When faced with a choice – to deal with what is in front of you, or to take time to determine your strategic direction – how many times out of 10 would you opt to deal with the demands of the days?

If you’ve not yet taken any time out this year from the busy day to day demands of your business to develop a clear marketing strategy – you need to ask yourself why. Now is the time to “Think strategy.”

But what does strategic thinking mean? Wikipedia says…

“Strategic thinking is defined as a mental or thinking process applied by an individual in the context of achieving success in a game or other endeavor. As a cognitive activity, it produces thought. When applied in an organizational strategic management process, strategic thinking involves the generation and application of unique business insights and opportunities intended to create competitive advantage for a firm or organisation. “

The benefits of strategic thinking are clear – competitive advantage. But where do you start? If you are unsure, you’re not alone. For most of us, our first reaction is to deal with what’s directly in front of us. Why? Perhaps because it always seems more urgent and tangible. If we can see it, we can deal with it. Unfortunately, while you concentrate on overcoming obstacles, you could miss some big opportunities, not to mention the signs that indicate the direction you are going it taking you off track.

But let’s not underestimate the challenge.

Developing a marketing strategy is difficult. And it takes time. It also requires some strategic thinking. What makes developing a marketing strategy difficult is that most people don’t really know what it entails. How can you be strategic if you don’t know what to do or what to think about?

Strategic marketers have developed their strategic thinking – and they know how to ask very good questions. Here are a few things you’ll need to do to develop your strategic thinking:

Open your mind to possibilities

Being a strategic thinker requires you to see the bigger picture. Imagine what you would see differently if you had a fresh pair of eyes? That’s what strategic thinking requires you to do. Look at things differently and see what other people miss. Different people are interested in different aspects of the big picture. A good strategic thinker will be able to link ideas from different areas.

Ask good questions and ask different kinds of questions

Ask questions that open up thinking. When working on your marketing strategy, one of the first questions to ask is “Why? Why do we exist?” To get the best answer to this question, ask your customers. Find out why they use your services or your products. If you disappeared tomorrow, what would they miss the most about what you do for them? You need a clear understanding of why someone buys from you and why they don’t.

Why is only one question, but it is a great place to start.

Think critically

A critical thinker will question everything. This means getting comfortable with challenging beliefs and approaches, even your own. One of the most common phrases I hear is “we always do it this way”. I say “Why?” Following conventional wisdom is the safe bet. Or is it? It does make for a smother ride with colleagues and results in less second guessing. But if you take every safe opinion at face value, your company loses all competitive advantage.

Use strategy tools

It is possible to be a strategic without using strategy tools. But it’s not possible to build a strategy without becoming a strategic thinker. Follow in the footsteps of proven strategic thinkers. Leverage the strategy tools that have been developed by others. Each tools serves a different purpose, but the reason each tool exists is the same – to help guide your thinking.

I’ve covered a number of the strategy tools and what each is used for. You can find on our website.

Keep challenging yourself to learn and to develop your strategic thinking. To be effective, strategising should not happen only once a year. It needs to become a part of your business culture.

Special thanks to Hakan Forss for letting me use his brilliant image.