Full Stack strategy

The time to PowerPoint is through. Strategists need to change, adapt or die. Or find their work wanting.


In software development, a Full Stack Developer has a good (if not expert) grasp of all the layers that go into a product. They are a Jack Of All Trades from the back end (servers, databases etc) to the front end (HTML etc).

If we see progressive organisations as ‘stacks’, then everything from C-suite, to IT, to marketing, to product development, to customer service is in the stack. Even customers are in the stack. The whole organisation and everything it touches is in the stack. Connecting those layers calls for a strategy that goes from the back room to people’s front rooms. How many brand strategies (or strategists) really do that?

The evolution seems to have developed like this…

Traditional

Brand strategy needs to exist and be understood at the core of the business. This is often called Purpose. Brand strategists love this stuff.

Enlightened

Brand strategy needs to extend all the way from the core of the business in a way that’s actionable to people across the business. This is often called Culture. Brand strategists have to spend time talking to ‘stakeholders’, but otherwise it’s okay.

Progressive

Brand strategy needs to extend all the way from the core of the business to a user or customer and all the way back in again.

This is often called… all kinds of things. Undercurrent and Bud Caddell call it Responsive. IDEO and Frog call it User Centered Design. Wolff Olins calls it Creative Partnership. But it’s here that brand strategists tend to get lost in the mix with organisational, experience and interaction design. The idea of ‘brand’ becomes amorphous. As does the idea of strategy. Oh God.

Let’s call the new practice Full Stack Strategy.

I’ve been knocking around the agency world long enough now to know that the appetite from both agencies and clients is there. And yet, I’ve also been around long enough to see first-hand how difficult it is to shape the right skillsets, define a buyable offer, sell it in successfully, and implement it effectively. It’s down, in part, to both sides of the table looking to the wrong benchmarks for inspiration.

The need for a Full Stack Strategy is relatively new. Digitisation, user-centricity, and a heightened emphasis on company culture has made corporate agility a must. This is easy for organisations born into this context — the Googles, the Apples, the Amazons, and the Netflixs of this world. But for everyone else it’s a massive, monumental ball-ache. ‘Transformation’ — the word so often used in these cases — suggests a sweet caterpillar
re-emerging as a gorgeous butterfly. In reality it’s more like gender reassignment surgery — complex, awkward, painful and utterly confusing for everyone around.

Anyway, how to tackle that is probably the subject of another blog post and one I’m not quite ready to write. But assuming the client’s organisation is all metaphorically hormone-d up and ready to take a knife to the parts that matter, here’s what a strategist will need to cover in order to build a Full Stack Strategy that makes a significant difference:

Mastery

  • Business objectives (short and long term)
  • Capabilities
  • Offer
  • Audience

Interest

  • Organisational structure
  • Processes
  • R&D/Innovation
  • HR
  • Big data (let’s just call it data analytics like normal people, yes?) (quant)
  • Customer insight (qual)

Familiarity

  • Service design
  • Experience design
  • Environmental design
  • Marketing, PR, communications, advertising, social
  • …basically every touchpoint you have and haven’t thought of, the strategy should be applicable to and reflected in

I said, I’m not ready to write that “how to do this” post, but I do have a starter for ten and it begins with us — strategists. I suspect that the time has come for brand strategists to re-cast themselves as Full Stack Strategists; strategic counsel that is familiar with the organisation from top to bottom.

Strategists need to expand their curiosity and their skill sets exponentially. They need to adopt (or at the very least understand) the capabilities and insight of their crazy cousins The Marketers, their wayward uncles The Ad Guys, their shy sisters the Business Intelligence folk, and their funky little nieces the Social Media experts. They need to know how to push that strategy right to the very edge of the organisation and tip it out into the world. And they need to be ready to respond effectively to whatever comes back. They need to think very big, and then go in very small. Hands off/Hands on.

Highly-complex and networked organisations are here. They have an ever increasing number of layers that must work together, and in the service of wider goals. There’s just no room or time for a PowerPoint presentation in that context. Full Stack Strategy is our future. So let’s change, adapt and thrive.


If you recognise any of the above in your organisation, your agency or even in yourself, I’d be really interested to hear about it. Please comment, or drop me a tweet.

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