get a personalised recommendation in minutes with our solutions advisor

What Strategy IS – An Article For Non-Strategists

I’ve been chewing over what strategy is for a long time – before I was even aware that’s what I was trying to get a hold on. Since COVID-19 started doing its thing, I’ve been doing a strategy course by a genius called Mark Pollard. It’s made me realise that, despite being relegated to ‘the…

Girl holding up a light bulb sign

I’ve been chewing over what strategy is for a long time – before I was even aware that’s what I was trying to get a hold on.

Since COVID-19 started doing its thing, I’ve been doing a strategy course by a genius called Mark Pollard. It’s made me realise that, despite being relegated to ‘the fluffy stuff’ as a copywriter and brand expert, I am actually quite an analytical and strategic thinker.

Everyone does strategy – it just looks different for each of us.

But what is strategy, REALLY?!

Ooof. The first time I met with my strategy study group, I asked the other, more experienced, people what on earth strategy actually is. Turns out, everyone has a different version of what it is and how they do it. It was one of those things I had to feel out for myself.

Here’s what strategy is, I think:

Your strategy is your point of truth that guides you through every decision within projects, campaigns or product development.

For example, our brand strategy can help us make decisions when we’re planning a launch campaign. If your brand strategy is ‘To do well by doing good’, that will inform decisions about your tactics, your message, your advertising platforms – the lot.

The ideal scenario is to have such a strong strategy for your business that decisions are easy. Obvious, even. When the strategy is good and everyone knows what it is, we’re all on-page when we’re asking, ‘What would our brand do?’.

What strategy boils down to in practical terms

That was quite cerebral. I know, it’s super frustrating. So, I’ve also come up with a formula that I think works when we’re wrestling with what strategy is in practical terms.

1. Thought – hmmm

+ consideration

2. Idea – what if?

+ research

3. Insight – ah-ha!


= Strategy – let’s do this

Now, let’s break that down

1. Thought – hmmm

A thought is not an idea. It’s a proto-idea, a musing. Generally, this is when we encounter a problem that needs solving

Example: Isn’t it unfair that people on a low household budget can’t access affordable fresh fruit and veg?

You’d look at the size of the issue, collect the stats, check out the cost differences of fresh vs. processed foods…all the powerful knowledge that’ll get you to an idea.

2. Idea – what if?

An idea is a fleshed-out thought. We’ve mused on the problem that we want to overcome, and started coming up with potential solutions.

Example: What if we could find a cheap source of fresh food where there’s a lot of waste?

3. Insight – ah-ha!

This is our ‘ah-ha!’ moment. We know what the problem is, we’ve started investigating how to solve it – now, we reach a little flash of enlightenment that makes our idea different and special. Like, ‘OMG, no one has ever actually asked stay at home parents if they want…’

Example: Supermarkets have stupidly high standards for how fruit and veg looks. This means a lot of wasted ‘ugly’ food. We should be using that!

4. Tactics – how, though?

Your tactics are activities, platforms and targets that will bring the idea to life and make sure it succeeds.

Too often, we write an essay about tactics and confuse it for a strategy – for example, ‘We’ll advertise on social media and do PR activity’ is not a strategy. These tactics are just the tools needed to make your strategy work.

Example: We’ll partner with Facebook groups and forums for people talking about household budgeting and run content stories about how to balance healthy food with affordable costs.

At this point we’ll want audience types and sizes, budgets, ROI predictions – all the bits that make up a real plan for bringing something to market.

= Strategy – let’s do this

Strategy is all that thinking and inspiration, preferably summed up for everyone in one sentence. Although strategy is everything we’ve talked about, it’s also the distillation that would pitch your plan to someone in a minute.

Example: We’re making fresh food accessible to everyone by solving food waste.

How a strategy comes together

We want to make fresh food available to everyone and solve food waste at the same time. (This is our strategy in a sentence.)

It’s unfair that households with a low budget don’t have access to quality fresh food. We think it’s time for fruit and vegetables to be available to everyone, especially when we have so much food waste in the UK. (This is our idea.)

Supermarkets have exacting standards for how their produce looks on the shelves. This means farmers have to reject fruit and vegetables if they’re not the right shape, size or colour. (This is our insight.)

By developing relationships with these farmers, we can buy fresh food at a low cost and provide a delivery service for low-budget households. We’ll use social media groups to find those on a low budget discussing household issues, and advertise our ordering service. (These are some of our tactics.)

What strategy isn’t

We have to be very careful with how we think about strategy. There is business strategy, brand strategy, marketing strategy and campaign strategy. A lot of the time, people come up with a campaign idea and think that is a marketing strategy. No, that’s just one THING on our journey to achieving the marketing strategy; even the marketing strategy is just one THING to help achieve the business strategy.

They work in a hierarchy and each needs its own thought, idea, insight, tactics and overall strategy statement.

Business strategy is where your company is going and how it’s going to succeed. That’ll take in a bit of all the others.

Brand strategy is the story of your brand and how you get it out into the world. It is ongoing – the work on it never stops and it should affect everything you do.

Marketing strategy is how you make money. It exists to deliver on the business strategy and decisions are guided by the brand strategy. For example, if your brand is about saving the world, you’re not going to advertise in a publication that espouses climate change-denier beliefs.

Campaign strategy is the smallest guy and you have many of them. An individual campaign might be to grow awareness of a new product, using a great PR story. Like the marketing strategy, decisions are led by whether they fit the brand and deliver the business strategy.

There are many other kinds of strategy (product, project, all sorts) but those are the important levels to strategy as marketers.

Strategy in one sentence

When I find myself lost in what strategy actually IS, what it isn’t, where I am and where I’m going – I think back to this.

Strategy is the North Star; everything else is your map.

Where we’re going. How we’ll get there.

About the author

Yell Business Avatar

Give us a call to see how we can help with your business