Seth Godin had an excellent post a few days ago on tactics drowning out strategy. I find it especially relevant because (1) my role is “director of strategy” and (2) I’m spending the entire day today on strategy (which, at this point at least, I try to do every Thursday — and as a result have to say no to a lot of good tactical stuff.)
New media creates a blizzard of tactical opportunities for marketers, and many of them cost nothing but time, which means you don’t need as much approval and support to launch them.
As a result, marketers are like kids at Rita’s candy shoppe, gazing at all the pretty opportunities.
Most of us are afraid of strategy, because we don’t feel confident outlining one unless we’re sure it’s going to work. And the ‘work’ part is all tactical, so we focus on that. (Tactics are easy to outline, because we say, “I’m going to post this.” If we post it, we succeed. Strategy is scary to outline, because we describe results, not actions, and that means opportunity for failure.)
“Building a permission asset so we can grow our influence with our best customers over time” is a strategy. Using email, twitter or RSS along with newsletters, contests and a human voice are all tactics. In my experience, people get obsessed about tactical detail before they embrace a strategy… and as a result, when a tactic fails, they begin to question the strategy that they never really embraced in the first place.
The next time you find yourself spending 8 hours on tactics and five minutes refining your strategy, you’ll understand what’s going on.
A lot of people don’t get this. The pressure is to simply “perform,” and time spent on strategy is looked at as slowing you down and wasting your time.
Others think that strategy just comes naturally if there are smart people on your team, so it should never take more than a few minutes of thought. Whenever someone says “why can’t you see that? It’s obvious!” it’s often an indication that, no matter how smart they are, they don’t have a clue. There’s always a twist. Almost always, that is.
Perhaps most significantly, there is the false idea out there that thinking you should have a strategy somehow implies that you also think you can somehow know the future. But it doesn’t imply that. In large measure, you are strategizing for the unknown. Strategizing because of the unknown.
Also in the latest Gallup Management Journal is an interview with Roy Spence called Your Company’s Purpose Matters Now. Its point is that “in this rough economic climate, it’s more critical than ever that you and your customers know why your company is in business.”
Here are a few excerpts:
Purpose is not just a crucial differentiator; it’s the strategic structure that pulls companies through the worst of times. Companies should determine their purpose — “a definitive statement about the difference you are trying to make in the world,” Spence says — then craft their leadership, management, operations, strategy, and tactics to further that purpose. What’s more, a purpose-based approach simplifies many difficult decisions and makes an uncertain future easier to navigate. …
While everyone in corporate America is cutting costs and trying to stimulate new revenues, organizations that have a clear purpose won’t be looking for silver bullets or grasping at straws or just cutting cost with no clear focus. Instead, they will have more clarity in their cuts and more certainty on how to stimulate revenues. For example, though Wal-Mart and Southwest Airlines are going through this economic Armageddon like everyone else, they know that all cuts in cost must translate into lower prices so people can live better or into lower airfares so more people can go and see and do things. These are not just cuts for their own sake.
The article has a helpful illustration from Southwest Airlines of the centrality of purpose to creating real value for people.