Strategy is not a tactical plan. Know the difference.

I’ve talked a lot about the lack of strategy in modern communications, primarily because, according to number of current studies, it seems that almost no one actually approaches it strategically.  It’s been a personal frustration in dealing with companies that say they want to go strategic but can’t seem to get there.  So I decided to start writing about strategy.  My first stop was to do a search for a definition of “strategic plan” and found this:

“A strategic plan is a document used to communicate with the organization the organizations goals, the actions needed to achieve those goals and all of the other critical elements developed during the planning exercise.”

Strategy-without-tactics-300x237I shook my head reading this and looked for something else, because this was the wrong approach, but I found that every definition said, essentially the same thing.  No wonder everyone seems to get it wrong.  Here’s where we need to change:

First, we need to edit the first phrase to, “A strategic plan is a document used to communicate with the organization the organization’s current status and goals.” Second, stop there.  The last part about “actions and all other critical elements” does not belong in a strategic plan.  That is the tactical plan and that’s where companies constantly get hung up, especially when it comes to communication.

The strategic plan needs to be separated from the tactical because it becomes the measuring rod for every tactic going forward, which accomplishes two very important goals.

  1. It saves money

  2. It makes your efforts successful

In any communications program, the actual cost is in the tactics.  Spending time getting an accurate picture of where you are and where you want to end up costs virtually nothing.  But we’ve found that most companies spend all of their marketing budget on tactical efforts before ever setting their stakes in the ground. 

Over the past year, we have surveyed close to 100 technology companies, primarily in the semiconductor, CAD tool and embedded technology arenas — the drivers of the electronics revolution we are experiencing — and found only two with a documented strategy: Intel and Qualcomm.  There are many who claim to have a strategy document, but when they showed it to us, it was nothing more than a timeline of tactics, with unproved assumptions as the starting point and vague goals, e.g. “We are the/a leading provider of blah, blah, blah… we will increase sales/visibility by x.” (It’s not unlike reading the results of a Mad Libs form.)  Most, however, have less than that and have no real idea where they are heading, much less where they actually are, and their communications efforts demonstrates that reality.

Fleshing out the real strategy beyond these simple statements, even if it’s just a single page, and making sure what you are saying is actually true, forces you to question whether the trade shows, social content programs, analytical tools, or press releases maintain the company current status or move it toward the goal.  You end up wasting less money on ineffective tactics and achieving goals faster.

The owner of a small, California auto shop approached us with a very small budget and asked if we could determine a more cost effective way of building his revenue.  We sat him down and asked several questions about his current business including where it came from, what the difficulties were in maintaining it, how he was promoting his business, what he could realistically invest, etc.  Then we asked how much more business he could handle, what his revenue goals were, and whether there were plans to expand services or facilities.  From that information we were able to determine that the best course for him was simply focus on social media at absolutely no cost, other than what he was paying us.  We encouraged him to continue his current promotion programs as a baseline.  

We were able to use the social medium to identify the most likely target customers, where they lived and what they did for a living.  We prepared a document outlining potential customers and where they were using free services provided by a social media platform.  We outlined what he had told us about his current state and goals.  We included an editorial calendar of content to develop and guidelines on creating that content.  Finally, we gave him suggestions on how to establish a tactical plan and spent several weeks working with him to hone his skills.  We then left him to his own devices for three months before we checked in on him.

Within three months he had increased revenues from new business 600 percent, quarter to quarter.  Since then he has semiretired from the business which continues to grow.

Now you might think that is an isolated case, but we did a similar plan for a billion-dollar multinational electronics company that produces a 1000X return on the program investment, using the same protocol.

Don’t get lost in the tactical weeds.  Think strategically and then move forward.

Like some help determining if your current plan is strategic or tactical?