We Need A Strategy

If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say “we need a strategy” — whether it was a marketing, Web, database marketing, analytics, advertising, IT, or you-name-it strategy — I’d be rich. If I had to pay a nickel for every time the ensuing strategy-development effort failed to materialize or pay off, I’d be in debt for the rest of my life.

The problem lies in the different interpretations of the term strategy. Thesaurus.com defines strategy as “a plan, method, or series of maneuvers or stratagems for obtaining a specific goal or result.” But when used in practice, we often use the term to mean “a solution to a problem”.

What’s important, here, is recognizing what’s causing the problem in the first place: Misalignment. Misalignment between the lines of business, and between functions like marketing, analytics, advertising, and so on.

You need a strategy, all right — at the business level. But at the LOB and functional level, what you need is a plan that aligns with the strategy. “Well, that’s what we’re trying to do”, you say.

But the reason you’re not succeeding at effecting any change — or remediating the problem — is that your “plan” or “strategy” isn’t calling out the elephant on the table. That is, the specific points of misalignment as they relate to budget allocation, project priorities, IT interdependencies, skill gaps, and (often one of the biggest contributors) incentives and compensation.

Marketing’s strategy has to start with a expose of where the alleged business strategy falls short. An online channel strategy that espouses cross-selling a firm’s products isn’t going to succeed if the product “owners” (product managers, LOB execs, etc.) aren’t willing to bundle their product or concede margins by giving some customers discounts.

Exposing the weaknesses in corporate strategy is a dark and nasty job — but Marketing has to figure out how to do it in a tactful way.

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6 thoughts on “We Need A Strategy

  1. Most common problems with strategies:

    1. Too many objectives.
    2. The strategy is thicker than a phone book.
    3. Not defining adequate tactics to support the strategy.
    4. Tactics are never executed.
    5. Confusion about the difference between “objectives,” “strategies,” and “tactics.”

    In the military, “strategy” refers to the large-scale, long-range planning and development of one’s forces to ensure security or victory (the “objective”). “Tactics” are how troops and resources are actually deployed.

    Objective = WHY something needs to be done
    Strategy = HOW it will be accomplished
    Tactics = WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN

    What is it that leads to “strategy inflation” anyway? No one wants to write a 250-page strategy. No one wants to read one. And they are never executed. Why can’t a brilliant strategy fit on one page? Are ideas evaluated by-the-pound?

  2. I have been in so many mind-numbing-strategic-planning-session-management-retreats, whatever you call them. that really feel more like we’re “planning to plan.”

    Planning is easy. Execution is hard.

    The longer we stay in these meetings, the less time we have to actually DO anything.

    What would happen if a company STOPPED meeting for one month.? No meetings – just doing.

    I dare all of you to try it.

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  4. One reason why strategies never get implemented is that they are often very vague…things like “we will solve all of our customers’ needs” and “our goal is grow our business while holding costs steady”. This is less a strategy and more of a vision. To me, the vision is where you want to be in the future (~5 years), the strategy is a general approach to how you’re going to get there, and the tactics or imperatives are your guideposts along the way.

    A strategy not only says what you WILL do it also clearly says what you WILL NOT do. A reason why many strategies are vague and unactionable is because people are afraid to make these tradeoffs and “bet the company”, resulting in a strategy that doesn’t make any clear choices and thus leaves employees stuck without a clear direction for their daily activities. For example, a company might be afraid to have it’s strategy focus almost entirely on Operational Excellence at the expense of Customer Intimacy because every business has to put the customer first, right? Wrong. The customer is always important but may not be your primary focus. Is Walmart focused on Customer Intimacy or Operational Excellence?

    Your strategy should clearly articulate the choices your company has made. E.g., We will focus our efforts on reducing our product and operational costs in order to give the lowest procurement cost to our customer. Or, e.g., we will be at the forefront of innovation in our industry and continuously provide customers with new products to meet their explicit as well as unspoken needs (note that this implies a higher cost structure than the first strategy).

  5. Objective = WHY something needs to be done
    Strategy = HOW it will be accomplished
    Tactics = WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN


    Throughout this useful blog, tactics and by extension project planning becomes the real driver of effectiveness. So strategy comes alive with a robust project management process and tool set. We know that Vertabase (http://www.vertabase.com) has strong case histories show how consistent PM can help a company cope with rapid growth.

  6. It’s important for sales and marketing to have a combined strategy. This allows you to map out each step of the marketing and see who is involved in what.

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