The “One Strategy” Myth

One tree hill
Image by Chuck Nado

A bubbling marketing conversation states that there are no ad, pr, social media, sales, customer service, HR or any other specific functional strategies; rather that an organization — corporate or nonprofit — only has one strategy. All actions are part of that strategy. What an interesting myth — particularly for larger organizations that have diverse brands, product lines, companies and international operations.

Consider the old GE mission of achieving first or second place in any of the business areas it operates in. Does this mean General Electric has one strategy? Hardly. It’s pretty safe to say that their railroad business has a completely different marketing strategy than its lighting group. For starters, one engages in high-end business-to-business and business-to-government sales, while the other is a consumer products group. They simply share a common goal.

How about a mid-sized nonprofit’s communications department? That department may have direct outreach methods like email, donor development and events, as well as a marketing communications group, including advertising to brand and generate leads, PR for word of mouth and earned credibility, and social media for direct relationship interactions, PR and lead generation.

Do you think the advertising approach will work in social media? How about the donor development effort in PR? No, this is often a problem, forcing a method from one specialty into a second area that requires a different approach for success. Direct marketing in social media without relationships and conversations doesn’t work. Inserting a direct ask for donations into a press pitch usually fails (disaster relief provides an exception to this rule).

Yes, they all work better together as part of a larger whole, in essence forming the larger movement and strategy. We know this. Integrated coordinated action always works to create a larger output. Yet you still need different approaches for each outreach effort for maximum output.

Understanding How Strategies Flow Together

Behold the Potomac River
Harpers Ferry Where the Shenandoah Flows Into the Potomac

Organizational strategies are like flowing water, for example a river. A river has many tributaries, some are creeks, streams, brooks, runs and yes, other rivers. All of this water seeks to find the fastest path to sea, joining forces to create a mighty body of water pushing towards the end result. Consider how many small bodies of water contribute to the Ohio River. Yet the powerful Ohio River is but a tributary of the Mississippi River.

Similarly, an organization has multiple strategies, some specific to a functional area or subset of that area (marketing and advertising, say). These strategies all dovetail together to form one movement towards the organization’s end goals and initiatives. Independently they each have their own approach towards navigating their specific terrain, but together they create the larger result.

A master strategy may involve several strategies. In order to achieve larger objectives, different tasks have to be parceled out and addressed independently. Further, smart strategies do this because to have one plan exposes an organization to too much risk. All or nothing is never a good place to be. It’s better to deploy multiple approaches.

Granted, much of this gets back to a basic understanding of the definition of strategy. Still, don’t believe the hype. One strategy is the equivalent of trying to fit a square peg not just in a round hole, but into many different types of holes.

This post has been added to the Fifth Estate Strategy Wiki.