What’s wrong with strategy?

There is a great deal of confusion in the meaning of the word strategy. The concept of strategy came from war.  Sometimes, when people use the word strategy, they mean tactics – or vision, or even guiding principals. Because of this confusion, and the association with the martial, I’d suggest that we abandon the use of the word ‘strategy’ when speaking of marketing – and more particularly, social media marketing.

War is considered a zero-sum game. One side loses and the other side gains.  Of course, in reality, it is usually both sides that lose, as value is destroyed throughout society.  Value destruction is the very reason we should move away from military metaphors.  Of course, the military has much to teach us in business.  This latest Harvard Business Review was dedicated to lessons learned from military commanders.  I particularly enjoyed the story about how a commander came into a tense stand-off with local farmers, and by being an effective listener and taking the role of mediator, was able to help defuse/diffuse the situation.

Going to War? The Marketers Battle

In some markets, market share is finite. If two companies are both competing for the US Government’s bid for toilet brushes, someone is going to lose, and someone is going to win.  It’s pretty competitive and adversarial.  I imagine in the same situation I’d be reaching for my dog-eared copy of Sun Tzu’s Art of War.

In most markets, however, there are more dynamic components in play. In the sugar-water wars of Pepsi and Coca-Cola, it’s unlikely that one side is going to prevail, and wipe the other out. They both serve the needs of different consumers. Their brands each have very different personalities – and ultimately, it’s less about the taste of the drinks than it is about the brand association.

An alternative vocabulary and system of thinking could be based on the new business philosophy of vision and values.  In eschewing the idea of strategy for one of vision and values, we still possess the guiding principles and motivation for our tactics, but are not focused on a nearsighted competitiveness.  We are focused on creating value.

Your Thoughts?

Am I making too much of an accepted term?  Or do I have a point? I’d love to hear your own thoughts – please comment!

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5 comments on “What’s wrong with strategy?


I’ve always loved the word strategy when it comes to marketing, but perhaps that’s because I’ve never associated it with either war or a way to beat out the competition. According to the definition in my online dictionary, a strategy is “a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.”

When I design a marketing “strategy” for clients, I’m helping them come up with a plan of action based on their overall goals or sometimes, a very specific goal… like selling their eBook or album. It’s not a plan to go to war with the competition. It’s a plan to get it done! To achieve results that serve both my client and his or her community.

And I like the word strategy because the sound of it has so much more muscle than “plan” or even “vision.” A vision is a dream. A strategy gets it done.

Ric Dragon

Fair enough, Nancy. But the term does have this very strong legacy. But maybe, just may, a “plan to get it done” is just that, and maybe not really a ‘strategy’ per se. But that seems like quibbling. -which I prefer to do over cocktails. BTW: was at Savonas last week – looked around; hoped to see you chanteusing.


Great thought.

Honestly, I wholeheartedly agree in shifting terminology, especially from terminology which originates from war. The longer we employ language with roots in war, the longer we perpetuate war-like thinking, according to neuro-linguistic programming theories and most theories of mind.

Personally, I’m going to follow your advice – especially after reflecting on the idea for a couple hours and researching the etymology of the term. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=strategy

The reality of the world today is different than all past human experience. The world literally would have been destroyed if Vasili Arkhipov had followed the orders of his superiors. In no other era could all human civilization literally have been destroyed, if a person followed the direction of their superiors. In social media, you can never wholly “get things done” because social media operates in an unending stream. As soon as one thing is done, the next thing is in demand.

Very thought-provoking article. Thanks and best wishes!


By the way, the second item in your top navigation reads “online marketing strategies”.


Hi Glenn;
I swear; wherever you comment; you do so with passion!
I so appreciate the feedback. And yes, our own navigation uses the ‘S’ word. That’s a whole other fight. Eta, our SEO lead, tells me that I should be using the phrase “internet marketing” instead of “online marketing” – that MORE people are searching on the first. But I think “online marketing” sounds better. Poetry and all that. A daily struggle!