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  1. A plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim.
  2. The art of planning and directing overall military operations and movements in war or battle.

I had to laugh a little when I looked up the dictionary meaning of strategy. The first point is a very true, albeit slightly perfunctory explanation of strategy, whereas the second point is, quite literally, what we marketers do on a daily basis. You see, it is a bit of a war out there. The consumer of today is saturated with marketing messages and channels with which to deliver these messages. And for the purveyors of said messages, it can be a battle trying to make yourself heard. 

I also like the word ‘art’ in that second point. And you can take it a couple of ways; firstly there is always art involved in strategy, because it is the creative that brings the strategy to life. But strategy itself is an art. Not everyone can do it and like a waltz, it takes most people years of doing to become truly skilled at it.

In my humble opinion, strategy is the most important part of marketing. Everything else falls out of strategy. For those rolling their eyes thinking that creative is more important, ask yourselves this; would you sail from one country to another without a compass and a map? Sure, you might get to your destination by pure fluke, but without proper instructions, you’re taking a pretty big risk.

If you’re confused about the difference between a strategy and a plan (and you’re not alone); strategy is an explanation of what you want to achieve with your marketing efforts (the thinking) and it is therefore critical that your business plan and your strategy are in alignment. Your plan is the ‘how’, and sets out the activity you will undertake to achieve your goals. 

As marketers and those responsible for brands, strategy keeps us on the straight and narrow. And as point one above states, it’s a plan of action. Without a clear plan, it’s like bobbing for apples in the ocean.

A good strategy sets out the who, what, why, where, when and how. It provides a clear path to achieving the desired goals and puts the right messaging in front of the right eyeballs at the right time. It ensures all future marketing campaigns remain true to the brand, and for a brand it gives clarity around things like promises, tone, values and audience.

A common problem marketers face is becoming stale. When you deal with the same brand day in and day out, it is easy to tire of what feels to you as repetition. When this happens, there are two things you should do; remember that nobody else interacts with your brand as much as you do and therefore they won’t feel the same way, but most importantly, refer back to your brand strategy. It is during these times when a marketing team feels bored and decides to change things up, that the risk of knee-jerk marketing is most prevalent. More often than not, the result is something that is done in isolation, not cohesive with the strategy (and brand) and not well thought through, which in turn confuses the audience and doesn’t achieve anything. In really bad cases, knee-jerk campaigns can be quite detrimental.   

The same applies during slow business times when there is temptation to do a random giveaway in the hope of igniting sales. Once again, you are much more likely to have an impact if you channel marketing efforts into dialling up the key messages that are part of your strategy and taking the time to execute a strong campaign, than you are throwing one iPad at your many customers (and these days, almost everyone already has some sort of tablet-style device in their homes).

Above all, when you’re doing battle out there in the wide world and establishing your brand’s voice, it is a well written strategy that will see you though. Because a good strategy will have identified where gaps in your market exist, convey the messages that will have most impact on and relevance to your audience, and will ensure that your messages are not being said by anyone else.

No business has a bottomless pit of marketing resource (both funds and time), so every dollar you spend needs to add value in some way. Not necessarily always in tangible sales, but at the very least, contributing to the elevation and understanding of your brand.

Without a strategy, I'd say best you put your togs on and get bobbing!