A New Model for Strategic Planning: the 10% Solution (No, Wait; there are Zombies, Too)

Last summer, a client introduced me to what he called the 70%/20%/10% approach to marketing management:

  • Spend 70% of your resources improving the things that we know work
  • Spend 20% on emerging approaches
  • Spend 10% on “out there” ideas

I’d like to apply this thinking to manage strategic planning.  Also, I’ll work zombies into the discussion, because it’s my blog and that’s how I roll.


First, let me explain the zombies.

In the zombie epic book and subsequent film “World War Z,” an Israeli intelligence operative explains that the Mossad has a policy stating that if nine analysts believe something to be true, then the tenth analyst must act as if he believes it false and vigorously assemble information to prove his point.  In the story, this approach stemmed from Israel’s surprise during the Yom Kippur War and led to their relative preparedness for the zombie outbreak.  Side note: the Israelis actually do have something like this policy, according to contributors on Quora.

So, I say, if it’s good enough for a real intelligence agency depicted in a fictional story about the zombie apocalypse, it’s good enough for a strategic planning department!

Let’s re-imagine the 70%/20%/10% concept through the lens of the zombie apocalypse (I can’t tell you how long I’ve been waiting to write that sentence).

A planning department has plenty of day-to-day, business-as-usual (BAU) work: writing briefs, conducting and interpreting research, evaluating creative concepts and so on.  Frankly, that’s what clients pay for and expect.  BAU, then, demands 70% of the department’s resources.

Similarly, marketing has any number of emerging things: new media channels, new social networks (oy vey; there’s a zombie dating site), new demographic trends and new category entrants.  Thus, strategists should spend 20% of their time looking at the near-term changes that can have an impact on the brand.  Mostly, clients will pay for this as well.  In my experience, B2C clients understand the need to keep an eye on trends.  B2B clients, on the other hand, often focus so immediately on their competitive set that they can miss broader trends.  However, a competent strategy team can make a convincing argument for this kind of work.

The 10%?  That’s where the zombies come in.  As in, a strategy department should spend 10% of its time planning for the marketing equivalent of zombie outbreaks.  Think about what Marriott or Starwood might have done in 2009 if they had any inkling of what Airbnb would become.   Earlier this year, GM invested half a billion (with a B) in Lyft, the ride sharing service, at a valuation of $2.5 billion.  Imagine how much less it would have cost them in May of 2013, when the whole company had a valuation of $500 million.

To that end, marketing strategists should spend 10% of their time–half a day of a nominal workweek–looking at edge cases in a client’s category.  Edge cases include not only what hipsters or other bleeding-edge consumers think, do or use, but also contradictions of received wisdom in the category.  As an initial exercise, strategists should take a moment to laundry-list the common wisdom points and assign them to strategists to tilt at those windmills.

Now, here’s the hard part: agencies probably can’t charge for it.

Clients may benefit from these wool-gathering expeditions, but they generally won’t respect them until the strategy team can make a convincing case for the implications.  As a result, strategy managers should recognize this 10% work as a cost of doing business and look to generate money-making proposals based on the implications.  In other words, the 10% can provide projects for the 20%.

Moreover, any strategist worth his or her Morton’s will jump at the chance to do far-out work.  We strategists famously enjoy figuring out stuff before everyone else has a clue.  In fact, as a manager of strategists, you will probably have to restrain them more than anything else.

Granted, your team probably won’t find anything as exciting as a zombie outbreak.  However, I can guarantee that your team’s 10% time will result in engaged strategists, lively discussions and projects you can sell.


One thought on “A New Model for Strategic Planning: the 10% Solution (No, Wait; there are Zombies, Too)

  1. Pingback: What “Fear the Walking Dead” Taught Me About Marketing Strategy | Plannerben | Anecdata

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