The strategist of the future is hybrid – don’t get left behind

Forget silo disciplines, today’s strategist must be truly hybrid in order to survive and thrive, says Bohdi Lewis, who explains in this guest post how people can bridge the gaps.

As a strategist in an agency, your role is to take a brand challenge and distil it into something meaningful and actionable.bohdi-lewis-digital-strategy-director-at-havas

This means having the ability to step back and think laterally to firstly find the right [insert problem] to solve, followed by being able to succinctly articulate the [insert brand promise], followed by identifying a set of [insert category and audience insights] that all together lead to a strategic proposition to steer thinking to a unique and compelling idea. Simple right? Wrong.

This classic linear process has certainly stood the test of time, leading to countless award-winning communication ideas and executions, but in today’s increasingly connected and data-driven world, there’s been a well-documented shift towards the need to deliver more personal brand experiences versus the more passive mass communications of the past.

And then there’s the mammoth explosion of new channels needing to be carefully planned and integrated, and new creative formats born out of the rising dominance of mobile, and completely new technologies like VR and cognitive computing to explore and stay on top of.

Things got complicated!

For strategists, this means we must evolve to become hybrid or risk getting left behind.

It’s time to future-proof your career as employers look for more holistic practitioners that have the ability to remain agnostic in their approach to solving problems, backed by the skills to guide teams to produce meaningful brand experiences in what is now a highly fragmented and fast-changing media landscape.

This means both expanding your breadth of knowledge and skills across a wider set of disciplines (media, digital, retail, influencer marketing, PR, social) as well as stretching deeper into the planning process to add more end-to-end value right through the ideation, building, testing, distribution and measurement stages.

Many of the younger strategists coming through today are what some call ‘Google strategists’, who’s default response to a brand challenge is to simply ‘Google it’.

But it’s important for these guys to realise that Google is not the answer to everything. As Brian Grazer, author of ‘A Curious Mind’ suggests, there are two things you can’t find on the Internet – you can’t search for the answers to questions that haven’t been asked yet and you can’t ‘Google’ a new idea.

Abstract internet network communication concept background - CG render

These younger folk in digital, social and data-type roles need to find mentors who are classically trained planners and learn the fundamental principles of building sustainable brands through real world research and speaking to real people.

On the flip side, those who have come from a more traditional strategy background, who remember a time before the Internet, must invest time in understanding the complex ins and outs of digital or risk becoming too one-dimensional.

To become this hybrid strategist you have to get on the front foot and proactively expand your capabilities. This means firstly becoming more curious and learning to ask more questions to disrupt your point of view with the views of others.

To do this, find people within your company, or at least within your network, with different, but related skill sets. If you’re in a creative agency, find someone in media strategy; if you’re in a UX role, find someone in a tech role, if you’re a social media specialist, understand the principles of retail by connecting with an eCommerce expert.

The aim is to infiltrate their world through casual conversations, sitting in on meetings, subscribing to what they subscribe to, etc etc, with the view to acquire their skills, tools, frameworks and processes into your own toolkit.

Next, strategists must begin to operate much closer to the ‘frontline’, working with creatives and production teams to help shape ideas with advice on technology capabilities and insight into how people behave in different physical and digital contexts.

I’ve seen far too many ‘good ideas’ fail because they weren’t designed for people. Coming up with great ideas is one thing, but creating things that people actually give a shit about and use is difficult.

Understanding the principles of design thinking and rapid prototyping is also really important.

As people are increasingly able to choose what they consume and interact with, we must shift the paradigm from trying to make people want things, to making things people actually want.

Using various prototyping methods, strategists must lead teams to develop ideas more ‘iteratively’ allowing concepts to be tested with real people versus the traditional ‘build it and they will come’ approach that assumes people will care.

One of the best resources for understanding prototyping methodologies is Ideo’s Field Guide to Human-Centred Design. Try implementing a few of these into your next project. But be warned.. this is not an easy thing to introduce in an agency so start small, get some wins, and gradually people will get on board as they see the results.

The strategist of the future should also be entrepreneurial by nature and should learn the concepts of startup culture. The most well-known reading for budding entrepreneurs (which is quite old now) is The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, which arguably introduced the concept of ‘validated learning’ that’s now being embraced by large organisations all over the world.the-lean-startup-book-cover-by-eric-ries

It’s worth reading this and, better still, investing time in connecting with emerging companies to understand their more agile ways of working and how it might apply.

At Havas, we’ve taken this to the next level with the recent launch of Havas Ventures, which is aimed at partnering with early stage growth ventures to ensure we continue to keep innovation at the heart of we do.

Finally, get hands on. To become a true innovator, you need to get up close and personal with the new products and technologies that are coming up in conversations. This doesn’t have to be an expensive exercise.

One way you can get access is to download the Meetup app and search for topics / technologies of interest that you want to learn more about. The app then notifies you when there are meetups / product demonstrations in your local area, and they’re usually free to attend.

At Havas, we’ve brought our different strategy disciplines (media, PR, digital, UX, brand, content, social and data) together with a first-of-its-kind strategy hub to cross-pollinate skills and ways of working.

As part of this move, we’re actively hiring people with interesting backgrounds such as bloggers, photographers, film-makers and journalists to ensure we have people with non-traditional backgrounds.

We’ve also launched our experience design (XD) offering, led by our head of UX, Adam Shutler, with the sole purpose of integrating human-centred design principles into everything we do and exceeding user expectations.

At the end of the day, I’m not suggesting that strategists have to be specialists at everything, nor generalists. The sweet spot for the hybrid strategist is to become jack of all trades and master of some.

Bohdi Lewis is the digital strategy director at Havas

Bohdi will be teaching the upcoming digital strategy and experience design accelerator course at The Communications Council in November, which is aimed at bridging the gap between brand strategy, digital strategy, UX and technology.


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