. Try new things. 

It’s OK to fail. Many creative combos you test will fail. But by allowing failure, you open the door to innovation.


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