My daughter is five years old. She’s a very agreeable person, easy to get along with. Unless she wants some ice cream. She tells me about her friend Jenna who just had an ice cream. She points out people eating ice cream. She comes up with health benefits of ice cream. And, if I’m lucky, she hugs me and exclaims: “I love you, papa.” In short, she knows what she has to do to make me do what she wants. That’s strategy.

We are strategists. It’s in our blood. A book is a strategy. I can buy one for my wife to cheer her up. To show my thoughtfulness because I didn’t forget when she mentioned the title a while ago. Or to make a point. There’s no deep thinking involved, it comes natural.

The biggest mistake brands make is to believe information is equivalent to strategy. Telling people is not enough. Using the information in the most powerful way possible is the ultimate goal. Car safety ratings are meaningless unless you couple them with the message that aggressive driving just became safe. A hotel room sale is nice but this message is more powerful: “even you can live like the rich and famous.”

Typical marketing objectives are “Drive incremental sales.” or “Increase qualified leads”. We nod our heads when those slides come up, not reflecting if these are objectives we should try to achieve. I would argue, your objective is NOT to increase sales. Your objective is to understand why people are not buying your product/service and changing that behavior. Sales and all other important metrics will take care of themselves. Any advertising campaign or Social Media initiative should have the objective of influencing perceptions that will people drive to buy, become loyalists and influencers.

Imagine a campaign for couches. Normally, what you get is a shot of a couch warehouse and screaming announcers annoying us with a sale message. Sure, it works. Kind of. It’s boring. It’s expected. It comes and goes. Instead, if I had to sell couches, I would talk about the little moments we all have on couches: the moments of joy when our football team wins, the little naps with the kid, the book that kept us awake all night on the couch. Creating emotional connections between people and my couches.

The perfect advertising strategy identifies the most compelling thing you can say, owns it and, at the same time, undermines any effort of the competition. You’re earning attention, winning the battle of mindshare. Great marketing/advertising strategy feels like a good meal or a good movie. It just feels right; it’s hard to define a gut feeling. But, there are some markers:

– Explain the strategy to your non-marketing partner. If they get it, the world will get it.

– It works as a video and on a napkin. Basically, it has to be so simple that one sentence can explain your strategy.

– The competition will hire a new agency because your idea was game-changing.

– Your co-workers will hate you. “I wish I thought of that”-syndrome.

– Make sure it passes the “AM-after-2-espressos” test. After a long night in the office, a mediocre idea might look like a Clio to you. Sleep, drink 2 espressos and look at it again.

A few days ago, my daughter crawled into my bed and told me about her nightmare: “There were monsters and then I ate ice cream and they were gone.” She’s a natural.