A great strategy is a strong brew of experiences, smart thinking, and guts or madness to draw lines where convention wouldn’t.

I wanted to start this article about Kayode Olowu, my boss. How his propensity to draw lines from one context to the most unexpected one and sketching analogies gets me squinting at his head in bewilderment. But then the more sensible [read that as home-trained] part of me whispered that may be a bad idea for a number of reasons, none of which is financial. I decided to listen for once. 

Since working within the context of advertising, I have learned to pay more attention to the little images that make up big pictures and to intricacies that make up problems. The latter is a vital step in strategy development. 

In the context of branding, a rough sketch of the steps of executing a brief is;
Get the brief.

Define the problem.

Develop well grounded insight[s].

Develop strategy.

Extract core idea.

Expand the idea.





The focus of this article is the fourth item on the list above. I will tell you this straight; there are no quick routes to coming up with worthwhile strategy. It takes time, observation and patience. 

But I’ve got what may cheer you up. It’s this article I read some months back about approaches to strategy development Adam Brandsburger. He noted four of them and I have discussed each briefly below.


Image: Band Aid

Convention will say it can’t be done until it’s done. If it’s written in stone, stones get crushed every day. Some accepted rules are low hanging fruits ripe for harvesting. Who says you can’t pay people to learn? Or you can’t make a business off people’s unoccupied houses? When everyone in your area of interest is going a particular way, ask why. Assumptions thrive in convention’s company. Identify those assumptions, dig wide, deep or both and examine how you can contradict it in a way that will help your brand[’s strategy]. Ask “what if…?” The ideas you come up with maybe outlandish and even scary. Some people will look at you like I look at my boss in his witching moments, but what comes out great more often than not starts out of the box.


Image: Giulia Bianchi

Chains, like boundaries, limits choices. Or so it seems. In limitations, lies the map to liberty sometimes. Identify what limits you have. Is it funds? resources? reach? List them all. Then examine each one for any crack you can use to wiggle in to get the results you need. We do this a lot and more often than not, it has yielded strong positive results. 


Combine ideas, products or services to give a distinct offering. Simple? No. This approach draws a bit from the first in terms of going against the norm. You are not just combining things, you are combining seemingly unlikely things. Like Gala and beans or rice and okra. Terrible examples but, you get the idea. Combine products like banking and fashion or oil and cosmetics. You just may get the break you’re looking for.

Context Switching

Use analogy to approach problems. The solution to a problem in a space station ten years ago may prove useful in solving the problem a shoe factory is facing now. The strategy used to win an election in Asia may be what you need to tilt the market in your brand’s favour. The trick is in recognizing the similarities in both contexts and adapting the solution in one to the other. 

To sum this up, strategy is not a one-way street and tools that abound can only do so much. The bulk of responsibility of coming up with creative, successful solutions to [branding and advertising] problems lies in the quality of the minds working on them.

You cannot combine ideas if you don’t have a strong knowledge base, nor can you switch contexts if you do not have a wide range of knowledge and experience. Experience includes going places, meeting people in real life, soaking in realities you’ll otherwise not be aware of if you don’t put yourself out there. 

The world is boxes within boxes. Experience them, think through them and you will get the range you need to come up with the solutions your clients need