What is strategy, really?

The definition of strategy can be unclear, to say the least. Ask ten Communication Executives what strategy is and you are likely to get at least ten different answers. Ask ten Marketing Executives and you’ll probably get just as many, if not more, answers. And to be honest – it is not surprising.

In our industry, strategy has become a word many people use time and time again. And the often conflicting definitions add to the confusion. Fundamentally, the concept of a strategy can be boiled down to its absolute essence – the question how. Here I’m attempting to be clear in my interpretation of the term and define strategy as:

Developing a roadmap for how current and potential resources can be used to reach specific goals as efficiently as possible.

Simplified, a strategy must answer how to achieve something. In practice, however, it is not quite that simple. Answering how something is going to be achieved is challenging, to say the least. You need to map relevant internal and external factors, set up processes for inclusion (strategy is not, and never will be, a “one-man show”), navigate tricky internal political corridors, anticipate competitors’ reactions, plan for a rebuttal and much, much, much more. In a fast-changing world, it is far from easy to  choose a path forward. And, as much as strategy is about making choices, it’s also about opting out.

The tools to do the above are many. Market research, in-depth interviews, social listening, workshops and facilitation, process development for implementation, etc. Strategy is so simple and at the same time so difficult. Perhaps this is why so many intentionally and unintentionally confuse strategy with something else – such as tactics or conceptualisation?

However, in the midst of all this, I want to make the most important point – even though a strategy can be complicated to develop, it should still be very simple to understand. The complexity of its process should not be reflected in the final product. Therefore, watch out for long presentations that contain overcomplicated formulations, and long explanations that lack concrete and well-defined answers to the question how. Chances are you are not reading a strategy.

p.s. For a deeper explanation of the concept of strategy, I recommend, among other things, reading “Good Strategy Bad Strategy” or “Playing to Win – How Strategy Really Works”.

Samir Akhmedov is an account director and strategist at Spoon Agency. He’s specialised in B2B-brands within the industrial sector.

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