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S1E1 Strategy and planning guide: First principles.

Updated: Feb 24, 2023

Have started a series of articles that clarify some aspects of strategy and planning as it applies to marketing communications, First one is live here at Nucco.

Strategy is an overused word in the marketers lexicon. It’s a generalist. Like the term ‘digital’, it has to cover so much ground it quickly means nothing and everything at the same time.

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Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.

This is the first of a series of articles I hope will clarify some aspects of strategy and planning as it applies to marketing communications.

It is a practical guide I hope will be useful to marketers who want to better understand the planning process or make their communications more effective.

I am going to lay out some broad principles and then take you through a simple step by step approach that takes you from a ‘client brief’ through to an ‘internal brief’ that can be used to better brief an agency, or a team tasked with solving a communications task..

So here goes, from first principles..

Strategy is an overused word in the marketers lexicon. It’s a generalist. Like the term ‘digital’, it has to cover so much ground it quickly means nothing and everything at the same time.

Straaaaaa-taaaaaaa-geeeeee-tastic. This chart was used to dramatise how many different types of strategy might exist between a brand and a digital performance marketing agency - the point being it is open ended….

“People bandy the word strategy about like it’s a thing, when in fact it’s an approach with outputs. If you want to ‘do’ strategy, you need to recognise this from the get go.”

So what is a ‘strategy’?

Well, it’s the output of applying a strategic approach. The ‘gold standard’ definition I apply in work demands three things:

  1. A clearly stated objective

  2. A plan to achieve stated objective

  3. A validation method to confirm completion

This simple definition is what I use to assess the veracity of anything with the word ‘strategy’ stuck on it. Anyone delivering on the definition above can rightly claim to be a strategist.

What’s the difference between a plan and strategy?

A plan is designed to get you from A to B.

It’s an essential part of a strategy, and (in marketing) typically accounts for 90% of the work. But a plan should not happen without an agreed definition of objective and validation method.

So, the difference between a plan and a strategy, is that the strategy defines why you are going to B, and how you will know when you’ve got there. Whereas a plan just shows you the way.

“The role of the strategist is to give everyone the confidence that they are on the right bus for, they know where it is going and when it will get there.”

So now we have a definition for strategy, and have made a distinction from a plan, its time to dig deeper into the basics of what many people in marketing call ‘strategy’ but often mean ‘communications planning’. If they don’t mean communications planning, then they probably mean media planning which is all about how to maximise a return on paid media spend and is not in the scope of this article.

So what is communications planning?

A useful definition is ‘doing the legwork to maximise the effectiveness of a communication task’, so depending on what you are planning, it can encompass many different things.

Here we outline a basic method that covers most bases and has been put together based on a 30 year career that had the good fortune to bridge the considerable upheaval caused by the impact of digital (WWW and mobile in particular) on society.

Most creative services businesses concerned with communication typically follow a variation on a simple four step process which are:

  1. Brief and discovery - refining and understanding a client brief (the problem, challenge or opportunity) and collecting and absorbing what existing information clients have that might be relevant.

  2. Strategy and planning - doing the leg work to maximise the effectiveness of the communication

  3. Creative and production - creating actual customer facing ideas and experiences

  4. Measurement and optimisation - understanding what is and is not working and making things better

At Nucco we break this out a little

Despite the labels above, strategy and planning has a role across all four of these stages, however when it comes to communications planning, it is stages 1 & 2 where we do the heavy lifting. Stages 2 & 3 benefit from a light touch to keep creative thinking on track (as defined by the internal brief that comes out of stages 1 & 2). More on this later.

The following are the key steps we often take to ‘make it beautifully simple’ at Nucco.

The six key questions to tackle are:

  1. Is the objective clear?

  2. Is the brand or product clear?

  3. Is the audience clear?

  4. Is the context clear?

  5. Is there an insight required?

  6. Is there an internal brief?

Over the next few articles I am going to look at how we tackle these questions in detail, and share examples of frameworks and methods we use. We will then look at how they come together in an internal brief, and then some of the broader points on how the strategy lead or planner on a project can help a team get to great work.

The title of this article is attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower, an American military leader and 34th President of the United States. If you stay the course on this my hope is it will become a valuable hardpoint to inform your communications planning on.

I hope you enjoy the series, please feel free to message me direct with your thoughts and comments at


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