When you work in Management or Communication you hear people talk about strategy all the time. They talk about the need for a solid business strategy, a stakeholder management strategy, a financial strategy, a communication strategy… and all that turns to something quite confusing when you realize everyone as their own definition of the concept.

First, lets please agree on one premise: Strategy is about long term thinking, a Plan is the way you assemble tactics to meet a specific objective in short or medium term.

1. Military Strategy

Sun Tzu is the first cornerstone in military strategy. Yet he does not give a short definition of what he understands to be “Strategy”, and the whole concept of “Art of war” leads me to believe he accepted a level of subjectivity in managing an army.

I know nothing else of military strategy other than that last paragraph and yet a quick search led me to NATO’s definition of strategy:

“presenting the manner in which military power should be developed and applied to achieve national objectives or those of a group of nations.”

But ever since I read Isaac Asimov’s “The Foundation” I see military strategy on a new light. To sum things up, the book talks about a planet deprived of any military strength and how in different points in time they had to resort to other means to assure their safety and independence. In the book, strategy has nothing to do with military strength nor is it about winning wars.

2. Business Strategy

Business Strategy leads us to Mintzberg, right? And in fact that is most of what I recall from my graduate training. Strategy was setting long term goals and objectives, managing resources in order to achieve those objectives. This makes a lot more sense to me than the military perspective.

In Public Relations this also makes sense because it gives the discipline a purpose: to monitor and scan the environment the company exists in while at the same time looking for opportunities to accelerate that strategy. Lets correct that: It made sense.

Today I feel it makes more sense to talk about Communication rather than in PR or Marketing as separate disciplines. At the same time there are areas like User Experience and Social Business that are proving to be crucial in achieving long and short term objectives. Business strategy is no longer just about managing resources.

3. Communication Strategy

This is where things get complicated. I started out by saying Strategy was about long term thinking exactly because there are a number of people who talk about Communication Strategy when in fact they should be talking about Communication Plans.

A communication plan would be setting up a Facebook Page or a Corporate Blog with a set of tactics aimed at making that new channel known and valuable to internal and external stakeholders.

A communication strategy would be to identify the need for a communication channel with specific Stakeholders and determine objectives, acceptable tactics and resources to be made available with the objective of influencing their behaviour and perception of the brand in the long term. This is a simplistic way to explain the difference, but it serves our purpose.

Jeremy Waite showed a very interesting view on communication strategy during his presentation at Engage 2013. Watch the 20 minute video below, he does more than showcase tactics, he explains how by looking at data different companies were able to identify long term objectives and choose tactics to achieve them.

Watching Jeremy’s presentation was what got me thinking about what is in fact Strategy. Only later, after watching the video again, did I realize that he talks mostly at a tactical level, in the sense that he does not go into detail about what should constitute strategic thinking (nor do I think it was the objective of the presentation).

In terms of Strategic Thinking he points us towards a TED Talk by Simon Sinek that you can watch below. The key takeway is that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Simon’s idea is solid, he makes a strong argument on why you should have strong core values with a strong vision and how those two elements make up the “Why” for what you do. Start with the Why and you will find out that you have a strong message for your key stakeholders but you still won’t have a Communication Strategy.

All this still does not feel enough to build a concept of Communication Strategy that can translate into a Strategic Thinking process and that can accommodate the changes the Web enforced upon society and the corporate world.

You have made it this far, so don’t stop and please leave a comment with your thoughts. 🙂