Your strategy should help tell a story

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A leader’s most important responsibility is identifying the biggest challenges to forward progress and devising a coherent approach to overcoming them. In contexts ranging from corporate direction to national security, strategy matters. Yet we have become so accustomed to strategy as exhortation that we hardly blink an eye when a leader spouts slogans and announces high-sounding goals, calling the mixture a “strategy.” –  Richard Rumelt

Strategy, strategy, strategy. It matters. Yet, most of the time, we get it wrong. Why? Let’s start with the basics…

One of the problems with implementing a strategy, is nobody cares about it. And the reason nobody cares, is because nobody understands it. And the reason nobody understands it, is because it isn’t clearly articulated. And a clearly articulated statement or name such as “low-cost airline”, will do wonders to help communicate your strategy.

But, before we get to that, we must overcome another problem: the difference between strategy and tactics.

There is a clear distinction between strategy and tactics. If anything, a strategy is a high-level concept of how you plan on winning. And this concept, should be understood by everyone. Again, a clearly articulated statement or name will do wonders.

Tactics, are how you will carry out those strategic decisions.

With that said, Jeremiah Owyang published a blog post outlining the difference between strategy and tactics. I was going to add my 2 cents, but before I did I came upon a great comment by Jan Zlotnick that touched on the point about communicating strategy:

Thanks for thought provoking article. For me and my work in marketing and branding, strategy is not a goal. Strategy is the chosen path or direction to achieving a goal. Tactics serve a strategy. Importantly, Strategy must be differentiating from that of the competition. Otherwise, a common trap is to mistake strategy for Best Practice. It’s great to have a goal to be the best coffee company in the world, but that is a best practice (quality), not a strategy. If “being the leader or the best” were Starbuck’s “strategy”(vs its business plan or “goal”), it would have been just another coffee company and likely not have achieved its goals. Instead, it achieved its goals of category leadership by differentiating itself from all other coffee experiences at the time, with its now famous strategy of “the third place.” Its tactics included its environment, culture, music, furniture, etc.

I would revise your examples, structurally, per below (Note: My “Strategy” examples are just examples…coming up with a real strategy is a work of art, science and counter-intuitiveness):

Goal: Be the market share leader in terms of sales in the mid-market in our industry.

Strategy: Remarkable Customer Service

Tactics: Offer lower cost solutions than enterprise competitors without sacrificing white-glove service for first 3 years of customer contracts.

Goal: Maneuver our brand into top two consideration set of household decision makers.

Strategy: The Customer’s Brilliant, Proud Discovery
Tactics: Deploy a marketing campaign that leverages existing customer reviews and spurs them to conduct word of mouth with their peers in online and real world events.

Goal: Improve retention of top 10% of company performers.

Strategy: The Employee is Number One (vs the typical “Customer is #1).
Tactics: Offer best in market compensation plan with benefits as well as sabbaticals to tenured top performers, source ideas from top talent.

Goal: Provide a mobile experience to customers while in our physical stores to increase sales.

Strategy: Quench Your Desire

Tactics: Offer location based mobile apps on top three platforms, and provide top 5 needed use cases based on customer desire and usage patterns.

Goal: Become a social utility that earth uses on an daily basis.

Strategy: Love Your Neighbor
Tactics: Offer a free global communication toolset that enables disparate personal interactions with your friends to monitor, share, and interact with.

Again, as I think Michael Porter said, It’s not a strategy if it doesn’t differentiate. That’s what separates market leaders from market players.

Jan Zlotnick

CMO / Branding and Marketing Strategist

What caught my attention about his comment, is that he gives “strategy” a name or statement. That’s the point!

Strategy is a guide for behavior

The the purpose of strategy is to guide decisions. A high-level concept/name that encompasses what choices to make will help you do that. And, this strategy statement or name should be clear, inspiring and differentiating to get your people on the same page.

An even better way of communicating strategy is to make it visual. Something like a drawing or anything that will help make it visceral. Bottom line: your strategy should help tell a story.

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