Marketing with a Capital S: Strategic Planning for Knowledge Based Services

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION:

Strategic Thinking Wasn't a Core Course in Library School

Some have said that strategic planning is a fancy expression for the simple notion of deciding "where/what/who do we want to be (for whom) in one-three-five years?" In our hearts, we know it's anything but simple to achieve that warmly glowing picture we hold of a desirable future state... in fact we might hesitate to believe it could actually come true. Hence strategic planning may fall apart somewhere between dream and action - not to mention somewhere in the crush of daily workloads.

The fact is, of course, that without strategic planning few of us will succeed (in anything other than surviving, if that). "Vague" as some might find the activity, it is nevertheless crucial and deserving of much more time than most of us feel we have to devote. Management planning retreats gone awry, or merely to waste, have given the discipline a bad name, and there is some skepticism about "consultababble".

Marketing lore, of course, is so well known - the P's and all that - that all we have to do is think strategically about our Products; their Place (where and how clients can obtain them); their Positioning (visa vis alternatives clients have); their Price (even if no money changes hands, clients still pay with their time and effort); and how we Promote them. Inspired by Stephen Abram, I'd like to add another P: the method by which we Provoke the sale.

However, I suspect thinking strategically comes naturally to a minority among us. Planning and organizing for a future event are no sweat - for example, moving a largish library facility to another location involves a lot of detail without razing us - but deciding on and executing a strategy is another matter. Not only that, strategy has become a more and more challenging domain in step with the increasing complexity of most organizations' knowledge related activities.

There's more. It is not even possible to isolate the information center's strategy and deal with it the way we might, for example, deal with its budget. Our strategic direction must be closely aligned with that of the entire organization, and especially with that of the Information Technology component. Hence we cannot determine our strategy without intimate knowledge of the overall direction of the organization and its future approach to knowledge management. For that reason alone we must develop strong relationships with key organizational units in order to "be at the table" when decisions are made. Therefore, our "strategic planning checklist" begins at the beginning, with efforts to ensure we are connected to the corporate decision-makers in a way that goes beyond the relationship between requestor and service provider.

So how to get a grip on the future? What are some concrete steps one could follow in order to form, articulate, and then implement a strategic plan for the future success of a knowledge based service (once known as an information center)? In the following, I use the information center as a reference example, but the points made are equally applicable to professional associations and their chapters.

In many cases, I have found that a basic set of questions can be helpful in raising related questions and hence in guiding the process of shaping the future. I organize the questions according to a natural sequence involving assessing the current situation; understanding stakeholder priorities; responding appropriately to those priorities; communicating appropriately (marketing) to stakeholders; and ensuring that stakeholder reaction is fed back into adjustments and new future plans.

1. Taking Stock: Perception, other Players

Skilled to the nth degree in measuring the tangible evidence in use statistics, search logs, and vendor bills, we may find that assessing the perception others have of us is rather less straightforward. Two main questions should be addressed with brutal honesty:

How is our information center perceived in the organization by identifiable groups? …