Why we need Fuzzy Goals

Why brands need fuzzy goals

Why we need fuzzy goals for today’s brand strategies.

One of the cornerstones of traditional, brand-strategy creation, is goal and objective setting. There has always been an issue that situations and the business environment are constantly changing. Objectives are in flux.

The rapidity of change over just the last two or three years has accelerated at an unprecedented rate. Old models that should have been retired years ago need replacing.

SMART objectives aren’t smart anymore.

The hackneyed mnemonic SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timebased – is no longer fit for objective setting. 

How can I be ‘Specific’ when all the variables are bouncing around? Yes, I have a good overall idea of where we want to be, but ‘Specific’? The parameters are changing daily. If I set specific objectives they are likely to need resetting, perhaps in days. 

The same is almost certainly true for ‘Measurable’, ‘Achievable’, etc.

We can clearly see the reasons for our dilemma if we return to another standard tool, the PESTLE analysis.

This is a useful tool aimed at gaining a macro picture of the brand environment. PESTLE stands for Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal and Environmental factors. It’s easy to see how useful this is in framing goals and objectives for your brand. To know where you’re going (strategy) it’s important to know where you’re starting from.

Let’s look at this in diagrammatic form (below)

Pestle Diagram for fuzzy goals

If I had asked you to fill in descriptions of the brand environment in each of those boxes, say, a year ago, they would be pretty well useless today. Even if you’d done it just four months ago it would not have been helpful, and if you complete it today, is it likely to be relevant in three months’ time?

The world is changing fast. We could almost imagine that the world is conspiring against our strategic aims. While we set our objectives and try to follow them, the environment is not standing still. Politicians plot their own strategies, maybe enacting new legislations. Nations change relationships and trading arrangements. Financial interest and growth rates may fluctuate massively. Consumers change socially and culturally, and new technologies surface daily.

While all this is happening, our competitors are not standing still, and are trying as best they can achieve their own business aims.

Our brand against the world?

The world conspiring against our small aims may not be as far fetched as it sounds.

 “The facts and our intentions are comparable for the better part to two forces that pull in two different directions and their diagonal is the course of our life.”

Arthur Schopenhauer

What Schopenhauer was saying is that while we pursue our aims, the world doesn’t care. The facts of the world are independent of our aims and intentions. While we press forward with our strategy, what’s happening, forces in the world are acting against us – the resulting direction is called Schopenhauer’s Diagonal – the direction we will actually travel.


Schopenhauers Diagonal

For a brand this means that as you try to follow a course, the constant and rapidly changing environment is working to throw you off course. Even on a 12 month plan you’re likely to be well off your initial objective.

Fuzzy goals can help.

Let’s forget about setting precise objectives for a while, and consider using fuzzy goals. These goals can lack precision, but among their key characteristics are the facts that they are progressive and iterative. Working on the basis that we don’t know what we don’t know (which may be a given in a fast changing world), it makes sense to keep adjusting the strategy as the goal shifts.

Fuzzy goals obviously need some overall sense of direction of course. Researchers* working in the area coined the term ‘pole-star vision’, which “motivates the general direction”. However it still leaves the freedom to reset incremental goals as situations change. Fuzzy goals are not static and unchanging, they are progressive and directed by the learning processes along the way.

One analogy likens fuzzy goals to viewing a distant star. Is starts as a blur, but the closer we get the focus becomes sharper. We may even see another adjacent star that’s far more attractive.

Brand strategies are inherently creative activities. They lend themselves to fuzzy approaches. Precise details and data can be applied the more we learn. Fuzzy objectives can lead us to sharper brand strategies.

For more views on fuzzy goals, check out a great post by Dave Gray.

*Radical innovation: crossing boundaries with interdisciplinary teams

Ian West
dangerous ideas

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