A Simple Test for Strategy

Posted on January 23, 2014 in

If we were going to hold a poll for the most overused piece of business jargon, what should win might surprise us.  As annoying as “synergy” and “big data” can be, my vote would be for the word “strategy.”   It’s a word that many feel a need to append to anything that takes a modicum of thought and consideration.  It’s also treated as the opposite of a tactic, a word which to some means anything that’s small minded.  Slap strategy on something we want to do and all of a sudden we’re in business heaven.

Saying strategy doesn’t make your idea good any more than calling my car a Ferrari will make it go faster.

This approach neither advances business objectives or respects the gifts of the people around us.  Using these terms properly actually matters.  Tactics and strategies work together, and understanding this is very important.  It’s part of a process of business planning.

Is it a strategy?

Here’s a two part test.

First test:formulate something similar to the following sentence:

We need to {strategy} because {insight}

If the second part of the sentence uses the “strategy” in it, it’s not a strategy.

A good strategy:  We need to write more frequent content about staplers because our customers are searching our site most often with variants of this term.

Not a strategy:  We should use SEOrulz plugin because it’s the best one on the market.

This by itself runs the risk of falling into a logic trap.  Perhaps we should sing a song to illustrate:

Why the silly song?  Simple rules of thumb are easy to over apply, and lead to silly trains of thought.  It’s also possible to try and cram tactics into the frame work just because we our tactics to be strategies.

The actual important part of the first step is the insight.  To my way of planning, it’s what drives the whole thing.  It’s possible to have a strategy without an insight, but it’s pretty unlikely to be a very good one.

Management consultants spend months generating the why behind the what of a strategy.  Organizations don’t change on a whim, so having well grounded insights is the needed justification to make a good decision.  This is the hard part, so don’t short change it.

Second Test – Is there a time and resource as part of the strategy?  If the answer is yes it’s probably a tactic.

Note that resource here could be a person, budget, or equipment.  Time could be specific or general.  Tactics usually also have a “thing” that will be produced or a metric that will be measured.

The power of the second test reveals the key of a good tactics.  They are bred from a good strategy, but take into account the resources that are available and when things need to happen.  A good tactic is far from small minded, it actually considers all the parts and how they need to work together.

The real process:

Done right we can start to talk more intelligently about a longer strategic process.  It goes far beyond the words that we use to describe our thoughts and more into the way we extract them for use by a broader and bigger group.

In a very simple form:

Insights breed Strategies

Strategies breed Tactics

Completed Tactics breed new Insights

It’s a cycle that can be applied over an over again.  It works for businesses large and small.  Above all, when it comes to Internet marketing, it can happen at a frenetic, but powerful pace.


By Steve Hammer

Steve is the President of RankHammer. When he's not working with clients to grow online, he's probably looking for a great restaurant no one's heard of yet. He is fully Adwords Certified (Analytics, AdWords and Display) and a graduate of the Kellogg School of Management.