Want to save time, money, and energy?
When you start with strategy instead of tactics, everything becomes easier.
You can stop wasting time & money trying to find inaccurate solutions…
And all it takes is understanding the problem before you try to solve it.
Ron Farnum is here to share how you can implement strategy in your business—and avoid the common mistakes business owners make when they miss the big picture.
Mentioned in this episode:
Voiceover: This is Performance Delivered, Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success with Steffen Horst and Dave Antil.
Steffen Horst: Welcome to the Performance Delivered Insider Secrets for Digital Marketing Success podcast, where we talk with marketing and agency executives and learn how they build successful businesses and their personal brand. I’m your host, Steffen Horst. The topic for today’s episode is why starting with strategy versus tactics, is always worth the time, energy and money. Here to speak with me is Ron Farnum, who is the founder and president of Damen Jackson, a strategic branding, packaging and design agency.
Damen Jackson helps companies dominate their market using the power of branding and communication. Over his 30 year career, Ron has evolved from a graphic designer into a brand strategist, working with some of the world’s best companies. Now he’s bringing that passion to midsize and smaller companies to help them become better differentiated and more successful. Ron, welcome to the show.
Ron Farnum: Thank you very much, Steffen. I’m happy to be here.
Steffen: Now, Ron, before we before we dive into today’s topic, tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself. How did you get started being a graphic designer? What brought you over to become a brand strategist? And how did you end up having your own company,
Ron: I actually went to college because I had a passion for design and art. And I like, like to tell my friends a story that I kind of had a lie to my parents that I was going into advertising because graphic design wasn’t really a legitimate career path back then. So I didn’t, but advertising was. So I went to college for you know, air quotes, advertising. But I really, in my work, post college, started my career, started working with some really interesting businesses.
And I always had a passion for understanding what the clients were looking for and what kind of a problem they were trying to solve and how design was different than art in that it solves a problem. It’s a creative solution to a problem. And that sort of led me into understanding how that translates to branding and to better solutions for packaging and communication. And it’s really just been an expansive path throughout my career that I’m always learning. And I’m always trying to teach as well, while we’re while doing that.
And I’ve been lucky to have really great clients who worked with me as well as for me, and learning things from them along the way. And it’s just again, it’s just sort of been an evolutionary progress, a progression from when I went to college and graduated and went through my career path. About a dozen years ago, I really started to see that creating brand solutions, was a better a better path than just creating tactics to do programs.
Steffen: Yeah, so what exactly does it mean for you to start with strategy versus jumping in on a deep end?
Ron: Oh, great, that’s great. Starting with strategy, to me means that you really understand and clearly define the problem that you’re looking to solve. So then you create a methodology to solve that problem. That’s a strategic approach. In my mind, a lot of times what people perceive as a problem in their business, a business problem is not actually the problem itself. It’s a symptom of what the real issue is.
And then, as humans, and especially entrepreneurs, we’re all inclined to act very quickly when we see a problem, right? That’s kind of an instinctual response is that we see a problem, we try to look for a solution, which can be good, but it can be dangerous. But that’s what I mean, when I say taking a strategic approach means you see a problem, which is look more deeply into that to make sure that that is the actual nature of the issue that you have at hand. For like a real world example, for example, like you have a headache, you can take a Tylenol and the headache can go away.
But it’s just because the headache went away, it doesn’t mean that you know, the core root of that problem, you might have a brain tumor potentially. And the Tylenol took away the pain but you don’t really realize that the real problem is still there. So now that’s an extreme example, obviously, that doesn’t relate to business but like if you actually just take the immediate pain away from the issue that you have on hand you might be missing the big picture.
Steffen: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s like you know, you put a lipstick on a pig right? When you when you go and look into exactly what is the root cause of the problem that you’re experiencing. In your company and all of a sudden you see, revenue going down? You know? Why is that? Is that a reason because of a changing market situation? Have there been competitors that came into the market? And if that’s the case, what are they doing better than you do that they all of a sudden are able to kind of take away customers for you. So it’s about looking at what is the problem in what is basically the cause for the problem? And how can we overcome that problem?
Ron: Right, right. Steffen, it’d be like, you know, your sales are going down. So you don’t go out and hire more salespeople just because your sales are down. Right? That would that would be sort of an immediate response to the problem is, we don’t have enough salespeople. That’s not necessarily the right problem. Or not looking at the right problem. You gave a couple of good examples there, it’s like, did the market conditions change some of your competitors offered something new and notable that you should have paid attention to or missed. So making sure that you actually look at the deep real problem that you’re trying to solve and that needs a solution is the key to a strategic approach to, in marketing.
Steffen: Now, from your experience, who should be involved in creating the strategy?
Ron: Well, I’ve seen this done several different ways. And the most effective ways that I’ve seen strategy develop is, is a very collaborative approach. Obviously, the people who are directly involved with the challenge at hand, but also people in the periphery of that area. Ot’s really about having the leadership team there, anybody who’s managing around this challenge, and then also people who aren’t afraid to challenge the current way of doing things. So you may have somebody who’s not directly involved with the problem in the conversation to give it an outside perspective.
The key to creating a good strategy is making sure that you’ve got a safe environment where everybody’s able to input information, without fearing for their jobs. Or, you know, you really need to be open to hearing some information from your staff that is going to maybe challenge some of the way of thinking in the business. Because if there’s a big enough challenge to require a solution, you maybe have a blind spot for something that you haven’t seen before.
And so having a team that’s willing to work together, and challenge one another, to really look deeply into something, and kind of look at things in a different way, is good. And also, maybe it’s not just your own internal team members, maybe you have an agency, maybe you have a good partner or a vendor who works, who’s willing to take a look at it from an outside perspective in. Because when you’re in the work, it’s very difficult to see things from 50,000 feet, you know, to look in and see it. So definitely, one of the strongest ways to approach creating a strategy is with a collaborative team.
Steffen: Yeah, I think that’s really important. Because sometimes the people that are so close to the problem, you know, become blind. They just don’t.
Ron: They might be part of the problem.
Steffen: They aren’t able to really identify the problem, right? For them, everything looks fine. Now you need people that have a certain amount of distance to that. And then as you said, it could be outside people, it could be people within the organization that have nothing to do with that particular area where there is a challenge, right. But just someone that is not exposed to it on a day-to-day basis, might already be able to kind of put their finger on the problem and say, hey, you know, what, what about this, etc. You know, and I think also what from, my experience, what it also requires is kind of an environment within a company that enables or allows people to be open and, and share opinions. Because if that’s not given, people will not step up and will not say, hey, you know what, I think it is A, B, C.
Ron: Well, I mean, we’re all human. It’s like, why would we stick our neck out? If we’re, if we’re asked to stick our neck out and then get our heads chopped off as a result of that? That’s not a very collaborative environment, right? So you have to create, you need to create that room for people to feel safe and to feel open in providing potential solutions to this. So they can they can provide actual feedback as opposed to just what they think people want to hear. That’s a big problem in businesses.
Steffen: Yeah. No, I hear you. Now, the topic for today is, you know, why starting with strategy versus just tactics. So from your perspective, why is it better to have a strategic approach upfront, before starting with a program to overcome, you know, a problem, a challenge, whatever it is.
Ron: So one of the reasons why it’s better to have a strategic approach upfront is that you get insight into the problem itself. So you take a step back, you get away from the immediate issues at hand that you’re starting to see those symptoms that I was talking about. And you start to look into the problem to be solved. Once that problem to be solved, the actual challenge is identified the solution, or the path to the solution becomes more obvious, and it becomes less objective.
So I wish I had a concrete example for this. But like when you step back once again, and take a look, and you start to identify that the problem was not sales, the problem is really, that your product line is outdated, then suddenly, that solution becomes different, right? You understand the sales challenge is directly tied to your product being out of date. And then the solution is to invest money in product development, not sales.
So that’s why a strategic approach up front is an advantage for most businesses. And then the other advantage, the secondary advantage to this is, then you can pretty easily identify who needs to be directly involved. And who doesn’t need to be directly involved, and then just who needs to be informed about what’s happening, so that you have your entire team working on a problem, or a solution to one problem that you don’t need everybody on. So you’re using your resources in a stronger and more advantageous way.
Steffen: Now, in companies, when things are not going the right way, right, people tend to want to kind of make a course correction as quick as possible. And that might even be something that is kind of dictated by upper management. How can someone convince those powers, right, the C suite, to approve additional funds to actually set up a strategy upfront? Because, you know, let’s be realistic, it’s not that we identify an issue today, and tomorrow, we have a solution, including strategy in place. There’s a process that you will have to go through in order to develop a strategy. And, you know, it might take two, four weeks, six weeks, depending on the size of the problem, or the solution that needs to be implemented or developed.
Ron: Absolutely, I mean, let’s be real, the money is often a big challenge, no matter what you do, and when they say I’ve approved monies to solve this technical issue. And then someone comes back and says, Well, we need a little more money take a strategic approach to this, there’s a few ways to kind of go about this. One is to put forth the idea that investing in smaller amounts upfront to really clearly define that problem will very likely be made up for it savings during the development of the solution.
So if you have a clearly defined problem, you have a, you can work with one clearly defined solution. If you have a poorly defined problem, that’s going to require a number of possible solutions, which may or may not actually solve the issues. So the idea is, you’re taking a more of a dart board type of an approach, right, you got one problem, one solution, or you’ve got sort of a shotgun approach, which is, you don’t really know what the problem is. So we need to look at all kinds of solutions.
Which means we need to expend a lot of energy, and waste money trying to find other solutions that may or may not be accurate. So that would be one argument to take into the powers that be to say, look, what we’re trying to do is get to the root of the problem, so that we can be efficient in creating a solution. It’s going to take a little more time, it’s going to take a little more money, but it is a better way of approaching the problem.
If that’s not convincing, I suggest you do the work anyway. And trade some of the budget that you have for downstream and put it in, put it in the planning stages, because you’re ultimately going to get an ROI on the money that you spend on the strategy in savings down the road. Because you’re going to be a little more laser focused in the solution development.
Steffen: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I think that’s what people have to have to keep in mind. Right? I mean, if you skip the strategy part, and you’re running straight into let’s try tactic A, B or C. As we do that, we optimize things. If you don’t have a clear outline of you know, how to test for example, how to identify the problem, how to overcome the challenge, you’re just basically wasting money. You’re literally wasting money, throwing money out the window. And it might be the money that you need to develop a solid strategy, and then some. You know, so what you’re basically just.
Ron: Because you’re guessing, right? I mean, you’re guessing at what the solution might be, you don’t really know. And, you know, there’s one other kind of like a red flag I want to put up here is that if you’re working with a group, an outside group, like an agency that isn’t really requesting a strategic approach as a preliminary phase, you might have the wrong partner.
I mean, like, if they’re not coming to you and saying, we need to set a strategy for your website development, prior to jumping into the actual design of the website, you probably have a bad partner. You really have to understand why you’re doing everything that’s getting done. And that’s planning stages upfront. And that’s called strategy. So if your current agency is not pushing for that, you’re doing, they’re doing it wrong.
Steffen: And when you do that, obviously, one of the most important parts from my perspective is establishing how are we measuring whether the strategy is successful? You know, how are we measuring whether we have to adjust the strategy based on information that we collect downstream.
Ron: Yeah. Very much. It’s really like, what is that measure of success that you’re looking for? And how do you get there? That’s, that’s a really wonderful way to kind of like say it. How are you going to measure success? Is this going to be a successful program because dot, dot dot.
Steffen: Yeah. Now how does a strategy improve the end result? So we talked about obviously just now, or briefly we mentioned it. You know, we need to find KPIs to, to know whether it’s successful or not or which levers we have to change in order to, to make it successful, right. But how does the strategy in general improve the end result?
Ron: Well, the strategy gives you a means by which to assess the potential solutions, meaning, you have a gauge and it eliminates subjectivity, right? Like, we have X problem, we’ve identified very clearly, we know what the result is that we’re looking for. And here are three potential options we can have to solve the problem. Then you take the strategic approach, and you look at each of those through that lens. And it says that solution B is the clearest, most definitive solution based on our strategy, which is our defined problem.
And our intended results, this is the most likely to succeed. It takes a lot of subjectivity out of decision making. Steffen, we work in packaging a lot at Damen Jackson, and we’ve established a strategic basis upfront for how we create the packaging solutions. And it’s called Ways In. So we take the basic strategy that we’ve established with the client, and then we interpret it three different ways. And then we create graphical solutions along each of those pathways. And then each of them meet the strategy.
But then we have a little bit of interpretation available on the client level to say this one feels right for our brand. And it meets the strategic requirements of the assignment. So that’s one option for creating a way in for clients to have both alternate solutions, but also everything kind of fits under the umbrella of the strategic approach. And the strategy improve the end results, because everything that is presented, is developed under the strategy. So it’s more successful and faster to develop that way.
Steffen: Yeah, yeah. And it still doesn’t mean there’s only one solution, right? I mean, if you think it about from a design, you know, let’s say website design perspective, right? You’re not going, if you do that you’re not going to a client and saying this is the design that we suggest, and you know, you’re locked in there. No, you would go to your client and have, I don’t know, 2, 3, 4 different, you know, different design suggestions on how you envision the new website is going to be, based on the information that you collected.
Based on what the client shared with you about how they see themselves, and then how they want to present themselves in the market, etc. And at the end of the day, it’s still one of the solutions that you present, and there might be even still certain work to be done on the solution that you present.
Ron: I love how you, I love how you phrased that. That was great. I mean, it’s they still all meet the strategic requirements, but there’s still room for creative interpretation within the strategy, so that there’s not just one solution to choose from. I mean, I think that’s great and it gives people some flexibility to you I’ll try a little bit, commit to one design, if it’s not really working, you can kind of adjust it accordingly.
But like you said, it’s not like coming out of the chute, those designs are final anyway. You modify things, you get a little interpretive feedback, you maybe do some research, get some feedback from your customer, and then decide what’s final. But the strategic approach streamlines that process. So you’re not just choosing from random, you know, design decisions. It’s definitely have to meet a certain criteria before they get considered.
Steffen: Now, what is part of developing a strategy? What activities would you, your team go through in developing a strategy for a client?
Ron: Oh, I love this question. This is this is where a lot of our clients enjoy the process we work with, because what we’re doing at Damen Jackson is we’re taking the client side, their audience, and trying to do a little what we call mindset development. And that’s understanding the wants, and the needs, and the desires of the customer. And overlaying them into a into a map that says, what is the core driver of the decision-making process for this person.
So a lot of times, clients, companies will develop products that provide a solution, right, and it solves a problem for a customer. But it’s not very differentiated from anybody else. So what we’re trying to do is understand the customer, the end consumer of that product. There’s a decision-making process they go through to decide what they’re buying. And if the company, if our client really wants to be truly differentiated, we want to get down to what that consumer desires, and make our client’s brand meet that criteria.
So at the highest level, they create an emotional connection. Because when you solve a consumer’s desire, along with the wants and needs, it elevates it to an emotional transaction. Then you start to develop brand awareness and brand preference. And that’s what we’re aspiring to create for our clients.
Steffen: Interesting. And obviously, that allows to create content that those clients will just, you know, devour, to use that word.
Ron: Absolutely. You tap into that, if you tap into the desire of a client, it’s an incredibly powerful connection that you can create. We did it for an RV business, a camper business. And it was all about creating great memories, like we’re launching your life’s journeys here. And that actually resonated so strongly, even with the clients, they felt it when we when we presented that. Launching life’s journeys. It’s like start making memories with your camper and your family. And it just really connected and so that’s because we did the exercise to really understand the desire of the people.
The desire of the people was the freedom and the getaway and creating wonderful memories. It wasn’t about camping. It was about you know, taking photographs together and, you know, eating in front of a campfire and that kind of thing. So that’s what made it a more passionate connection with their consumers.
Steffen: Now, Ron, thank you so much for joining us on the Performance Delivered podcast and sharing your knowledge on why you should start with strategy versus tactics. If people want to find out more about you and Damen Jackson, how can you get in touch?
Ron: They can visit our website, damenjackson.com. d a m e n Jackson, j a c k s o n.com. Or they can connect with me on LinkedIn. I’d love to hear from anyone.
Steffen: Perfect. Well, thanks everyone for listening. If you like the Performance Delivered podcast, please subscribe to us and leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast application. If you want to find out more about Symphonic Digital, you can visit us at symphonicdigital.com or follow us on Twitter at Symphonic HQ. Thanks again and see you next time.
Voiceover: Performance Delivered is sponsored by Symphonic Digital. Discover audience focused and data driven digital marketing solutions for small and medium businesses at symphonicdigital.com