What’s a strategy, really?

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 simply as possible:

A strategy is 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

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:

Your 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 are key to making 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:

1. Analysis

  • 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 use 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 crystal clear how the “strategy” will help the brand to beat their competitors and win in their marketplace?

Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash.


  1. I really loved this post. It managed to put words on some of the feelings I’ve had towards how strategies are used in my kind of workplace and that sometimes has me wanting to skip the strategy part altogether, even though that haven’t felt very smart either. Condensed smartness!

    • Thank you so much, Jimmy! Yeah, strategy is sooo important, but many misinterpret this by creating incredibly long and complex documentations. The only result is that it the strategy becomes foggy and unclear and often times it doesn’t even make anything easier. I guess too many “strategists” are making their living from making stuff more complicated than they need to be, ha!

  2. Well written and exemplary clear! Battling the inflation in the concept of “strategy” and getting rid of it being used as a syntethic booster for “tactics” is crucial to all businesses.

    • I hear you Catarina — thank you for reinforcing the fact that this is a problem we must address. Let’s fight the strategy inflaters! :) And thank you so much for commenting, it means the world to me.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.