Making Strategy Tangible
November 28th | 2017

Making is the art of creating something tangible to express an idea.

So it seems like it might not have much of a role in the early stages of a project, especially when it comes to strategy. But sometimes making can have a huge impact on what happens next.

This whole conversation started for me when I was thinking about how meetings can sometimes be one-dimensional for our clients. It’s a lot of presentations and conversations, and, especially when the ideas are complex and the strategy rooted in numbers and verbatims, it starts to seem pretty abstract.

The point is, it gradually became clear to me that Zeus Jones needed to find a way to use time with our clients to make our ideas feel truly real.

But making isn’t just useful for creating a great meeting – it should be part of the whole process. Ideally, it helps sell the idea at the beginning, but also helps make it a reality at the end.

So, with all this in mind, I sat down to have a conversation with another maker and a strategist at Zeus Jones to explore how making and strategy can support each other.

I was thinking, Rachel, about how you did some scrappy making for our coffee client, taking photos at your house of what the morning ritual looks like to better inform selling that strategy through. And it was just a simple thing, but it really helped convince them that it was the right way to go.

On some level, people just need to know, “What does this mean?” Transforming an idea into something you can feel or take with you makes everything sharper.

Sometimes, when you put a lot of rigor into a strategy, you feel like you have to make all that rigor apparent in what you say, when you really need to show them the output, or the story, or something emotional or exciting that’s informed by it, but not always the strategy itself.

If we’re repositioning a business, we have to be able to pitch that internally before we can help consumers understand it.

Right – and the thing we make gives the client the opportunity to show something to other people and express their excitement – to give them something where they can say, “Look at this great thing that I’m so excited about.”

And emotion is a big part of that story. They have to feel something about it in order to communicate it even to their own teams.

We tend to think about the upfront of a project as a strategy, and the later part as not that, but I think that bringing in more than pure strategy at the upfront can make a huge difference.

It’s all strategy AND creative, so they shouldn’t be separate!

We’ve taken the step to say that production is strategy, but we haven’t always done the flip of that – to incorporate production, making, into the beginning. It should be mixed the entire way. 

Yeah, and it is challenging, because you feel like you have to have all these thought experiments worked out – a hypothesis and a way to solve it – before you “waste time” by bringing it to life. But it’s not a waste of time – it’s a way to save time.

Part of my process is that I solve problems by making something, so it helps me to work together with a strategist, to understand the thinking, and to carry that forward into making something so much sooner. 

It’s about creating a successful team that can do everything together. Blurring those lines between the phases of a project that help us put the right effort and inspiration into what we create.

BTS✨📷 photo by @plesserchick styling @witanddelight_

A post shared by Rachel Hardacre (@rmhardacre) on

How do you decide what’s the right thing to create? How, as makers, do you figure that out?

It depends on who we’re talking to, and what kind of project we’re doing. I honestly think it just comes down to, “What is the best way to illustrate this to get people to bring X and Y together?” We do that really well at Zeus – take a cultural insight and an audience or a pair of partners and put them together. And we’re great at explaining that, but it’s amazing how showing something real and tangible can instantly communicate the potential of what we’re offering. 

A lot of it’s about efficiency, too – what we’re good at making. But, ultimately, it’s about what makes the most impact. If it’s a packaging change, and it just looks different, then we take a photo. If it’s about how it feels, then we make the box. If it’s about how it opens, then we film the box. If it’s about how someone feels about it, then we get someone to open it and film their face. And then, of course, matching that project with whoever has the skills to make it.

But some if it is also about breaking down those perceived walls between people who can and can’t make, and putting people into new and exciting roles. We’re humans – we have hands, and we’re made to create. So let’s stretch.

And, if I’m working closely with a strategist, it’s enriching and exciting, and I’m going to learn.

Plus, it makes strategy less of a strategy with a capital S. Because who knows what that means? Instead, it becomes just thinking and analyzing and deciding. Working together closely and collaboratively takes the capital S out of strategy and the capital M out of making.

Right – it takes the preciousness out of it. It’s not studio art. We have a lot of hands here, so let’s put them to use. 

This conversation was so enlightening for me, and helped me think about what’s next for Zeus Jones when it comes to incorporating making into the work we do – all along the way.

The future is one where there are no siloes between makers and other disciplines. It’s one where, every step of the way, we all collaborate to make our ideas real. That way, the maker can use their strategy brain and the strategist can use their maker brain, and we can both make ourselves, and the work we do together, so much better.