veil of ignorance

Episode 81: The Veil Of Ignorance – How To Build A Strategy With Too Little Information

How do you figure out a path if you don’t know the destination? What about if you have no idea about the resources at your disposal to get there? This is not a fanciful or hypothetical question, but a challenge that we are faced with often as strategists. When you have too little information, it can be tempting to walk away from the situation. Rather than do that, try seeing the challenge for what it really is, an opportunity, and apply a guiding approach to pierce the veil of ignorance and build a strategy.

What are the types of information we typically need to build a digital strategy? We have previously organized them into 7 areas, namely:

  • Client objectives and expectations
  • The target audience and their journey to purchase
  • The competitive environment
  • The client positioning
  • Timing
  • Resources
  • Other campaigns, messages and initiatives

These seem like pretty fundamental areas that a prospective client should know, but too often they are unable to provide you with an answer. The reasons are numerous, from a fragmented organization with limited data sharing, to the fact that your point of contact is too junior and not privy to this information. But the first issue you need to overcome is if this is genuinely an opportunity.  Often, a sales team is pushing an offering on to a reluctant prospect and are trying to build a business case. Be very clear if that is the case, and if it is, temper your expectations as well as the amount of effort you place against it, otherwise you are likely to waste considerable time.

How can you tell if this is the case? Some of it is instinctive, some is based on previous experience, but the bottom line is that if a prospect is not able or willing to give you any information, this isn’t a real opportunity.

So how do you overcome a lack of information if you believe that the prospect is otherwise sincere about finding a way to solve their problem? You do it by acting as a guide and challenging them on the questions. In other words, if they aren’t able to articulate an objective, articulate one for them and gauge their reaction. If it is positive, then suggest a range of KPIs that would align with that objective. For example, ask them if the objective is to raise greater awareness, to deliver greater lead volume, or to reduce cost per acquisition. If they say ‘all of the above’, then ask them to prioritize the objectives in order of importance. Once you have that, start suggesting KPIs against those objectives. This is very effective when it comes to questions around budget. You will often hear the refrain that if we are able to achieve a certain KPI, then the budget is unlimited. While I am sure that this is meant sincerely, I have never seen a single case where this proved to be true. The right way to approach the budgeting question is to suggest a budget. Do not be shy with the budget; if it is too low you will look ridiculous to certain prospects. If it is too high then they will immediately say so and you can suggest a lower one right away.

This guiding approach is incredibly effective because you are essentially consulting with them for free and helping them organize their thoughts. Regardless of whether it is said or not, this consultative approach is appreciated, and frankly is the only way you can show your value as a strategist. You are effectively auditioning for the role by going through this exercise. To not act as a guide, to try to put together a strategy without guiding them through the questions and putting forward potential answers is to message that the objectives you lay out in your strategy are not grounded in any type of meaningful reality and are unattainable. To not act as a guide is to diminish the role of the strategist, and to ensure that the opportunity remains unrealized. You owe it to yourself and your prospect to do so.

Next week on octopus, we will continue to explore the role of the digital strategist. Please be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Please subscribe for alerts about new episodes and content. Thank you for listening to octopus. I’m Nasser Sahlool.

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