OPINION: Strategic tactics not tactical ‘strategy’


7 Dec 2013

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Gareth Dunlop, owner of user-experience consultancy Fathom

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I recall the exact moment the switch flipped, never to be un-flipped. ‘Do you have a video strategy?’ read the email title from the online marketing agency. I should have known better than to read on, but I have a weak will and unsurprisingly the email contents were just as awful as the title.

The email went on to explain how critical it was that every business (that’s right your business, you reading this right now, yes you, your business) must have a video strategy.

Why?

Cue some hackneyed nonsense about YouTube being the second most popular search engine in the world (it is), about video increasing conversion (it does, in the right circumstances) and the need for increased interactivity (it doesn’t, it is hard to think of anything less interactive than watching video).

It was at that instant I knew that the industry had finally gone mad. The suspicion had been building for a while and this merely confirmed why so many observe the digital industry with scepticism.

Let me share a secret with you. There’s no such thing as a video strategy. Or email strategy. Or Facebook strategy. Or Twitter strategy, etc.

Just as there is no such thing as a newspaper-ad strategy, business card strategy, a dress-code strategy or a how-we-make-the-tea-around-here strategy. These things are all important (to varying degrees), all driven by brand and strategy, but they are tactics and operations, they are not strategies.

A definition of strategy

Strategy, according to Wikipedia is "a high-level plan to achieve one or more goals under conditions of uncertainty".

The close cousin of ‘What’s your Microsoft Excel strategy’ is the ‘5 tips to Facebook success’, ’10 things you must know about Twitter’ and ‘100 ways to master Pinterest’. These articles are tactically valuable but strategically silent. I fear that they feed a hungry mob of zealots, mad keen to learn what buttons they need to press and in what order, to ensure online marketing success and countless millions in financial reward.

This tips-and-tools-focused thinking as a means of promoting online marketing is everywhere. And unfortunately the problem isn’t (purely) a middle-class dinner-party discussion about semantics and the meaning of words. It is far more fundamental than that.

It is about understanding the role of marketing within your overall commercial plan and the role of digital marketing within your overall marketing plan. It is only when those things are clear that you can consider your best chance of being successful and the tools and channels you require in order to achieve that.

Or to express that in the ’14 tips to guarantee online marketing success or your money back’ format (it’s called a listicle, yes it has a name) which has become so popular:

  • Know your marketplace
  • Know your customers
  • Know your competitors
  • Know yourself
  • Know your competitive advantage
  • Find yourself battles you can win
  • Find yourself battles you can afford
  • Conceive an online channel plan
  • Fight like crazy
  • Learn always
  • Improve endlessly
  • Keep going

There is little more dangerous to a business than poor strategy excellently implemented. Nowhere is that more true than online.

Gareth Dunlop

Gareth Dunlop owns and runs Fathom, a user-experience consultancy which helps ambitious organisations get the most from their website and internet marketing by viewing the world from the perspective of their customers. Specialist areas include user testing, usability and customer journey planning, web accessibility and integrated online marketing. Clients include Ordnance Survey Ireland, Telefónica, Invest NI, Ogilvy, and Power NI. Visit Fathom online.

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