Meghan Lynch, CEO of Six-Point Creative, has some leadership lessons from her experience in ultrarunning that can apply to the discipline of brand strategy. Now companies that are looking to grow and scale can learn from these tips for building an enduring brand.

I sat in on a Harvard Business webinar the other day with Roger Martin. As soon as I saw his first slide, he had me.

“I hate strategic planning and strategic plans. But I love strategy.” Amen, Roger.

While I was nodding along with much of what Martin was saying, a few key points particularly resonated.

Roger’s rule #2 of strategic planning is: strategy is not about perfection, it is about rigor and creativity. You need to dive into the complexity of the present, analyze it, understand it. But at the same time, you need to use creativity to plan for a future that does not exist. He argues that the most important question in developing a strategy is not what is true? But what would have to be true?

Martin also argues that you need to have a strategic plan that is simple, clear, and elegant. Until you can make your strategy “Sesame Street simple,” he says, your planning work is not yet done.

These tensions between present and future, complexity and simplicity, rigor and creativity, are also the building blocks of a truly successful brand strategy.

For most businesses, marketing plans are built on complexity, on the analytics of the past, and on the capabilities we currently have, not what our customers need, or how they want to interact with our brand. A true brand strategy understands the complexity, but doesn’t remain mired in it. It looks at the brand from the outside in, from the customer’s point of view, and uses that as a framework for growth.

Above all else, your brand strategy should demonstrate possibility and simplicity. This is one of the main reasons why Six-Point’s Solve for Y brand development program culminates in two key products:

  • A “Sesame Street simple” marketing plan with 3-7 annual goals along with 90 days of tactical activity to make progress toward those goals.
  • A book that brings the aspirations for the brand to life in simple, clear language and compelling visuals.

No binders. No spreadsheets. Just clarity…leading to action.

And this action is key. Strategy is not an annual event. It is not a documented plan. Strategy is a series of choices, followed by action, followed by reflection. It is an ongoing discipline.

That’s why I, too, can hate strategic plans, but love strategy. One is analysis paralysis and a focus on the allocation of limited resources. The other is relentless forward progress toward an imagined, abundant future.