For 10 years I happily taught the lead direct marketing course at New York University. Every year one of the three hardest things to get across was the concept of Strategy.
Also, a lot of our clients never did grasp the concept. One of them, which shall remain nameless – my lips are sealed – created an odd hybrid they called “Strategic Objective”.
Strategy Is The Big Deal.
Strategy is part of a plan, part three of a typical marketing plan. The first two parts are Background and Objective. Only when those two are in place can you begin to develop the Strategy.
A gigantic barrier to developing a strategy is that there’s a part four, Tactics. People confuse Strategy and Tactics; their subconscious does it to them because Tactics are easy. Since strategy is hard, most people run to tactical and subtactical issues like budget, creative, color, font, slogan.
Look up “Strategy” in Merriam-Webster.
If you look strategy up in the dictionary, you’ll find something like this: the science or art of planning and conducting a war or a military campaign; a carefully devised plan of action to achieve a goal, or the art of developing or carrying out such a plan.
At NYU we started with a simpler approach: Generals do strategy; everyone else does tactics, based on the Generals’ strategy. And there’s a trickledown effect: your boss’s strategy becomes your objective and so on down the line. In an organization, the whole Strategy and Tactics thing is like a pyramid scheme. Strategy starts at the top among a few experts (in theory). People who execute the strategy develop their own mini-strategies.
It starts with understanding the objective. What, exactly, do we want to achieve? Exactly means numbers, dollars, timelines:
“Sell 250,000 widgets at an average price of $29.99 in 2012.”
“Recover 25% (500) of lapsed customers (2,000) by Q3, 2012.”
“Increase average order size 10% by Q2, 2012.”
“Move 50% of business to our website by the end of 2013.”
The objective has to be realistic. If you sold only 2,500 widgets last year with a marketing budget of $50,000, you’re not going to sell 250,000 in 2012 without a serious increase in budget.
You can have dozens of objectives – it keeps people happy – but there Is always only one real objective and one corresponding strategic statement.
At NYU we used the example of the Trojan Horse. To make a long story short, the horse was a tactic. The objective was to capture the city of Troy. The strategy was to get someone inside to open the city’s gates without the Trojans knowing about it. The Greeks undoubtedly considered a dozen or more tactics and eventually settled on the horse. After that, all the tactics fell into place.
In other words, strategy is the legendary Big Idea. And it is usually an obvious idea – once someone says it.
In marketing, especially direct marketing, there are a great many sub-strategies: testing, target audience, creative, list, offer, databasing, upsells, etc.
When we ran Ford of Canada’s first-ever direct marketing program, we spent a lot of time gathering information (Background) and we developed an Objective based on unit sales of mid-range vehicles. Then what?
We quickly realized that we’d have to build a database of car owners (provincial registrations were – and still are – unavailable in Canada). And that was our strategy: Build the proprietary database then stroke it. The ensuing program sold an awful lot of cars, generating bottom line revenue the company would not otherwise have earned of 14 times the marketing cost. It won a lot of Gold RSVP Awards from the Canadian Marketing Association.
We’d have had no hope without the core strategy, which was obvious once we came up with it.
What is your strategy for 2012?