You Might Know What You’re Doing, But Do You Know Where You’re Going?

Asked to “market” a product or service, a lot of people immediately brainstorm tactics: “Let’s have a sale! We should hold a workshop! Let’s do some direct mail!”

At my marketing workshops, I recommend a more methodical approach. We use a simple, one-page form to identify Goals, Strategies and Tactics (GST). Most people know that formal goals and strategies are useful, but few receive training in their formation and execution.

The following metaphor helps people get comfortable with the process: Goals are destinations, Strategies are road maps, and Tactics are vehicles.

For example, imagine that we wish to travel from Livingston, Montana to Jackson, Wyoming. Yellowstone National Park lies between the two. Jackson is our unambiguous goal. Consulting a map, we can see a variety of routes. These routes represent optional strategies for achieving our goal. Depending on which route we choose, we’ll know whether we need a car, a canoe, hiking boots, or all three. These vehicles are our tactics. If we don’t have a canoe or adequate hiking skills, we choose a route that does not require these.

While planning the journey, we also define objectives; these are landmarks that tell us whether we’re on track. If we travel by car, and we haven’t reached the northern entrance to Yellowstone within 90 minutes of leaving Livingston, something is wrong with our execution or our strategy, and adjustments may be necessary.

I require that workshop attendees craft multiple strategies for every goal, because sometimes a road is closed unexpectedly. Isn’t it nice to have a map with alternate routes already marked?

On the path from Livingston to Jackson, your sister might get bitten by a moose. No, really! Then what will you do?

Sometimes we have diverse – but complementary – objectives and goals; if we want to get to Jackson as fast as possible, we take the car and the best, most direct roads. If we want the most scenic journey, we may choose another path. If we want adventure and exercise, we might take the car to the river, portage the canoe to an appropriate spot, and paddle to Jackson, which remains the ultimate goal.

Crafting multiple options in writing helps one choose the strategies and tactics offering the best intersection of effectiveness and efficiency. Ultimately, the GST exercise simplifies our choices by helping us plot a path best suited to our goal and our travel preferences.

I expect people to struggle with the distinction between strategies and tactics, because we want to be doers – tactics equal action!  But this is how we sometimes win battles and lose wars – I’ve seen many “successful” ad campaigns that increased sales and decreased profits. That’s okay if the tactic is part of a bigger strategy to build market share for future profits. But when the long-term goal is unstated or unclear, such outcomes merely increase conflict within the organization.

Experience tells me that the most common barrier to strategic marketing is not our impulse to brainstorm tactics, but the fact that many chief executives are reluctant to clearly articulate their goals in the first place. It’s not enough to say, “we want to be successful,” or “we want to grow.” Get specific! “We want to be the most profitable company in our industry within five years.” “We want to grow sales by 30% while maintaining a 15% net profit.” Put a stake in the ground! If you don’t know exactly where you want to go, how can you plan the route?

“Strategy without tactics is the slow road to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

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