Two mistakes to avoid when strategic planning
Our latest research uncovered two mistakes companies make when strategic planning:
1. Focusing on what to do about today’s reality, rather than imagining future opportunities
2. Creating functional strategies and plans rather than joined-up plans around the customer
They are common pitfalls. Marketing teams usually lead their strategic planning in isolation. At over 70% of companies they exclude HR and IT when developing customer experience strategies despite the importance of technology and the employee experience in making a real difference to customers. Think of how well the employee delivers the customer experience at Zappos or Virgin, or even your Uber driver. Sales teams are more likely to be involved, but over 40% of companies still don’t involve sales when designing customer experience strategies and plans.
Through our work delivering strategy and planning programmes across industries, we know that winning organisations work differently. They bring together cross-functional teams to invent the future customer experience first, harnessing customer data and future trends to envision what the experience will be if the brand purpose is fulfilled.
Inventing with a ‘future-first’ approach breaks down existing practices. It enables teams to free themselves from current difficulties, and identify what will delight customers - passion points - as well as pain points that will have the opposite effect. Teams can then work back from this future vision to deliver innovative strategies to unlock new opportunities.
To quote Will Orr, Managing Director of British Gas, “Clearly define the customer experience you want to create and back solve – if you’re clear on what a great customer experience looks like, you don’t get constrained by the way the supply chain and systems are.’’ 
Invention in strategy and execution requires a more creative approach to customer journey mapping and strategy development, and for new capabilities to be built into cross-functional teams to enable this. Too often, journey mapping isn’t based on the right customer data and foresight – it becomes formulaic rather than genuinely inventive. So what can you do?
Here are the steps to follow to create better strategies and plans:
Start with your brand positioning. Within this, define the experience principles that guide how your brand purpose should be delivered across the customer experience, such as Virgin Group’s ‘Always being transparent and responsive’. These principles make it easier for teams across the business to deliver the brand versus say a brand idea or a visual identity because they give concrete guidance. Your brand positioning should guide your strategic plan.
Invent the future experience
Bring together cross-functional teams to develop foresight into the future environment and invent ideas for the future experience. Don’t let this be dry – it can be energising and fun. For example, you could immerse everyone in customers’ worlds, co-invent with innovation hubs or customers, partner with ‘bleeding edge’ start-ups or networks to explore future market dynamics.
Capture the outputs in a future experience blueprint that embodies your brand’s customer experience principles.
Map the current customer journey
Having set out a vision for the future, you need to know where you are now. Map the customer journey as it currently is. Drill down to understand the insights behind customer behaviour at each journey phase. Ensure all cross-functional team members have the opportunity to share their data and contribute.
Analyse gaps and set goals
Analyse gaps in the future experience vs the current journey, and prioritise moments for focus. They can be both passion points to delight customers and pain points to fix. You can work with data scientists to experiment with, analyse and correlate Voice of Customer data, interaction data from touchpoints and business metrics to validate goals. Be pragmatic with the data available but equally aware of the breadth of data you can access – it’s estimated businesses only use 5% of data they receive. 
Prioritise strategies and initiatives
Work as a cross-functional team to invent customer experience strategies and initiatives to deliver your goals. This will ensure you take into account all the customer experience levers and get early support from others in the business who need to make it happen. Some of this is simply having the right people in the room at the time of planning. But you can go further. For example, one of our clients went out to frontline retail staff, role played key customer experiences with them, and then worked with them to expand strategic ideas and create plans that the frontline team could support in practice.
Many companies are bogged down by stakeholder management, meetings and diary complexities. This can be off-putting to those wanting to lead a cross-functional strategic planning approach. However, adopting this approach can break down siloes, release creative energy and open new growth opportunities. Don’t be put off by today’s barriers. Invent this as your future.
 ‘Join up to stand apart’ – a study led by Brand Learning; Nov 2016
 Data Analytics: Practical Data Analysis and Statistical Guide to transform and evolve any business, Isaac Cody, 2016.