Thinking Strategically Is Easier Said Than Done

A simple guide to marketing goals, strategies, and tactics. 

There’s a scene in the Princess Bride where Fezzik (played by Andre the Giant) has the swordsman Inigo Montoya and Sicilian criminal mastermind Vizzini harnessed to him while climbing a rope several hundred feet up to the top of the Cliffs of Insanity with The Man in Black (a.k.a. – Westley) hot on their heels.

The trio reaches the summit and cuts the rope that The Man in Black is climbing. Despite the rope being severed, The Man in Black somehow continues to scale the cliffs. When Vizzini sees this he exclaims, “Inconceivable!”

Inigo turns to Vizzini and says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

That is exactly how I feel when someone tells me to “think strategically”. The problem is no one ever says how to do that. For that matter, what does it even mean?

In Marketing Land, it comes down to having goals, strategies, and tactics. One way I’ve heard it described is:

  • Goal – Win the war
  • Strategy – Attack uphill
  • Tactic – Fat guys behind rocks, skinny guys behind trees

Funny but not very clear. To put that in business terms:

  • A goal is a broad primary outcome.
  • A strategy is an approach you take to achieve a goal.
  • A tactic is a tool you use in pursuing a strategy.

Now that we’ve got that cleared up, here are three ways to get off on the right foot when thinking strategically about your marketing:

1. Begin With Research 

Research is the foundation of a successful strategic marketing effort. There are two types of marketing research: qualitative and quantitative.

Qualitative research relies on data obtained by the researcher from first-hand observation. Focus groups and interviews fall into this category. Think of qualitative research as improv—unscripted and spontaneous. 

Quantitative research focuses on the collection and analysis of data. Popular quantitative research tactics are surveys and secondary, usually online research. Quantitative research is like a theatrical performance—planned out and methodical. 

Research allows decisions to be made based on facts, rather than opinions. After you decide which type of research is appropriate, ask “why’.

2. Ask Why

Why don’t we ask “why” more? It’s usually because we think we need one thing, but in reality, we need something else all together. For example:

Statement: We need a new website.

Question: Why do we need a new website?
Answer: Because our website is outdated.

Question #2: Why is our website outdated?
Answer: Because no one here is responsible for keeping it current.

Question #3: Why isn’t anyone assigned to update our website?
Answer: Because we’re too busy.

Question #4: Why are we too busy to keep our website current?
Answer: Because we don’t have a plan.

Question #5: Why don’t we have a plan for our website?
Answer: Because strategy is hard and we haven’t dedicated enough time to make a plan. Let’s do that now instead of spinning our wheels and spending a bunch of time and money to make a new website because we don’t actually know what we even need.

Asking why creates focus and gets people on the same page. Then, we can look before we leap.

3. Stop and Look Around

Go-getters’ have endless praise heaped on them and rightfully so. Baseball legend and Popeye dopplegänger Don Zimmer said, “What you lack in talent can be made up with desire, hustle, and giving 110% all the time.”

I like hustle just as much as the next guy, but where are the kudos for the observant, pragmatic decision-maker? Robbie Van Winkle had it right when he rapped, “Stop. Collaborate and listen.”

See what’s happening in marketing. Observe trends. Audit your competition. Jot down a list of best-in-class marketing efforts before jumping in with both feet. More times than not, the tortoise outperforms the hare.

When it’s all said and done, a sound marketing strategy boils down to making a plan with strategic steps to accomplish your goals. Inconceivable? I think not.

Jason is a Partner and the CEO at Revel, a B2B marketing agency. He is a diehard baseball fan who loves his Detroit Tigers. Family vacations often revolve around seeing games in different MLB ballparks around the country – they’ve been to 21 so far and counting. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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