Instantly Align Stakeholders with Edutainment


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Edutainment style video makes it easy to get your ducks in a row.

Edutainment style video makes it easy to get your ducks in a row.

Herding cats. Boiling the ocean. Kicking whales down the beach. Aligning employees and customers to the brand.

Easy to say. Tough to do. And it’s not just a job for HR, Training, or Organizational Development alone. Marketing and brand have untapped power in this arena.

Alignment is a topic of endless discussion, with no definitive solution. But organizations spend billions on it because at the end of the rainbow is a legendary pot of ROI. You’ve heard it all before: Employees who are aligned with customer and company goals automatically collaborate better. They make better, customer-driven decisions that ultimately cut management costs and raise revenues, engagement, and retention.  In essence, aligned employees make it their mission to close the gaps between customer and company.

Excuses, Excuses

So why do organizations continue to communicate differently with employees and customers using Internal Communication and External Communication, respectively? It ultimately costs more money, causes unnecessary complexity, and inherently tells two different stories or evokes separate motivations, or at least presents different postures.

There are some types of internal communications that customers don’t want to be bothered with. But on the other hand, there is a litany of excuses not to use the same communications for others that promote transparency. The bottom line is many organizations don’t know how to be truly customer-driven. So they default by adapting the internal story of (profit focus) “you have a sales quota to meet” to the external story (customer focus) “trust that we’ll do the right thing for you, our customer.”

Among the “good reasons” internal communications need to be different from external, we’ve heard:

  • The internal story and external stories are just different
  • If customers knew how messed up we are on the inside they’d flee
  • It’s too technical for consumers to understand
  • How we do things internally is no one’s business but ours

… there are probably at least 100 more

The Payoff

Transparency builds trust with every stakeholder so, think of alignment as one complete story. The internal folks need the whole story. External stakeholders (distributors, customers/consumers) many times don’t need to hear the details, but should be entitled to hear the entire story as they become closer to the brand.

Imagine a poster with big headline type and smaller body type, graphics illustrating various details, and maybe even some smaller caption type. Employees and customers should all see the same poster. An employee, who works near the poster every day, sees all the details and words clearly … although it’s good for him to read the large headline type every day as he walks in the door. The consumer is passing by on the sidewalk. She can clearly read the headline and sees the same graphics the employee sees. As the she becomes a customer, she moves closer and begins to see more of the same detail that the employee sees. There’s nothing written on the back of the poster, hidden from the consumer or customer. Everything is transparent and therefore everyone is working on the same issues: how to make life better for customers.

Using different versions of the same marketing and educational assets for all stakeholders makes life simple for marketers and reduces skepticism among customers. Combining education and entertainment allows it to be multi-facing, showing ideal interactions and true sentiments. In fact it can turn the tables for a selling monologue to a buying dialog because you’re feeding both sides verbal and non-verbal information they need to do business.

Edutainment: A Tool for Alignment and Engagement

Financial Literacy Blog Post Image 2Edutainment is particularly well suited to high-involvement products and services and web applications like videos, interactive infographics, and gamification. It presents the same information in different levels of depth and focus aligning all stakeholders simultaneously. Wrapping education in well-produced assets can present an approachable brand personality with a customer-driven mission in real-life context. This is where the rubber meets the road; where customers see how employees should behave, and employees see how customers react. Brands that have a lock on this are famous: Apple, Southwest airlines, Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, and Amazon. Some lump it all under “culture.” But how is the culture created and sustained?

Aligning through a stream of multi-facing assets—especially those with an appropriate sense of humor—creates brand transparency. They automatically align, reduce marketing friction and management costs, and accelerate innovation.

GroPartners Consulting creates edutainment assets for several industries, including financial, insurance, and retirement products and services.

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For more perspective on bridging strategy and execution, including practical tools and processes for brand operationalization, get a copy of Getting There From Here: Bridging Strategy and Execution, by Greg French, founder of GroPartners Consulting. E-book at iBooks or hard copy from

Extreme Branded Entertainment


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Brands are getting close to out-and-out owning music entertainers. What’s next?

In a promotional age more complex than any time in history, brands continue to look for ways to capture consumers at the visceral level. This is a tall order in societies like ours that splinter out consumers into ever-narrowing segments conditioned to deflect promotional messages as a default behavior.

In contrast, the music industry’s heritage is built on understanding and appealing to values, attitudes, interests and lifestyle. Music genres span every taste for every mood. So it’s no wonder that over the years, brands and bands have enjoyed a cozy fit: brands provide the money, bands provide the cache and association with lifestyles and values. Think Jimmy Buffett and you instantly taste the salted rim of a seaside margarita (Sandals Resorts?). Think Pink and you might get the urge to work out till you drop (Under Armour?).

A June 2016 Huffington Post blog packages the symbiosis well, citing three factors that attract brands to sponsor bands:

  • Compelling content
  • Cultural relevance
  • Authentic connection

Bands Forced to “Sell Out”

The balance between the non-conformist, no “sell-out” image of bands, and the opposite commercially-driven essence of brands has always been tricky business, but recently has become totally one-sided. As reported in a NY Times article, streaming music services have crushed the revenue structure of the music business, leaving bands with only touring and brand sponsorships to put fuel in the bus and pay for new guitar strings.

Now deprived of revenues formerly generated by record sales, music entertainers are broke without sponsorships. Brands have poured buckets of money into live music sponsorships to the point they’re literally taking over the show. For example, an entire tour of Lady Gaga shows actually integrated Doritos product placement on stage and around the event. So where does all this lead? It seems as if brands are getting pretty close to out-and-out owning music entertainers.

Pure Branded Entertainment

That scenario might not be too far off the trend. Since consumers drench themselves in music every day and position it as a mood identity device in their lives, what better way to entrench in consumer value systems than for brands to develop bands and solo artists of their own that write and perform songs projecting the values created by the brand. Not to suggest Mickey D’s Fat Pack or The Viagras as band names, but rather real bands with real names and real music and lyrics that never (or rarely) mention the brand name. The difference between this concept and blatantly sponsored bands of today is that the band/entertainer would be developed from the ground up by the brand that owns exclusive sponsorship rights. The music, lyrics, and image would project the brand’s values and image (Brad Paisley and Dove Men?). The original “values-aligned” music could be leveraged (instead of licensed) for brand advertising, events, videos, internal morale and alignment, and many more applications limited only by the boundaries of creativity. A hit song could mean a boon for the brand. And vice versa. If the music is good, does it make any difference how it’s funded?

Would the market buy into this kind of low profile “brand-backed band?” What do you think?


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For more perspective on bridging strategy and execution, including practical tools and processes for brand operationalization, get a copy of Getting There From Here: Bridging Strategy and Execution, by Greg French, founder of GroPartners Consulting. E-book at iBooks or hard copy from

Color Creatively Inside the DOL Rule


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The Department of Labor (DOL) recently finalized the rules that address conflicts of interest by financial advisers in providing retirement advice to consumers. The rule describes the kinds of communications that would constitute investment advice and types of relationships in which those communications would trigger fiduciary investment advice responsibilities. These communications are referred to as “covered investment advice.” But there are types of communications not covered that offer huge opportunity for innovation in capturing customer mind share.

The DOL rules have sent life insurance and retirement marketers into a panic to calculate where the line is drawn in their conversations that could trigger fiduciary responsibility. And the urgency is justified: The penalties for breaching fiduciary duty include restoring all losses incurred during the fiduciary relationship.

Green Light for Education

One of the types of communication that does not trigger fiduciary responsibilities is education, because ostensibly educational content does not provide recommendations, but only knowledge. The Department of Labor believes that “education about retirement savings and general financial and investment information is beneficial and helpful to plans, plan participants, and IRA owners, (as long as) the content doesn’t broach a level of recommendation as defined in the final rule.” So education sounds like the new champion of financial marketing, right?

There’s only one rub: Education doesn’t exactly sizzle with excitement or entice with engagement.

Edutainment: An Engaging Tool for Financial Marketing

Edutainment can improve engagement for financial education.

Edutainment can improve engagement for financial education.

Learning through entertainment dates back to Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack that amused and instructed colonists with its mix of maxims, weather forecasts, math lessons and puzzles.  The term “edutainment” was coined by The Walt Disney Company in 1948 to introduce the True Life Adventure series. In the 1990’s Bill Nye The Science Guy was immortalized by his quirky and fun TV show that became a modern-day model for edutainment. And in the 2000’s even brainiac physicists like Brian Greene were able to convey concepts as complex as String Theory to the masses with his “edutaining” mini-series.

Today, though edutainment is used widely in applications targeting early learners in kindergarten and elementary school, it isn’t fully leveraged in adult learning, especially in the financial industry. Maybe it’s because the financial industry has been driven to solemnity by regulation.  Maybe because it has a reputation for gravitas.  Maybe it’s time for a change.

Today, web video has opened up an insatiable channel for video on demand and programming limited only by the imagination. The convergence of this technology breakthrough, the DOL endorsement of education as a strategy to delay triggers, and the public’s growing appetite for “alternative” content, clearly cry for innovation.

The application of “edutainment” is one innovative and engaging way to leverage these trends. Creative content strategies such as this can help retirement product and service brands prosper throughout the DOL rule era by helping producers snap out of panic and get comfortable with doing business as usual, with a few modifications.

Adding interactive layers to entertaining videos enable a “create your own adventure” platform. Likewise, using guided path learning strategies with video and animation can provide deep engagement and effective learning.

A couple new video content formats along these lines include:

  • Short-form video series focusing on individual typical consumer financial situations within various stage/life style segments. How do they deal with it? How would viewers differ in their approach. How are decisions made and what is the model for the adviser to act in the customer’s best interest?
  • Brand sponsored dramatic comedy (“dramedy”) web video series starring life-stage specific cast with a central theme around financial crises, decisions, and resolution. Real life financial situations aren’t neatly bundled into categories. Instead, they are a complex combination of personalities, habits, early learnings, past behaviors, and events. A faux reality series like this could engage at the entertainment level, identify with consumers at the situational level, and provide real solutions by example of success.

Edutainment ideas for financial literacy are endless. In fact, this approach could be an entire cultural initiative for financial brands wanting to build intimate relationships with consumers before crossing the fiduciary threshold. The bottom line is getting your stakeholders to realize it’s pretty simple. They just have to do the right thing for the customer. Only now they’ll have a bit more “CYA” work to do in the process.

GroPartners Consulting video edutainment platform addresses these opportunities with subject matter expertise in financial products and services, relevant wit, and cinematic quality.

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For more perspective on bridging strategy and execution, including practical tools and processes for brand operationalization, get a copy of Getting There From Here: Bridging Strategy and Execution, by Greg French, founder of GroPartners Consulting. E-book at iBooks or hard copy from

‘Edutainment’ is the New Financial Marketing


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Last week I asked a colleague familiar with the financial industry a simple question: What’s the difference between financial literacy and financial education? Her first reaction was, “Oh, that’s pretty clear…” Then after a few seconds of thought, she conceded that the distinction wasn’t so clear.

She’s not alone. The difference between the two is somewhat murky, though simple. Financial literacy is the level of understanding about basic financial concepts an individual has accumulated. Financial Education is intervention intended to boost the level of financial literacy.

The New Rule of Engagement

At the June meeting of the Financial Literacy and Education Commission (FLEC), a joint committee comprised of representatives from 19 government departments, Department of Labor Secretary Thomas Perez stated, “The onus has shifted to consumers to make critical decisions for retirement security. Education has not kept up.”

He went on to cite a global survey of financial literacy in which the US ranks 14th behind Singapore and the Czech Republic. Even worse, a survey by George Washington University found that only 14% of Americans passed the test for basic financial literacy covering fundamental topics such as inflation, compound interest, and financial diversification. More than 70% passed the same test in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden…more than 60% in Canada.

Among people with self-directed plans, about half report not feeling very confident in their ability to make good investment decisions. Fewer than half of women report that they are mostly or very confident that they will make the right investment choices. Lew concluded, “This lack of confidence points to the need for both good financial education and sound investment advice.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Labor (DOL) is working on new rules to govern the unfair practices of many financial advisers in double-dipping fees and commissions. When you combine the pervasive, chronic financial ignorance in the US with the absence of standards and ethics for financial advisers, consumers lose.

Department of the Treasury Secretary Jack Lew addressed new DOL Conflict of Interest Rules directed at fiduciaries (financial advisers) calling them, “an important step towards ensuring…Americans who are increasingly responsible for their own retirement planning can get that advice and trust it, knowing it’s in their best interest.” The new Rule emphasizes the importance of education to help Americans manage their investments and plan for their futures.

Transforming Selling to Buying

Edutainment can improve engagement for financial education.

Edutainment can improve engagement in financial education.

Life and retirement brands have a great opportunity to gain consumer trust through educational intervention. If the focus is first placed on growing relationships though educating prospects, financial brands can postpone triggering fiduciary responsibilities until the prospect is ready to buy.  Smart life and retirement companies are becoming increasingly innovative with financial education that leads to elevated financial literacy. Sales results can be elevated by first intervening with consumer financial education at the critical point of category interest (AIDA model), helping consumers make informed buying decisions, rather than just being sold.

GroPartners Consulting Financial Marketing provides financial clients with expertise and guidance in producing highly engaging financial education programs. Our experience and scope includes interactive videos, life-stage targeted “edutainment” series, and web and digital tools and assets designed to elevate financial literacy.


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For more perspective on bridging strategy and execution, including practical tools and processes for brand operationalization, get a copy of Getting There From Here: Bridging Strategy and Execution, by Greg French, founder of GroPartners Consulting. E-book at iBooks or hard copy from


Cause-Driven Business: Galvanizing the Value Chain


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HumanPic1What do you think of when you hear the term cause-driven marketing? Is it about charity? Marketing? Brand? Or a company? The hazy cloud around this type of positioning makes me pause, considering that the basic function of marketing is pretty clear: activities involved in bringing products, service, or ideas to market. In essence, meeting demand with supply. So what does “cause driven” have to do with demand and supply?

I’ve worked in the marketing and promotion business for more than 30 years, and though everything is different, nothing has changed. Since the days of Darrin Stephens and Don Draper (or Draper Daniels, as it were), the promotional “P” of the marketing mix has scorched a path of skepticism between consumers and cause. Even as sustainability and cause- or purpose-driven campaigns trend higher, there seem to be only a few organizations that use these labels as little more than an emotional corkscrew to open consumer pocketbooks. And the organizational commitments often seem to fade as fast as the campaigns themselves. In my experience, weak credibility is often the consequence of attempting to position marketing as philanthropy.

All this said, the few organizations that base their corporate visions and values on a focused humanitarian purpose truly enrich society in ways that exponentially improve the quality of life for creatures of Planet Earth. In my opinion, the brands owned by these organizations earn their right to profitability every day in a way that deserves longevity. And today’s new millennial mind set contributes a very effective “BS filter” to help police exploitation of real causes. This blogpost presents some important distinctions between the different types of cause-driven efforts; distinctions that can make the difference between exploitation and salvation.

Type 1: Cause-driven campaigns

These are marketing campaigns for goods and services in almost any category that donate a portion of their profits (in money or resources and/or supplies) to a cause, such as a charity.

Type 2: Cause-based organizations

In contrast to campaigns, cause-based organizations directly tackle a social problem with a donor-funded business model. Saha Global (http://www. for example, began by enabling Ghana’s women—traditionally the ones in the home who are in charge of water—to become entrepreneurs through a training and monitoring program. Saha Global programs like this one teach the Ghana women how to collect and purify water by hand, and then sell the potable product at an affordable price. It addresses the issue of scarcity of potable water for villages while providing income for the women entrepreneurs.

Type 3:  Cause-driven brands

Brands that are driven by cause focus on developing commercialized products, services, or programs to help solve issues that benefit society. Examples can be found in biological pest control (biocontrols) or crop protection product companies who research, develop, and manufacture natural solutions to keep insects and weeds from reducing food production of farmland or threatening public health. Considering that the earth will need to produce as much food in the first 50 years of this millennium as it did in the last 10,000 years, and the threats of vector disease such as the Zika virus, biocontrols are a big deal to everyone. Add to this many centuries of chemical pesticides stripping soil of nutrients and accumulating toxic residue that can end up in the food chain, and you’ve got a bona fide cause within a for-profit business model.

Another example of a cause-driven brand is Toms Shoes ( Toms Shoes is a unique socially conscious shoe company with a mission to improve the conditions of children living in poverty. There are no complicated formulas, simply for every pair of shoes purchased, Tom’s donates a second pair to a child on in need.

CAUSE-DRIVEN2A conspicuous distinction of cause-driven brands is that they don’t focus on only cause-driven marketing, but operate on a commercial cause-driven business model. There’s a huge difference. A true cause-driven brand exists to serve its selected humanitarian issue by applying specific commercial solutions to targeted facets of that issue and thus leverage the economics of mass consumption to serve the cause. Unlike campaigns that come and go, donations that are ad hoc, or non-profits that directly address a humanitarian cause as their main course of activity, the cause-driven business model unites commercial and humanitarian motives. Rather than manufacture need, as in the case of the vast majority of brand marketing—or ask for handouts as in the case of cause-based organizations—cause-driven brands tackle existing humanitarian issues continuously as a part of their pursuit of profitability.

The cause-driven brand perspective can help unite and galvanize the entire value chain. The participants in the value chain—consisting of manufacturers, distributors, processors, retailers, and consumers that bring value to one another—can all focus on a purpose of greater good as common ground. This facilitates commerce among them all while solving real world problems.

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if every commercial brand operated this way? Let us know your thoughts.


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For more perspective on bridging strategy and execution, including practical tools and processes for brand operationalization, get a copy of Getting There From Here: Bridging Strategy and Execution, by Greg French, founder of GroPartners Consulting. E-book at iBooks or hard copy from

Give Your Brand a Soul


Paying it forward is a good analogy of creating a brand with soul.

In the 2000 movie, “Pay it Forward,” a young boy takes on the task of changing the world by starting a chain of selfless good deeds; helping three people under the condition that they each help three people, and so on, until  his goal is achieved. The kid had a great soul and this altruistic cause is how he shaped the world.

The soul of a brand is a concept that’s hard to describe and even harder to develop.  “Pay it Forward” is a good analogy for soul-building, because it’s less about image than passion and commitment.  Brand soul can often carry a business through rough times, in both morale and sales. It boosts employee retention, strengthens customer loyalty, and supports higher pricing.

This kind of depth is most often shaped by the consistent behaviors and actions of people who have a stake in the organizational brand. Leadership is its custodian and vision its lifeline. Unlike a typical pontification of goals of sales and market share, true brand vision is instead a perspective of what a better world could look like and the organization’s role in meeting that future. It’s about core ideology that creates an envisioned future.  In short, it’s a cause. The money part follows.

Commercial businesses by definition exist to make a profit. But brands with a soul earn these profits as a byproduct of their cause. The better they are at supporting and promoting their cause, the more profit they earn. Of course, this is an over simplification, but the point is a company without a social cause is a brand without a soul.

It’s a lot easier to get people to line up behind a brand with a cause than to constantly fuel attraction, engagement, and retention with an endless stream of advertisements, promotions, or discounts.

So, how do you give your brand a soul? How do you identify an appropriate and relevant cause?

Picture1There’s no easy answer, but there are many good examples to inspire you. One such example is the story of Carlos Rodriguez-Pastor, a Peruvian businessman who wanted to be more than a banker. In his newly renamed Interbank he saw an opportunity to create middle-class jobs and design his bank to cater to middle-class needs. With this vision guiding him, the ambition became to initiate transformation in Peru’s economy by building up an all-but-non-existent middle class.

For ideas, Rodriguez-Pastor decided to study the leading financial marketplace in the United States. Realizing he could not succeed in this major transformation by himself, he convinced a prominent US bank analyst to allow him and a cadre of his colleagues to join an investor tour of US banks. From this tour, he and his managers learned the ropes of the big leagues.

But Rodriguez-Pastor didn’t stop there. He took on the herculean task of changing the entire education system of Peru to grow and perpetuate a robust middle class. He assembled a task force to modernize classrooms, teaching methods, and technologies. In the process, Rodriguez-Pastor grew Interbank’s loyal customer base; not by increasing share of market, but by growing the size of market segment.

This is what a true cause looks like. It’s the soul of a brand. Some may see this as stepping outside the “core business,” a source of angst, distraction, or intimidation for many leaders. But Rodriguez-Pastor envisioned it as social responsibility, “paying it forward” to grow his business. He reframed his perspective of “core business” from building a bank, to building an entire economy, which in turn improved the quality of life for millions…and grew his business as a byproduct. No doubt the financial equation has to make sense, but in the long run this kind of strategy–no matter how modest–can build a brand that is highly durable and profitable.

Read the official story of Carlos Rodriguez-Pastor in Harvard Business Review article, “Design Thinking Comes of Age.” Reprints are available in the HBR Library.

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For more perspective on bridging strategy and execution, including practical tools and processes for brand operationalization, get a copy of Getting There From Here: Bridging Strategy and Execution, by Greg French, founder of GroPartners Consulting. E-book at iBooks or hard copy from

The 3-Word Competitive Strategy for Middle-market Companies


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bigfishsmallpondIn 1980 Michael Porter transformed the marketing world with his text on Competitive Strategy. It remains a brilliant work in its simplicity, a fundamental approach to analyzing the competitive landscape.  Porter’s five forces brought clarity to a topic muddied by countless unproven approaches.

But there’s even a simpler approach: Three words that inspire even the smallest competitor to dream big.

Be big somewhere.

If you can’t compete with the big boys in their space, make a smaller space. Control the scope of your solution to one only your brand can satisfy. Of course it has to be realistic and meaningful to customers. But by the fundamental laws of mass merchandising, customization of solutions will almost always be rewarded with greater target attention and higher profit margins.

Many marketers mistake market opportunity for market size. But consider this: Would you rather own a 1% share of a market that’s 1 million strong or a 30% share of a market that’s a tenth that size…with higher profit margins?

I know. It’s against a marketer’s very nature to think small, but as a strategic consideration, it can be the best fuel your small or middle-market brand can get. And with all you’ll learn at a lower risk inherent in a more tightly defined market, you’ll be far more efficient at expanding to larger ponds later. This kind of long run approach drives long-term brand profitability.

If you can’t be a big fish in a big pond, shrink the pond.

You can’t put a whale into a fish bowl. But it doesn’t take a huge fish to rule there. So here are a few tips to shrink your way to success.


First focus on your customers.

Draw careful distinctions between what customers think they WANT and what your expertise tells you they truly NEED to satisfy that want. For example, people have long searched for their favorite radio station that plays the kind of music they are in the mood for, when they are in the mood. What they really needed was a way to access a personally customizable music playlist without buying all the recordings.  Enter Pandora. People couldn’t “want” it because they didn’t know the technology existed. The magic lies in the way you analyze and interpret a customer stated want.

Next focus on your offer.

Second, focus your offer and positioning so tightly that the offer itself actually defines a segment, albeit smaller. Competitors tend to disappear when your brand appears to be the only one that can satisfy a very specific set of needs. This strategy done right can make your brand appear as prominent as the giants, to those who matter.

Then focus on your motives.

Be authentic. If your brand is truly customer focused in the most authentic way, you have no competition in the traditional sense. In its place, you have a commitment to serve your customers in a way they cannot be served elsewhere. That demands being constantly connected to your customers as well as non-customers. Anticipating their needs. Developing solutions based on your thought leadership around the application of new technologies, techniques, and trends.

And don’t forget about alignment. Aligning your business goals with those of your customers and your employees makes for a self-perpetuating success. Be sure to conduct a strategic alignment exercise at least once a year to be sure your brand is keeping up with changes in technology, regulation, competition, and other market forces.

For more on this topic, see Getting There From Here: Bridging Strategy and Execution, by Greg French.

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For more perspective on bridging strategy and execution, including practical tools and processes for brand operationalization, get a copy of Getting There From Here: Bridging Strategy and Execution, by Greg French, founder of GroPartners Consulting. E-book at iBooks or hard copy from

Challenging “Flawless Execution”


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A recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article on “Why Strategy and Execution Unravels…” squarely nails a sore spot many of us feel acutely but are too proud to admit: “…no Gantt chart survives contact with reality.”



Even with adequate communication, strategic misalignment can occur. The best way to get every employee on the same page is with learning by doing.

As hard as leaders try, it’s rare that downstream execution efforts precisely reflect initial scheduling and strategic intent. And it’s not just misalignment of the ranks that’s to blame. After all, most organizations spend a lot of time and money communicating strategic plans – even to the point of asking downstream stakeholders if they are clear on strategic priorities … “Yes” is an easy box to check.

For researchers, it’s easier to quantify closed-ended (yes/no) questions than ‘dig for the gold’ in open-ended survey responses.  So it’s no surprise that in a recent study among thousands of managers who check the “Yes, I’m clear” box, only 55% of them surveyed in a recent study could name even ONE of their company’s top strategic priorities (Sull, Sull & Homkes).  Maybe there should have been a selection for “Yes, I think I kinda understand our top priorities but can’t articulate them.”

The above-mentioned HBR article, “Why Strategy Execution Unravels—and What to do About It” (March 2015) is based on a survey administered to 7,600 managers in 262 countries across 300 industries. It lists five of the most pervasive myths surrounding the gaps between strategy and execution, which account for unsatisfactory business results.

  1. Execution equals alignment
  2. Execution means sticking to the plan
  3. Communication equals understanding
  4. A performance culture drives execution
  5. Execution should be driven from the top down

The article is a great read and lands on a premise espoused in my book, “Getting There from Here: Bridging Strategy and Execution:” Though many organizations are expert at communicating strategic objectives to stakeholders, communication is not enough.

Understanding Strategic Intent v “Flawless Execution”

MemorizinPlaybook 1g a few bullet points won’t assure flawless execution. In fact, “flawless execution” itself promotes a perspective that undermines its own intent by implying lack of flexibility. It doesn’t account for changes in the environment and the myriad variables often visible only to the eyes and ears of those downstream. When a football receiver finds himself in possession of the ball and he’s suddenly staring down a wall of defense that looks decidedly different than in the planned play, he makes a decision to run out of bounds instead of toward the goal line. Though he did not execute “flawlessly” according to the plan, the result outweighed the risks, and still racked up yardage—the strategic priority. To stick with the original plan may have meant being tackled, injured, or risk a fumble and turnover.  It was a judgement call by a receiver downfield who had perspective no other player or coach could have. In the same way, delegating downstream decision-making for strategic execution can distribute responsibilities among stakeholders. This unburdens leaders from the consequences of blind spots often encountered when “puppeteering” from above.

Confirming downstream stakeholders truly understand the intent of strategic priorities empowers them to be insightful and flexible about how they execute (within limits). Instead of pushing alignment downward, an organization can actually align culture upward to meet strategic intent. This can be accomplished by taking action to:

  • Educate about the meaning behind the strategic priorities, what it means to each stakeholder in their functional role
  • Develop behaviors that contribute to implementation of strategic priorities at various functional levels
  • Establish channels to push insights upstream quickly
  • Allow for flexibility in both strategy and execution while in-play—as long as they are deliberate  and coordinated

Ideally strategic priorities are  expressed in terms of how they benefit customers directly or how they benefit the organization so it can better serve its customers. Through this lens, execution may not look exactly like what the strategic architects envisioned, but it can be even more effective.

More than just communicating, truly educating and training all levels of stakeholders about their active roles in supporting strategic priorities is essential to bridge strategy and execution. Allowing for flexibility in strategy can take advantage of downstream perspective as well as help master the art of agility. Donald Sull (senior lecturer at MIT Sloan) coined the “strategy loop” concept, which allows for reshaping strategy, potentially in mid-play, to account for changes in any number of variables. Given our modern era ability to garner real-time feedback, it’s more important than ever before to ride the reshaping waves of change toward executional success.

Aligning More than Minds, but Also Behaviors

To do is to learn. People can learn how to directly contribute to strategic priorities faster if they are shown direct links between their daily jobs and the priorities. This can be accomplished by providing downstream stakeholders with concrete, measurable examples of things they can do every day in the course of their functional roles to address specific strategic priorities. Ideally, these tasks should be framed in a customer focus.  With this in place, organizations can harness untapped power for execution. This strategy can empower every soul in the organization to put their shoulder to the same wheel—all in the name of the customer. As personal relevance to strategic priorities increases with stakeholders, so does distributed power for execution.

Though the idea seems “V8-simple,” in practice it can be a significant undertaking. This kind of change proposition requires a deliberate commitment of resources and a permanent shift in culture.

The best way to begin is to focus on confirming your downstream stakeholders (those in your critical path for execution) truly understand the strategic intent, how they can actively participate in achieving it, and what it means to them in their role.

For more on this topic contact me at

How to Get Everything You Want at Work This Year


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 One word. RAPPORT.

What are the ingredients of powerful RAPPORT? How can you harness the force that projects charisma, persuasion, negotiating power, and credibility to all the stakeholders who affect your work life? Not only your boss. Not just your team. But people within every function of your organization and all your brands’ stakeholders, including customers.

To take it even further, RAPPORT can be scaled to unite brands and their customers, employees and employers; all to achieve real business results.

Believe it or not, this kind of power can be acquired by following only seven down-to-earth steps called The RAPPORT Process™.

Print(R) Research — Know your stakeholders

(A) Analysis — Determine not just what they want, but what they need to do to get what they want (your strategy). Pick your battles by focusing on needs that your solutions can best facilitate, and the segments that value them most.

(P) Positioning — Develop a way to deliver your strategy that addresses your stakeholders’ perceived wants. Begin with their objective and work backwards to your own. Focus on the single facet of your stakeholders’ want that you can “own.” Let them discover all the other great benefits later. Be big somewhere, rather than small everywhere.

(P) Planning — Once you know what your stakeholders want and what they need to do to get it, you need a detailed approach. Formalize the events, costs, benefits, and sequence in a plan.

(O) Operation — Execute your plan…roll it out…take action

(R) Results — Measure your outcomes and progress toward your goals

(T) Translation — How can you do this better next time?

Imagine everyone in your organization—from the stockroom to the boardroom—using this process to deal with every kind of issue from improving shipping efficiencies to launching new brands. Minds aligned. Conflicts averted. Cultures united. Commerce accelerated. Efficiencies unlocked. Common process means common language and focus. And that means a better rapport, which opens a whole new universe of benefits—all from operational alignment through The RAPPORT Process.

Much like the Quality movement in decades past, the RAPPORT revolution can help businesses achieve greater customer satisfaction, increase revenues and margins, and improve operational efficiencies. GroPartners is launching a multi-year trial of our trademarked RAPPORT Process for organizations that believe alignment sets into motion a chain of heightened customer and employee satisfaction, which leads to enhanced revenues and margins. Our aim is to build a case of solid metrics on actual organizational implementation.

Contact us if you’d like to participate in our trial. This process might be a way for you (and your fellow employees and your customers) to get everything you want at work this year, and beyond.

You can read more about the RAPPORT Process in my new book, “Getting There From Here: Bridging Strategy and Execution” available on Amazon or digital version on Apple iBooks.

GroPartners Consulting

Bridging Strategy and Execution for Better Business Results


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It takes both to succeed

Many organizations are very good at developing brand and marketing strategies that have the potential to produce excellent business results. But often these strategies become diluted or even derailed due to misaligned execution. Other organizations are experts at flawless execution of strategies that may not align with actual customer behaviors and organizational goals. The reality is that it takes both to succeed. And that requires a holistic approach, connecting internal and external components to create a symbiotic brand.


My new book is available now at

When marketers fail, it is generally tied to their inability to connect strategy with in-market execution. My new book, “Getting There from Here: Bridging Strategy and Execution,” takes on the task of not only outlining how critical it is to bridge this gap but also identifying the rewards on the other side: operational excellence and in-market impact. It is an excellent reference for perspective and processes that help bridge expectations, experiences, and behaviors among all brand stakeholders at every touchpoint.

Visit to download a copy. Whatever your goals, it will help you get there from here by giving you tools and processes to effectively bridge strategy and execution for better business results.

Getting There from Here: Bridging Strategy and Execution

Page 15:     The power of the bridge between strategy and execution

Page 59:     The RAPPORT Process; a master process and language that helps align every level of your organization

Page 125:   How to conduct an effective Strategic Summit

Page 42:     How to know a good vision statement when you see one

Page 116:   How to build a metrics bridge dashboard

Page 17:     The true relationship of brand and marketing

Page 21:     Harnessing the relationship between business, brand, and innovation

Page 34:     Finding strategic alignment control points

Page 53:     How to be sure you’re selecting the right opportunities

Page 56:     When estimating can be better than counting

I’d love to hear from you how this book helped improve your business results. Post your comments here or email me

GroPartners Consulting