We use the word “strategy” to describe so many different ideas. Whether it is a plan for a business or a personal approach to solving a challenge or creating a framework to build a project, “strategy” can mean multiple different things. But what is the correct use for the word in marketing?

They are all correct. Strategy is one of those words that encompasses whatever you want it to. At its core, a strategy is a plan or a guide for making decisions in a specific setting. Businesses have marketing strategies; a salon can have a hair-color strategy, the military can have a troop-movement strategy and so on.

That framework you create and call a strategy should be well-researched and provide specific direction, and it is usually tied to tactics. So, you have a plan (the strategy) that is made up of tactics (the things you do). There is probably a goal or two, and you hope this all gets you to the finish line.

About 2,000 years ago, Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu wrote, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” This could not be truer in a business application.

At our agency, we provide investor relations, marketing and public relations services to clients in the B2B, industrial and healthcare sectors. Every client, every project and every campaign has some strategy. Sometimes, it is just a one-page strategy with some specific direction and answers. Sometimes, it is a full-blown strategic plan covering many topics and has a timeline, measurements, and other detailed features.

Your clients hire you to build them a growth strategy that is achievable and that has communications and marketing tactics at the core. Every campaign you create features a unique engagement component. In short, you identify who the audience is and what the message is and then determine the best path to get the message to that audience. At the center of this intersection is the call to action — what do you want the message’s recipient to do?

When you look at that audience (or market, as it is often called), you should look at all the stakeholders of a business. Have you ever gone into a store and asked for the special you heard about on the radio that morning and the clerk had no idea what you were talking about? The business owner did not share the message with a key stakeholder group — the employees.

When you execute the strategy for a campaign, you want to include as many stakeholders as possible. Keeping everyone looped in is a sure way to avoid stumbling through a piece of the campaign. Have you heard the phrase “rowing in the same direction”? This describes a state in which everyone is following the strategy and moving as one congruous unit.

Not only can a strategy increase efficiency, but it can also increase productivity because there is a clear direction. A strategy can also decrease the amount of time one spends “spinning their wheels.”

A strategic plan can also go terribly wrong and lead a team into a rabbit hole of no return. If the plan includes poorly executed research, unclear goals, babbling hordes of unnecessary text and poor communication, you will have a document that can only be classified as a boat anchor.

Here is a quick guide with 10 realistic and important points to cover when you are building your strategy:

1. What is the challenge you are creating a solution for with the strategy? This should be clearly identified and becomes your goal.

2. Who is your audience(s)? Be as specific as possible.

3. What is important to your audience(s)?

4. How can you frame the challenge you are solving to provide a different perspective or ensure that you are solving the right problem?

5. Be specific: Have you identified and included all your stakeholders?

6. Clearly identify the campaign or project as you are using your tactics.

7. Go into strategy-building with the attitude of, “How brief can I make this?” (No one wants a strategy in a binder with tabs, an index and a bibliography.)

8. Craft and edit your message: Is what you are trying to communicate clear?

9. Is your call to action clear and specific? That is: Does your audience know what you want them to do?

10. Is your strategy SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-sensitive/deadline-driven)?

For a marketing consultancy like mine, the strategy is crucial to executing work for a client, helping them effectively move the needle and providing a manageable plan to help the business grow and move forward.

In my world, I use the analogy of a roadmap to describe a strategy. The strategy is the highlighter route you draw on the map to get you to your destination. Of course, people now use their smartphone’s GPS to get them to their destination, bypassing the highlighter markups and never-to-be-folded-correctly-again map.

Regardless of how you plan your route, create a program of strategic planning in your business. You will find that consistently adding this step can help your business grow in a positive direction that may not have been possible without it.

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