My Boycott on Strategy (Part 2)

‘Strategy’ has become a buzz word. As I concluded in my last post…

There are two primary abuses of the word ‘strategy’ in marketing which have eroded its value and promoted it to buzz word status:

1. Referring to tactics as though they’re strategies
2. Ignoring the foundational philosophy on which a strategy must be built

First, let’s address problem #1.

1. Referring to tactics as though they’re strategies
Strategies and tactics have an interesting relationship. They behave a little bit like Russian nesting dolls.

Marketing strategy, for example, starts at the highest level by defining a target market and a revenue model. “Who needs what I’m selling, and what will they pay for it?” Crack open that doll and you’ll find a layer of tactics one might use to define and reach the target market, like prospecting for members of the market, communicating value to them and delivering that value.

The problem is that each of these tactics contain their own Russian doll of sub-tactics to implement. For example, communicating value to target prospects isn’t just a tactic of the overall go-to-market strategy, it’s a strategy all its own, with its own tactics to carry out.

One tactic of a communication strategy is social media, but it too is a strategy in itself. Will you deliver 3rd party content via your twitter account? Will you automate a zombie account or use your own time? Will you reject an investment in Twitter altogether and focus on Facebook instead? Is there an industry specific forum that will yield a higher return? What tone of voice will you employ?

And the rabbit hole continues.

Each tactic is actually an umbrella strategy for the tactics beneath it. Each strategy is really just a tactic of the strategy above it.

This means there’s only one meaningful difference between strategies and tactics: context.

Marketers — hell, business people of every kind — treat ‘strategy’ like the holy grail of professional achievement. Just sit through a few job interviews and you’ll hear, “I’m a strategic thinker.” “I consider myself more strategic than tactical.” “I’m looking for a more strategic role.”

Because context is required to give the word meaning, ‘strategy’ is most often used in a meaningless way.

Buzz.

2. Ignoring the foundational philosophy on which a strategy must be built
Strategy is treated like a holy grail because marketers — and again, business people in general — fail to recognize that there is an even greater factor influencing business success:

Philosophy.

Philosophy is the foundation upon which every strategy is built. Whether you know it or not, you have a foundational philosophy. Your philosophy defines the goals toward which you strive, and everything you do is directed by it. Your philosophy is your reason for being. Your philosophy is your basic belief system about yourself, your organization, your employees, your customers, your community, and your relationship to all of them.

If you’ve never identified, defined and stated your philosophy, you may have no idea why your organization is so dysfunctional.

If you have defined and stated your philosophy but it doesn’t inform the decisions you make every day, its a lie. Take a long hard look at the way you and your organization behave. You cannot afford a fluff philosophy. You need a foundational philosophy.

Here’s why:

Philosophy + Strategy + Tactics = spinning wheels

Philosophy + Strategy + Tactics = inefficient progress

Philosophy + Strategy + Tactics = talk

Philosophy + Strategy + Tactics = organized progress

When philosophy is removed from your business equation, so are purpose and progress. When the word ‘strategy’ is used like a surrogate for philosophy, everyone’s time and efforts are wasted.

Buzz.

It’s leadership’s job to develop, communicate and live by the organization’s philosophy. More on that to come…

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41 Responses to My Boycott on Strategy (Part 2)

  1. Cole Farrell says:

    “If you’ve never identified, defined and stated your philosophy, you may have no idea why your organization is so dysfunctional.”

    So true! I have realized that the most difficult part of helping clients convey their stories is that they often don’t know the stories themselves. All of the strategy and tactics in the world can’t help us accomplish a process if we don’t understand why we do what we do.

    I’ve been thinking about the buzzwordy nature of the work that I do–content strategy–and how I can make it actually mean something to the people I serve. In a way, I think you’ve made a good case here for why laying down tracks for the future doesn’t really matter if you don’t have an understanding of the engine that drives the train.

    • jkurth says:

      Philosophy goes a long way toward clarifying an organization’s priorities. When there’s only enough money for one thing, where does it go? When there’s money for two things, what comes second? Only leadership can set that agenda. When an organization’s priorities are clear, day-to-day decisions have a plumb line against which to be measured. Do I err in favor of the customer or the balance sheet?

      Service providers like you look into the gaping void left by undefined philosophy in your clients’ businesses every day. They’re harder to see from the inside, and they’re the root cause of most of the indecision and hesitation that keep organizations from moving forward.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Jesse,

    Great post! Especially enjoy your points in part #2. That equation made me laugh a little, because I’ve experienced each of those at various points. Yet, you simplified them down to a very basic equation. Nice!

    • jkurth says:

      Thanks Andrew,

      I agree that ‘organized progress’ is far too rare. When’s the last time you heard someone describe their work that way? Work is usually a combination of talk, inefficiency and spinning wheels — but it doesn’t have to be.

      Thanks for reading!

      • Spectra says:

        …and don’t forget the people who simply do not wish to be there…and who decide to punish those co-workers, who have a mysterious desire to ‘get the job done’.

        I have shown up to jobs, with an already established ‘base’ of disgruntled workers, who became further disgruntled that I actualy arrived with some form of motivation and the tools to accomplish something. I was often hated (usually by women) for this. Management loved me.

        I no longer work in the mass ‘workers pool’. Thank God!

  3. I love the description of strategy and tactics as like “Russian nesting dolls” — brilliant!

    And I’m glad to see someone highlight the fundamental nature of philosophy. So true…and so often ignored…
    :)

  4. This, right here, trumps every lecture I’ve attended on this topic. Absolutely brilliant and thoroughly enjoyed. Thank you for this!

  5. maryct70 says:

    Excellent post. I agree that the relationship between strategy and tactics is much like the Russian nesting dolls. I often also think of strategy as the overall plan to win the war, but tactics are what the individual regiments use to ‘take the hill’.
    However, I think that philosophy as more akin to a set of principles or values that drive you. While these are clearly important, I think that what rests atop your strategy is your MISSION.
    Every business does, or should, have a Mission: “to provide the highest quality widget’ etc. You buils a strategy to accomplish the Mission. Your philosophy provides the framework for your strategy: the rules you play by. With strong core values, you enhance your brand image.
    In your analysis, you could replace the word Philosophy with Mission to illustrate your point.
    I would then argue by adding Philosophy + Mission + Strategy + Tactics = Organized Process with a strong identifiable Brand.
    Great food for thought really, and my 2 cents are probably worth less than that.
    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

    • jkurth says:

      Great points, maryct70. I alluded to Mission or Goals, but think I took it for granted. Taking things for granted — failing to define and communicate them — is exactly what gets people in trouble with any of the other factors in the equation.

      Thanks for reading!

  6. SeiZo says:

    Very nice post! I also loved the russian dolls comparison.
    Best regards from Brazil.

  7. I believe our marketing strategy is weakened if we only focus on what we are selling and how much the prospect is willing to pay. I follow an “invest in success” approach because I am interested in people buying my services to positively impact someone’s life. Yes, making money is necessary; but identifying with my philosophy is critical. I believe in the concept of “value selling”.

    • jkurth says:

      Investing in success requires a long-term view — and I’m glad to see you differentiate between what’s merely ‘necessary’ and what’s ‘critical’. I agree completely. Thanks for reading!

  8. macbogert says:

    Glad I stumbled on your blog. Working with a reasonably misaligned office Monday as a facilitator at an attack (as opposed to a retreat). Do you mind if I share your article with them? They’re missing the point, and this could be a big help

  9. ournote2self says:

    Very interesting. Thanks for sharing!

  10. charlywalker says:

    Very strategic post….

    I like it!

  11. Dave Wood says:

    What, I think, people miss is that tactics are what we use to achieve our strategies. Strategy should follow tactics. Achieving the tactical result is the only goal of a strategy. And, if a strategy doesn’t contribute to tactical results, then the strategy is faulty, no matter how brilliantly conceived or eloquently presented. Strategy should be developed from the bottom up, not the top down.

    • jkurth says:

      Great perspective, Dave. It requires tactical results to measure the performance of a strategy, so you must indeed know what results you hope to achieve first. Thanks for sharing and for reading!

  12. Think of it like this: Generals use strategy, soldiers use tactics. Or, strategy is squiggles on a map, tactics is digging foxholes. If you’ve got both it’s called a campaign; ; if not, it’s called chaos.

    Either way, your point about buzz words stands. Usage becomes a crutch to avoid accountability for results. Which is why your formulas are brilliant!

    Keep doing great things … and let me know how I can help.

  13. Nicely surmized, Jesse. What we see with our clients is a “strategy gap” from the top office to the employees due to lack of translation of strategy and communication to specific action on a day-to-day. I think your Philosophy and Tactics components rightly identify those gaps.

  14. corzgalore says:

    Interesting, I had never thought of Strategy and Tactic like that. And I most definitely didn’t think that Philosophy had anything to do with it.

  15. Good Afternoon –

    Although I’m not certain you intended it this way, you had me laughing out loud here when I read how business people all consider themselves key strategists in the grand scheme of things. It just struck me funny how important we all need to make ourselves feel when placed in that environment. Good blog and nicely done! Happy Saturday to you. :)

    • jkurth says:

      Self importance is a nearly universal human tendency, and one that proves counterproductive at every level of the organization (whether truly strategic or not). So the question remains: how can we build our organizations to support selflessness instead, for the service of customers, one another, and our shared mission?

      Thanks for picking up on this crucial point. I hope to see you here again!

  16. ron abbass says:

    As one commenter above noted, one’s philosophy is usually outlined as a Mission statement (objectives). I agree, strategy and tactics are not the same animals. They are related as “talking” is to “walking”.

    Strategy is the plan to achieve one’s Mission stated goals/objective, while the tactics are the methods, the process__the ordered steps __the action to get things done.

    And, even if you have all “your duckies in a row”, that still doesn’t guarantee business success. That’s my take on the matter. Peace! :-)

  17. helpingw says:

    Cool
    I meant awesome

  18. Ankush says:

    Nice perspective on strategy! I have seen organizations setting mission statements so hopeless that it defeats the purpose straightaway. They think the mission statement must be a goal, and state things like ‘so many users by this date.’ And that, I believe is where they go wrong.

    Regards from India!

  19. Ed yaw on line business information says:

    Excellent post jkurth,

    Your business depends greatly on your philosophy Your why if you will. With out defining what your core belief’s are you really have no idea how or who you may want to be targeting as an audience. Very nicely put Thanks for sharing this.

  20. Really enjoyed the posting. The nesting dolls explain why the confusion of strategy with tactics. Each strategy is a tactic and each tactic is a strategy. Especially liked the equations! The combination I have seen the most, and witnessed it almost destroy a global financial services company is Talk. And when I look at the equations, it becomes evident why it is so destructive, it’s the only one without tactics (i.e. someone doing something).

  21. Patti Ross says:

    Clear, concise, succinct. Imagine that? Thanks for the careful and thoughtful clarification of how all these elements interact. The nesting doll metaphor is a good one! When there is a clear philosophy (mission and values included), then the strategies and tactics work towards an effective purpose, which needs to include stewardship to be truly long term and ongoing.

    • jkurth says:

      Stewardship is a great point — especially with a broad view of the resources for which an organization is responsible: financial, human, environmental, etc. Thanks for your comment, and thanks for reading!

  22. Hey, great to see you got FPed!

    Smart and provocative post. I think this applies to individuals as well, but can get muddied quickly in the rush to keep revenue streams becoming trickles or arroyos. I feel strongly about my personal philosophy, (in the baldest of terms, telling truth to power), but I also need to buy $5/gallon gas and save for retirement. So I have to be pragmatic enough as well to calm down and work for power — usually s/he who can pay well — when necessary. That’s my challenge.

    • jkurth says:

      Thanks, Caitlin! This has been a lot of fun…

      And you’re right to say this applies to individuals as well as organizations, even beyond the realm of working for money. Everything from personal finances to love life to parenting requires a foundational philosophy. We end up with results we don’t understand if we set out without purpose and direction. We flit from one piece of advice to the next unless there’s a philosophical plumb line against which our decisions can be measured. Life is frustrating and in many ways aimless without it.

  23. richannkur says:

    Very well written article…. and congrats on being freshly pressed.

  24. Angus Lewis says:

    I fear that Mission Statement has come to mean something for public consumption while the personal mission statement (philosophy) is ‘increase my bonus’ or ‘raise stock price’ or ‘get to higher tax bracket’. None of those are bad in themselves but if they are our only motivations they erode the character of the entire organization. Something like ‘provide a quality product or service’ will infect the organization with real value and incidentally lead to those other things.
    It strikes me that philosophy, strategy, tactics applies to life as well as business. As I near retirement I should be thinking about what I want to accomplish with the rest of my life. I have a vague idea but it might be better if I really got it nailed down. Philosophy is not a problem but maybe I should look at strategy and tactics instead of just randomly blogging whatever pops into my head.
    Thanks for your post.

    • jkurth says:

      I agree that the philosophy, strategy, tactics paradigm applies to individual life as it does organizational behavior. Everybody ends up somewhere; not everybody ends up somewhere on purpose.

      Thanks for sharing and for reading!

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