Strategy: What does that word even mean?

Strategy is one of the most overused buzzwords in business today. Everyone is offering a strategy for something, but often they’re talking about tactics.

So what does “strategy” actually mean? Here’s an illustration to help you spot the difference.


Australia’s been involved in, well, let’s call it a kerfuffle with China in the last few months. And I saw this quote recently from an article published last December. And it reads, “when pressed on what strategy he would pursue in government, Mr Albanese, who’s the leader of the opposition here, replied, ‘Our strategy is to get into government.'”

And I looked at that and I thought, well, that really emphasizes how widespread the misunderstanding of that word strategy is. That’s not a strategy, that’s an objective.

So what I thought we’d look at today is what a strategy actually is and how useful or otherwise it is in your business.

So strategy is one of those really overused buzzwords. Everybody’s got a strategy for everything, it would seem, but not understanding what a strategy is and not having one is a common reason why so many small businesses tend to waste a lot of money on marketing and advertising that isn’t really effective.

So today we’re going to have a look at three components that you need to worry about in terms of where strategy fits into the big picture for you. And when we finish this, I’ll finish up with four takeaways.


So the first of our three components is, you need to have an objective. Objective as the first one.

If you don’t have an objective, you can’t develop a strategy. And back to that article I pointed out before, winning government isn’t a strategy. That’s an objective.

If you have a competitor that’s perhaps a market leader and you want to, you know, become that market leader, that’s an objective. That’s not a strategy.

Now, I’m not a really big fan of this acronym, but we’ll use it for today. So, you may have heard of SMART goals before. Objective, goal, similar kind of thing in this context. Specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time-bound. The most important part of the consideration this time is that first one, specific. Just saying more clients or more revenue is probably not a really good objective. Wrap a number around it so that you know whether you’ve achieved it or not.


So now onto the second part, the strategy. That’s the main topic of what we’re talking about today.

So once you have an objective, a strategy is like a high-level roadmap of how you’re going to get there.

Say you’ve gotta drive from Brisbane to Sydney. In this example, Sydney would be your objective. Now, if you fire up Google Maps, you’ll see it presents you with a couple of options. You can take the Pacific Highway down the coast, or you can take the New England Highway and go inland. They’re two possible strategies that Google Maps has given you to get from where you are to where you you’re trying to be.

Strategic options on your map

Now, a couple of things to consider in this example is you have to choose one strategy, you can’t do both. You can’t choose the coast road and choose the inland road. You have to pick one.

And the second thing that becomes obvious after looking at this is that if you choose one strategy that automatically excludes some things from what you’re going to do.

So in this example, if I chose the coast road, I’m not going to Tamworth and I’m not going to Armidale. I can put a line through those. They’re not in alignment with the strategy that I’ve chosen.

And that’s a really important and often overlooked part of having a good strategy is just as much as it can give you some direction in terms of what you should do, it’s just as useful for ruling some things out and making it clear of some things that you should not do.


So our third component today comes down to tactics.

So, tactics are where the rubber meets the road. Tactics are where we actually do the things that we’ve set out to do in alignment with our strategy.

What platforms you’re going to choose, what you’re gonna post, when you’re gonna post. Are you gonna get involved in trade fairs or advertise on billboards? All of those things are your tactics.

So if we come back to our map example, our tactics are like the turn by turn navigation. Turn left here, turn right here, go straight for 100 meters, and then turn left there.

Now, sometimes these tactics need to change. If there’s roadworks or road closures or something’s going on, you may need to deviate around a back road or take another way to get there. That’ll happen, but keep in mind your strategy hasn’t changed. We’re still taking the coast road.

So if we bring that back to business, your tactics will change all the time. As you learn things, as you get feedback, as you look at some statistics, you look at what’s going on, you’ll alter your course slightly and fine-tune this and improvise over here.

But your strategy hasn’t changed.

You should still be working in line with the strategy that you’ve chosen.

Now, whilst your tactics can and do change all of the time, strategy is not something you should change lightly. If you were taking the coast road and you’ve got most of the way down there and you’ve thought, actually, you know, I wouldn’t mind going to see Tamworth. It’s a lot of effort to then detour and change and maybe backtrack and get back up to see Tamworth before then remapping your way back down to Sydney. I mean, sure you can do it, but you’ve wasted a lot of time, a lot of energy, a lot of money possibly.

Whereas if you’re trying to get to your destination, staying on the coast road is the way to go.

So, what are four takeaways?

First one, you need to have a clear objective in order to develop a strategy. If you don’t have an objective, you don’t have a strategy.

Second one, possibly more importantly, a good strategy can help you decide what not to do, what not to waste your time on, what you’re not gonna get involved in.

Third one, changing strategy is not something you do lightly. It can lead to a lot of wasted time and wasted effort. Something significant will probably have to happen before you change strategy midship.

And the fourth one, tactics do and probably should change all the time as you’re keeping an eye on what’s going on, but make sure they are in alignment with the strategy that you’ve chosen.

Hopefully that makes the word strategy a little bit clearer. It’s your high-level Google Maps overview, not the turn by turn navigation. And of course, for any of these things to work, you have to have set a destination or an objective.

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