2011 Just Called...

Coming off the Thanksgiving break and barreling toward year-end, it's tempting to focus on wrapping things up and hitting the snooze button on strategy. Whether you've chosen that option or are instead fully engaged in how you'll succeed and differentiate in the coming year, 2011 just called and left you a message: incremental won't do, status quo is a poison pill and a strategy of reaction is no strategy at all. As a public service, here are several intellectual McNuggets to help you get in strategic shape for the decade ahead.

Get Real About Strategy: Does your organization truly recognize what it means to be strategic? Or are you continually stitching together a bunch of tactics and calling them a strategy. Here's a test: If your executive team were arrested for being strategic, would there be enough evidence to convict?

Strategy is About Creating Value: And value is about creating better relationships between the marketer and the audience you serve. Value is not price. Value is not shaving a penny off the cost or goosing the response rate by an eighth of a point. Ask the questions: " How do we create value? And what's unique about how we do it?"

Test and Learn is Not a Strategy: So be a grownup and make some bets.

Align Your Strategy with Marketing: Advertising is not something a marketer always has to do. But once they stop marketing they cease to exist. If the client cut their advertising budget entirely (yes, this happens) how would you reengage to help them solve marketing problems? Maybe it's just a good idea to go there now.

Engagement is Everything: Sure, in the narrow language of advertising, engagement is the new branding. And yes you should be stressing lots of different forms of consumer engagement in your ROI analyses. But on a broader level, base your strategy on ever deeper levels of engagement with the marketers themselves, and - critically - understanding the engagement that you truly have with consumers.

Base Strategy on What Consumers Will Do, Not What Advertisers Will Buy: My colleague Kathy Riordan, former head of ads and CRM at Kraft said it best: "If an idea is really based on consumer demand, marketers will set money aside for it." Stop pitching products and start interpreting genuine consumer behavior.

Base Your Strategy on Strength: No marketer wants to engage with you about things you're trying to get better at. It's like starting your Match.com profile talking about the 15 lbs. you're planning to lose. Get in touch with the genuine strengths of your company and don't waste any breath on how you're planning to catch a competitor on something they're good at.

Put Success Into Words: Write a headline and press release that describe a deal or a breakthrough your company would have if it truly succeeded. Build backward from that and you've got yourself a strategy.

Stay the Course: Here's a helpful rule: We don't get to change the strategy unless we're really clear on what it is that's causing us to change the strategy. Lie down with a cold cloth on your head if you have to, but don't just react to the noise around you. Malcolm X said it best: "If you don't stand for something you'll fall for anything."

Good luck.