Strategy is the latest word to be stricken from my vocabulary.
‘Strategy’ — especially in marketing — is invoked at random by anyone who wants an easy way to sound like they know what they’re talking about. We have a name for words like this:
A buzz word, according to Dictionary.com, is “a word or phrase, often sounding authoritative or technical, that is a vogue term in a particular profession.” At some point, buzz words are used ad nauseam until they carry no meaning at all. They are over-applied and misspoken until they become an impotent series of sounds passing through both ears and falling worthlessly to the ground.
‘Strategy’ in marketing, has become a meaningless buzz word.
But, why? Why have marketers been so eager to use and abuse this word?
All marketers start their careers toiling away at the tactical level, implementing plans set forth by company leadership. They hope to display leadership potential, take on leadership responsibility and one day play leadership roles. The easiest way to attempt this is to use leadership language, even without fully understanding it. This is called aspirational behavior. We abuse the term ‘strategy’ because we desperately desire to participate at a higher level than our job descriptions allow.
Aspirational behavior is natural and universally human. We do it as children learning from our parents. We do it as consumers, emulating the lifestyles of the tax bracket above our own. We mimic those whose stations we desire. We practice their behaviors, usually failing to some degree, and eventually gain competence over time.
This cycle of aspirational behavior (practice, fail, learn) holds different consequences in different applications. In fashion, for example, styles and color palettes originate with the high-priced elite and eventually flow down the socio-economic ladder. Each season’s stuff gets adopted by the unwashed masses, misused and degraded compared to high-fashion standards, and quickly becomes no longer elite. To cope with the cycle, fashion designers must churn out new stuff every season. Basically, when a person of lower social standing purchases a high-fashion purse, it costs that person $5000 and it erodes the value of the purse for everyone else.
When a rank-and-file marketing professional misuses the word ‘strategy’, it costs that person a bit of credibility and it erodes the value of the word for everyone else.
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
I’ll define these abuses and their consequences in my next post, My Boycott on Strategy (Part 2).