The nuances of strategy

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One of the topics discussed at the recent MARCOM forum which there was great confusion about was the entire concept of marketing strategy. Marketers are genuinely confused at this point about strategy from a company perspective vs. strategy for specific marketing objectives.

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Are they the same? Yes and no. The reason there’s so much confusion is that strategy is layered. Let’s look at its origins. The entire concept of strategy in the sense we’re trying to use it comes from the art of war. There are two kinds of strategy in warfare: grand strategy and campaign strategy.

Grand strategy is the “what” of the entire war. Beat the Nazis. Stop Attila’s invading force. Dismantle Al-Qaeda. Grand strategy is the ultimate goal of the war, created by the military leaders. In marketing terms, grand strategy is interchangeable with your organizational mission. It’s the entire reason you wake up in the morning. It’s the reason you happily work late into the night. It’s the what of your entire marketing focus, what the ultimate victory condition is.

Campaign strategy is the “what” of any individual campaign. Seize Little Round Top. Kill Osama bin Laden. Capture Iwo Jima. Campaign strategy defines the goals and objectives of any one portion of your campaign, telling you what you need to win. In marketing terms, campaign strategy is the what of a defined marketing effort. You’ve got a new shirt coming to market. What is the sales goal, and what will marketing do to promote the shirt? What resources do you have available? What timeframe must you achieve victory by?

Finally, tactics detail the “how” of any campaign strategy. How will you take Iwo Jima? How will you take Little Round Top? How will you kill Osama bin Laden? The same is true in marketing. How will you use social media to promote the shirt? How will you use email marketing to drive interest? How will you spend your monthly budget?

The reason that there’s so much confusion about strategy is that we’re trying to lump two very different things together under one label. Grand strategy and campaign strategy aren’t the same. Certainly, campaign strategy must be wholly aligned with the grand strategy, but the grand strategy needs to be defined first, and generally does not have any specific tactics associated with it. Grand strategy is composed of campaigns, which are in turn composed of tactics. Trying to match tactics to grand strategy is akin to trying to build the third floor of the house after the first without building the second floor.

In the example I cite of a road trip, grand strategy is where you want to go. Campaign strategy is what you’ll do to get there. Tactics are how you’ll implement the campaign strategy. If the grand strategy is to get from New York to Los Angeles, the campaign strategy might be doing so on $10/day and what route to take, and the tactics would be driving, deciding how often to switch drivers, how fast you should go, how many rest areas you should hit, etc.

Hopefully, you now have a better idea of why strategy can seem so confusing at times. Separate out grand strategy, start with that, then work your way down until you’re defining tactics. Grand strategy is where you start.

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5 responses to “The nuances of strategy”

  1. Coming from a military background and with a true passion for communication, this hit home on so many levels!  Love this blog.

  2. […] @cspenn uses when defining strategy from a business and campaign perspective. In his post about the nuances of strategy, he talks about a “grand strategy” being the “what” of the entire war. This […]

  3. Amorcitos Avatar

    Amen. And amen.

  4. Geoffliving Avatar

    Great post, Chris. Do you ever cite or link to your sources? I would be interested in seeing them.

    1. I do occasionally. In this particular post, I drew a great deal from Sun Tzu’s Art of War, both the 2003 translation and the Giles translation.

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