What even is “strategy,” anyway?
Many people think strategy is a glorified plan — to most, it’s a list of goals and action items to help you accomplish certain objectives.
It may have deadlines, specific outcomes, and potential requirements for executing that strategy (think like budgets, tools, people, GANTT charts, etc.).
Others feel that “strategy” is just another word that corporate CEOs, executive leadership, and marketers throw around to confuse people or draw attention away from the “real” work (which, to be fair, I’ve certainly seen this happen).
Even still, I’m here to tell you that your detailed, tactical plan isn’t your strategy.
Can a strategy include a plan? Of course. But according to AG Lafley and Roger Martin in “Playing to Win,” strategy is the process of making choices — it’s the why, the where, the what, and the what-not.
And when we’re being “strategic,” we’re taking in information, deciding how and where it impacts us, and simultaneously deciding where we want to go and what we need to do to get there.
If you think about it like planning a road trip, it’s not about the destinations you’re going to hit or the things you’ll need to take with you.
It’s the purpose behind taking the road trip in the first place and the constraints (and freedoms) you put on taking that road trip in order to maximize some desired outcome.
Put it simply — strategy is where to play and how to “win” where “winning” is defined by you.
The strategy guides your plan for action. As much as strategy informs the plan for what you’re going to do, it also vehemently dictates what you’re not going to do and where you’re not going to waste time, energy, or resources.
This is illustrated in the HBR article “What is Strategy?” by Michael Porter and his thoughts on defining a “strategic position.”
Many CEOs and founders discover (sometimes too late) that while they had a plan — an endless list of tasks, to-dos, projects — they didn’t have an actual strategy that was guiding it. They weren’t aware of the choices they were indirectly or directly making by focusing on the tactics.
Strategy doesn’t have to be complex, either. It can actually be simple — so simple that it lives on one page as in the case of TK Kader’s GTM Framework or Louis Grenier’s 1-Page Marketing Strategy.
But it does have to be intentional if it’s going to be successful. And as new data points roll in, the strategy either shifts, or it takes on the risk.
If you aren’t sure if you have a strategy, ask yourself these questions:
1. What is “winning” to us?
2. Where do we want to play? (i.e. markets, customer segments, geographies, channels, etc.)
3. How do we think we’re going to win? (i.e. increase acquisition, decrease churn, etc.)
4. What capabilities, information, or resources are we going to need to win?
5. How will we conduct ourselves in order to win?
Answering these questions alone will help highlight any gaps you may have. If you’re unsure, it may be time for a deeper dive!