Strategy Is Hard

If you’ve ever been asked “what’s your strategy?” and wished a fire alarm would go off, you’re not alone. Strategy development is vital but it’s also really difficult. What are the pitfalls and how can you avoid them? Let’s take a moment to pause and reflect.

  • Harvard’s Michael Porter is basically the godfather of strategy. His 1996 article “What Is Strategy” (paywall) is still shared widely a quarter of a century later.
  • Porter believes deeply in the importance of strategy. He also believes that most businesses don’t actually have one.
  • Porter isn’t just being mean. He freely acknowledges that strategy development isn’t easy.  And he’s identified some of the big pitfalls that can get in the way.
  • The first stems from the way we think about competition. Don’t funnel your competitive drive into being the best, Porter advises. Focus instead on being the most unique.
    • Roger Martin—another titan of strategy—lists six other potential pitfalls of strategy development.
    • Here’s a critical one: don’t confuse the strategy with the plan. They complement each other, but they’re not the same thing.
    • Martin explains it this way: “Strategy is the act of making an integrated set of choices, which positions the organization to win. Planning is the act of laying out projects with timelines, deliverables and budgets.”


  • The key word here is “choices”. Porter and Martin agree that the core of strategy is choice-making.
  • Porter and Martin are focused on business strategy, not marketing strategy (its younger, sexier cousin).
  • We marketers face the same basic pitfalls as CEOs—plus a few of our own creation. For example, we often to mix up strategies and tactics.
  • And we have a weakness for bright shiny things.
  • The good news is—the fundamentals of good strategy apply equally to the marketing department and the C-suite. It all starts with choices.
  • According to Mark Ritson, the two fundamental choices for any marketer are: who are we targeting and what do we want to stand for?
  • We couldn’t agree more. Commit to those two choices and you’ll be well on the way to winning the competition for most unique.
Issue #129
Oct 3, 2021

Further Reading