Ownership of strategy must be shared if it is to succeed - David Warren


“Ownership of strategy must be shared if it is to succeed” - David Warren, BMF Sydney Group Strategy Director

Tuesday, 12 April 2018

David WarrenWith 15 years of planning experience, BMF Sydney Group Strategy Director and AdSchool Presenter David Warren specialises in cognition and behaviour, and has helped his clients win five EFFIE awards and an APG silver. This week, The Communications Council chats to David about how the marketing landscape has changed, the client-agency relationship and how people can unleash their inner-strategist.

TCC: You have a special interest in the craft of planning - where and how did you develop this interest area?

DW: I learnt my trade of strategic planning at DDB London. Whilst at DDB, I worked alongside Professor Daniel Mullensiefen and the PHD students of Goldsmiths University to test common advertising practices. It was this experience that led me to develop a particular interest in the science of planning. When I moved to Australia, I formed a relationship with the UNSW’s School of Psychology to develop new approaches to consumer research. Ultimately, I believe that critical thinking is one of the most important skills for a planner to develop.
TCC: How has the marketing landscape changed in recent years?

DW: On one hand our understanding of consumer behaviour and how brands grow has improved dramatically. On the other hand companies face increasingly complex and unpredictable competitive environments.
However, whilst a lot has changed we do still see a lot of the same ideas and frameworks underpinning marketing decision-making. Some of them are great, but many of them should be set aside.
As presenter of the AdSchool Strategic Planning course, I have the opportunity to help students explore different concepts and tools and to see firsthand which ones can help grow your business and your brand.
TCC: In your experience, what are some of the most common barriers to a successful strategy?

DW: The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given about brand strategy was, “The quality of what gets produced will be directly related to the quality of the conversations that preceded it.”
Over the years I’ve come to realise that this simple statement hints at one of the biggest challenges of strategy: implementation. Developing a good strategy is relatively easy when compared with trying to get others to believe in it and act upon it.
Essentially, ownership of strategy must be shared if it is to succeed.
However, getting shared ownership of a strategy requires us to be talking the same language; something that seems to be on the wane with the increasing amount of waffle and nonsense that gets said about brands and marketing communications nowadays.
For every Byron Sharp that offers empirical evidence about how brands grow, there are ten people with a vested interested in telling you something different.
For me a key goal with the course is to try and cut-through some of that nonsense and explore each subject in a guaranteed waffle-free environment.
TCC: How can creative agencies create more value for their clients?

DW: One of the central tenets of good strategy is that it is unexpected. However, a lot of corporations have a prescribed strategic approach that can sometimes hinder insightfulness or originality. Whilst having a set of repeatable rules is great if you work in a financial department or are a manufacturing plant, in marketing it can be a curse – and could be a big part of the reason there are so many generic ‘me-too’ brands out there.
Agencies can help clients be less corporate. This is an area where I think creative agencies can create immense value for clients. Our entire industry is built on the premise of original thinking and finding innovative ways to solve problems. That, fundamentally, is at the heart of a great strategy.
TCC: What is your top tip for aspiring senior planners?

DW: A lot of people think that planners are cynical. However, I’ve always felt that a better description is that we’re sceptical.  Part of this course will show the importance of developing critical thinking and unleashing your inner-strategist.  
However, counter to this point is that good strategists also need to be insightful. They need to be able to see the same thing as everyone else, but think something completely different.
The former is about not simply accepting what you’re told. The latter is about knowing when to trust your intuition. It’s a complete paradox and contradiction, but I guess that’s why strategy is both an art and a science.
TCC: How do you tackle complex issues and stay motivated? 

DW: Whenever I find myself lost in the complexity of a task, I revert to a simple belief that usually helps me bring some clarity to what I’m trying to do: The consumer response should be at the heart of all strategic decision-making.
That’s not to say that I’m advocating asking consumers what they think, but rather if you hone your understanding of cognition and behaviour, or market data, or how culture influences people’s values and beliefs, then you’ll usually find a starting point that helps move you thinking forward.
TCC: What’s one thing that people may not know about you?

DW: I trained 6 months for an MMA fight… but lost within the first minute

David Warren is presenting the Adschool Advanced Strategic Planning course in Sydney, commencing June 19. This 8-week course is aimed at more experienced planners/ professionals (3+ years) who want to expand their skill set and their horizons and make an impact as a strategist at a senior level. Register Now.

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