The basis of strategy is founded on war. The word “strategy” is derived from the Greek word “stratçgos” meaning leading an army. As advertising strategists, we’re trained to identify the competitive advantage of a company and to create engaging ways to communicate it to their target audience. We constantly look for ways to outmaneuver an opponent. How can you do things differently than them to gain an advantage? What resources can you exploit to capture more market share? How can you use your core competencies to increase the barriers of entry and weaken your competitor’s positions? How do you win?
However, that line of thinking can also blind companies as to the true value they should provide their customers. It’s what causes companies like Enron or the banking industry to pursue merely profits over the best interest of all concerned. It’s what causes Blockbuster Video, Kodak, and Circuit City to lose their way and fail to adapt to technological and economic changes. When you only focus on winning, you forget why you’re doing it in the first place.
There are 4 questions that every business should ask itself.
Why are we here?
If it’s just to make a profit or to produce a high-quality blah-blah-blah, why should anyone really care about you. There will always be another company that can do that better. You need a purpose that is uniquely yours.
What do we stand for so strongly that we would do it even if it is a competitive disadvantage?
These are your core values. Not the fluffy phrases about “commitment to service” or being “people focused.” What does your company believe in that it would never change even if it didn’t provide an extrinsic benefit? Apple is focused on design. Even though inexpensive generic standardized PCs were clearly what people wanted 15 years ago, they choose not to do that and went another way because that’s what they believed.
Where are we going?
If you don’t know where you’re going, as the Cheshire Cat said, “then it doesn’t matter which way you go.” You need a vision of where you want to take your business or you’ll ultimately be lost in superficial decisions. This is more than just quarterly or annual goals. This is more than just your expansion plans or your scalability. You need, as Jim Collins coined, a “big hairy audacious goal.”
If we were to disappear tomorrow, would it matter?
Not just to yourself. Not just to your employees and your suppliers. What difference do you really make in the world? Are you just another substitute that can easily be replaced? Or do you make an important and unique difference to your customers, your industry, to the public at large?
The best strategy is to matter.