Strategy – What? Why? How?

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FIR On Strategy with Andrea VascellariThis is part of a series of posts that explores the “Adaptive Digital Strategy Framework”, an operative guide that I created to plan, execute and manage online strategy programs more effectively and efficiently. Each of post of this series comes with an audio podcast in which you will find the audio version of the post with additional audio commentary about the discussed topics. The name of the podcast is “FIR On Strategy with Andrea Vascellari”.

Have you defined you SMART objectives? If you don’t know what I mean by SMART objectives I encourage you to listen/have a look at episode #15 of “FIR on Strategy”. But if you already know how to define your objectives and it’s clear to you where you want to get with your project, then it’s time for you to choose which path, or paths, you will take to get there. It’s time for you to define your strategies.

What’s a strategy and why it’s important?

First of all a strategy is not a tactic. Strategy and tactics are interconnected, they work in synergy, and perhaps this is why people so often confuse them, but they are two different things.

So let’s understand what a strategy is by clarifying a where it stands in relation to objectives and tactics:

  • Objective: An objective is what you want to accomplish, your final destination, and it must be defined before strategies and tactics can exist.
  • Strategy: This is the path you will take to get to your destination and therefore successfully achieve your objective.
  • Tactic: If your objective is to climb a mountain and your strategy is the path/way you will follow to reach the top, you can think of tactics as the tools that you will use to climb.

So why it’s important to have a strategy? Well, if you want to reach the top of that mountain and you start to climb full of tools but with no idea on what’s the best way or path to get to the top, you won’t go far. Or probably you will make it to the top but you will get there spending more time and energy than you would have used by focusing on your strategy (path) in your planning phase.

Cool, so strategies are important and now it’s more clear what their role is. But how do we chose the best path, the best way, the best strategy to successfully achieve our objectives? There are countless number of different ways you could climb a mountain, right?

How to define your strategies?

Even if it’s clear to you what a strategy is, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you know which one to chose, which one is the optimal one. And even if you do, let’s be honest, defining strategies is never an easy task. If you get this wrong you can compromise the entire project.

Defining strategies is a delicate task and every project represents a new challenge that requires a different approach.

Sure, if you have to deal only with one or two projects at the time, it’s not easy but it’s doable. Things change when you have to manage a team, or an entire agency and several projects at the same time. Not only you need to know what you are doing, but you need to do it fast and well to meet your clients’ expectations. See, optimizing the approach to strategic planning and making it more efficient is never a bad idea.

So what I’m going to share with you today is a methodology that I use to define efficiently effective strategies. Let’s jump right into it by having a look at the three steps of this methodology:

1) SWOT Analysis

Conduct a SWOT analysis, which is basically a strategic planning method used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats involved in a project. This involves specifying the objective of your project and identifying the internal and external factors that are favorable and unfavorable to achieve that objective.

In this first step you have to try to not be too generic. You should be as specific as possible, focus on your objective, market and indeed on your audience segment – if you are not familiar with this, have a look at episode #14 of “FIR on Strategy” which is entirely dedicated to Audience Analyses.

SWOT

  • Strengths: Characteristics of the organization or project that give you an advantage over others.
  • Weaknesses: Characteristics that place the organization or project at a disadvantage relative to others.
  • Opportunities: Elements that the organization or project could use to its advantage.
  • Threats: Elements in the environment that could cause problems for the organization or for the project.

2) TOWS Analysis

Once you are done with your SWOT analysis you should create a new matrix to compare opportunities and threats with strengths and weaknesses. This is called TOWS matrix.

Like for the SWOT, TOWS is an acronym, S = Strengths W = Weaknesses O = Opportunities T = Threats. This matrix allows us to define how we are strategically positioned, and it ultimately helps us to define our strategies.

TOWS

  • S-O: These are strategies that pursue opportunities that are a good fit to the organization’s strengths.
  • W-O: Strategies that overcome weaknesses to pursue opportunities.
  • S-T: Strategies that identify ways that the organization can use its strengths to reduce its vulnerability to external threats.
  • W-T: Strategies that establish a defensive plan to prevent the organization’s weaknesses from making it highly vulnerable to external threats.

3) Define the strategies

As you can see the TOWS analysis is a natural integration of the SWOT into the overall strategic planning process. It gives us the basic structure on which we can define our strategic planning, in fact:

  • Strengths & Opportunities (SO) – are nothing else but an “attack plan”.
  • Strengths & Threats (ST) – are about building strengths for the attack.
  • Weaknesses & Opportunities (WO) – Are about “defensive planning”.
  • Weaknesses & Threats (WT) – about building strengths for your defense.

But if the theory and the process that need to be followed are pretty clear, the last step, aka defining your strategies, is not always as simple as you might think. Essentially, for each combination of internal and external factors, you have to consider how you can use them to create your strategies. For some this is an easy step, for others it’s not.

To help those of you that are facing some difficulties at this stage I share with you 4 questions you should ask yourself when you can’t come up with good ideas for your strategies. These are very basic questions but they will stimulate and guide your thinking in the right direction:

  • (SO): How can you use your strengths to take advantage of opportunities?
  • (ST): How can you take advantage of your strengths to avoid threats?
  • (WO): How can you use your opportunities to overcome your weaknesses?
  • (WT): How can you reduce your weaknesses and avoid threats?

A TOWS analysis is not a simple review, but as you can see this is actually the piece of the puzzle that ultimately helps us creating our strategies.

– Example:
(S): Existing customer base.
(O): New markets.
(SO): How can you use your strengths to take advantage of opportunities? => Segment the customer base; Restructure customer contact. These are two inputs that we can use to define two strategies. Now go ahead and to the same also for WO, WT and ST.

Your Thoughts

This is based on my experience, what would you adjust based on yours? What do you think about it? Is something missing? Looking at the sector you are working in, would you approach this differently? Let me know in the comments.

Andrea @vascellari
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