What actually is a strategy anyway?

This is one of the most overused and misunderstood buzzwords going around.

In this video, I explain what strategy is, what it’s not, and why it’s important.

Here’s a loosely-edited transcription

Australia’s been involved in a – lets’ call it a “kerfuffle” with China in the last few months. I saw this quote recently from an article published last December. It reads, “when pressed on what strategy he would pursue in government. Mr Albanese, (who’s the leader of the opposition here) replied ‘Our strategy is to get into government’.”

I looked at that, and I thought that really emphasises how widespread the misunderstanding of strategy is. Getting into government isn’t a strategy, that’s an objective. 

Strategy is one of those really overused buzzwords. Everybody’s got a strategy for everything it would seem. But not understanding what a strategy is, and not having one at all, is a common reason why so many small businesses tend to waste a lot of money on marketing and advertising that isn’t really effective.

Today we’re going to look at three components that you need to worry about in terms of where strategy fits into the big picture. I’ll also finish up with four takeaways. 

An Objective

The first of our three components is you need to have is an objective. If you don’t have an objective, you can’t develop a strategy.

And back to the article we looked a before, winning government isn’t a strategy – that’s an objective. If you have a competitor that’s perhaps a market leader and you want to become that market leader, that’s an objective. Now, I’m not a big fan of this next acronym, but we’ll use it today.

You may have heard of SMART goals before (objective/goal – similar kind of thing in this context). We’re looking at 

  • Specific 
  • Measurable 
  • Actionable
  • Realistic and 
  • Time-bound 

The most important part of this, this time, is that first one: specific.

Just saying “more clients” or “more revenue” is probably not a really good objective.

Wrap a number around it so that you’ll know whether you’ve achieved it or not. 

Strategy

The second part is strategy – the main topic of what we’re talking about today. So once you have an objective, a strategy is like a high-level roadmap of how you’re going to get there.

For example, say you’ve got to drive from Brisbane to Sydney. In this case, Sydney would be objective. Now if you fire up Google Maps, you’ll see it presents you with a couple of options. You can take the Pacific Highway down the coast or take the New England Highway and go inland. There are two possible strategies that Google Maps has given you to get from where you are to where you’re trying to be.

A couple of things to consider in this example are you have to choose one strategy – you can’t do both. You can’t choose the coast road and choose the inland road. You have to pick one. 

And the second thing that becomes obvious after looking at this is that if you choose one strategy, that automatically excludes some items from what you’re going to do.

So in this example, if I chose the coast road, I’m not going to Tamworth, and I’m not going to Armadale. I can put a line through those. They’re not in alignment with the strategy that I’ve chosen. And that’s a really important and often overlooked part of having a good strategy: It can give you some direction in terms of what you should do, sure. But it’s just as useful for ruling some things out and making clear some of the things that you shouldn’t.

Tactics

Our third component today comes down to tactics. Tactics are where the rubber meets the road. Tactics are where we actually do the things that we have set out to do, in alignment with our strategy. For example, what platforms you’re going to choose, what you’re going to post, when you’re going to post, are you going to get involved in trade fairs, or advertise on billboards… All of those things are tactics. 

So if we come back to our map example, our tactics are like turn-by-turn navigation. “Turn left here, turn right here, go straight for 100 meters and then turn left there.”

Now, sometimes these tactics need to change. If there’s road works or road closures, or something’s going on, you may need to deviate around a back road or take another another way to get there. That’ll happen but keep in mind your strategy hasn’t changed. We’re still taking the coast road.

So if we bring that back to business, your tactics will change all the time – as you learn things, as you get feedback, because you look at some statistics and see what’s going on. You’ll alter your course slightly and fine-tune this and improvise over here, but yet your strategy hasn’t changed.

You should still be working in line with the strategy that you’ve chosen. While your tactics can and do change all of the time, strategy is not something you should change lightly. If you were taking the coast road and you’ve got most of the way down there, and you thought, “actually, you know, I wouldn’t mind going to to see Tamworth…” It’s a lot of effort to detour and change and maybe backtrack and get back up to see Tamworth, before then remapping your way back down to Sydney. Sure, you can do it, but you’ve wasted a lot of time, energy, and money. Whereas if you’re trying to get to your destination, staying on the coast road is the way to go.

Takeaways

So what are our four takeaways? 

  1. You need to have a clear objective to develop a strategy. If you don’t have an objective, you don’t have a strategy. 
  2. A good strategy can help you decide what not to do. What not to waste your time on. What you’re not going to get involved in.
  3. Changing strategy is not something you do lightly. It can lead to a lot of wasted time and wasted effort. Something significant probably has to happen before you change strategy.
  4. Tactics do and probably should change all the time as you are keeping an eye on what’s going on. Make sure they are an alignment with the strategy that you’ve chosen. 

Hopefully, that makes the word “strategy” a little bit clearer. It’s your high-level Google Maps overview, not the turn-by-turn navigation.

And of course for any of these things to work you have to set a destination or an objective. 

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