What’s a strategy, really?
I’m at the PR conference Communicare 2014 and the word strategy comes up here and there.
And not just here. It comes up in business all the time. Strategy, strategy, strategy. And strategy.
I’m sure it does in your business, too.
Last week I joined the Adobe EMEA Think Tank for our first session and during the panel, the question of why a digital strategy is important came up, so I explained my position on the subject.
Afterwards I got some great feedback based on the fact that I took the time to explain what a strategy actually is — in plain terms. Not many strategists do this, apparently.
And since strategy is such an over-used and inflated term, I think it’s fair to put it as a simple question:
What’s a strategy?
The Basic Premise Of A Strategy
A strategy is about how to win. Yes, win.
How to win is what any strategy should tell you. The why, where, when, how and what are important questions to answer, but you can save them for the actual plan.
Some will say they have no competitors, but if that’s truly the case, at least you have to show up. So your strategy to win would then simply be to show up since no-one else does.
Now that’s a pretty powerful strategy, right there.
But most business ventures have competitors. If you’re in the service industry for example, you probably care about your customers. But it’s not a strategy to care about your customers if your competitors also care about their customers.
However, if you would decide to care more — then you’ve got yourself a strategy. The key word is of course more. More, in this case, is a quantifiable something that you could actually win.
Can it really be so simple, to focus on how to win?
Others Are Already Winning Their Games
Apple has think different as a potent strategy. As long as they’re actually delivering on that promise, through and through, they’ve got game.
Remember we try harder by Avis? That’s a recipe for how they were planning to win.
Now, don’t get me wrong:
You’re strategy doesn’t necessarily have to be a tagline, because a tagline (I’m loving it!) and a strategy (think different) can be two different things.
Just do it by Nike represents a cultural attitude which is important to the company. However, their strategy should relate to being bold and to taking risks.
Or take Red Bull gives you wings. They truly demonstrate this over and over again by producing better extreme sports videos than any other brand.
So if winning is the purpose of a strategy, coherent actions is key to make it into a functional strategy.
How To Write A One-Page Strategy
My inspiration comes from the classic Good Strategy, Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt and this is how I set up strategies that fit on one page — using the classic battle between David and Goliath as an analogy:
- David assumed he could never beat Goliath using his size or raw strength, but he also realized that he himself had an advantage in speed and accuracy from a distance.
2. Guiding Principle
- David decided to not engage in close combat, but rather use tools to fight from a distance.
3. Coherent Actions
- David didn’t used any heavy armour, because that would contradict his strategy.
- David decided to use a slingshot, a weapon he was familiar with and served his strategic purpose of fighting from a distance.
- No-one had ever fought Goliath from a distance before, so he leveraged the element of surprise.
The above can easily fit on a one-pager. The details can be outlined in the plan, which comes later.
Your Strategy Bullshit Detector
So now you know, If you didn’t before, how to create a potent one-page strategy.
And, if you hear the word strategy being tossed around, just make sure to ask yourself this question:
Question: Is it clear how the “strategy” will help the company to actually beat their competitors and win in their marketplace?