Most business and marketing people, when asked, couldn't tell you what a strategy looks like. They couldn't tell you what a strategy even was. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing or somehow their fault; it’s just a fact that businesses do a poor job of teaching strategy. The answer to this question of what strategy is would help clear up a lot of what we choose to create as content. The answer would clear up a lot of what we choose to do with our days.
The answer to this question is best served up as an analogy to food and restaurants. If tactics, if the day to day implementation of things can best be described as a cookbook, then what is strategy?
The answer is, strategy is the menu. Think about what goes into planning a menu. It is not just a random series of dishes. A menu, properly planned, is an experience, and experience in contrast and complementary dishes.
Strategy is more than just knowing how to cook any individual dish. Strategy is knowing what dishes go together – and more importantly, what dishes do not belong on the menu, good though they may be. Strategy is being able to prune away everything except what is absolutely essential, because the space you have on a menu is scarce. You can only present the things that you want your diners to experience and nothing else.
Strategy requires experience. Strategy requires understanding all of the tactics and being able to perform any of them, in the same way that the chef has to know how to prepare everything from a basic roux to a crown roast. But strategy requires that you step away from the cookbook in order to see the big picture of the menu as a whole, separate from any one particular dish's recipe.
Once we understand the distinction between strategy and tactics, between knowing how to cook a recipe and knowing whether it belongs on the menu or not, we have much more clarity about what we should or should not be doing with our marketing or our business.
If you're not sure what form business and marketing strategic “menus" take, here's a hint: most of the time, menus in the world of marketing strategy look awful lot like case studies of why decisions were made, rather than how decisions were executed. Why did a company make the choices it made? What was the overarching big picture? That’s strategy.
When we are trying to learn strategy, what tends to happen is that we get bogged down in tactics. If we were to go read 100 different “strategic” blog posts about marketing strategies, chances are we'd actually be reading recipes from cookbooks instead, because cookbooks are much easier to write than menus.
Be aware of this if you're studying strategy; you should be learning about the why, not the how.
Use the simple analogy when you are trying to study strategy. Ask yourself, am I looking at a cookbook or a menu?
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