Vikram Bharati writes about how the word strategy has lost its meaning and how we can bring back its real essence.
Advertising, marketing and brands have become such a big part of our lives that we see a multitude of creators emerging to handle these sectors. The outcrop of new industries, startups and young talent over the last five years has changed a lot of nomenclature in the workplace. And so, we find ourselves encountering a lot of super young “strategy experts” in our midst. Not discriminating on age, but it’s hard to understand how one can become an expert on any subject matter when they are 22-years-old because strategy needs experience. And so I’m jaded by the word.
Digging deeper, the word strategy originates from early-19th-century Greek word stratēgos meaning “army leader.” As we know, the army has ranks based on experience and proven skills. Someone new to the military would not be able to conceive plans or execute tactics. They wouldn’t even qualify for such a position! A strategist always referred to someone with a level of expertise and experience in the field.
Therefore, today, the word strategy has lost its meaning to me. Whenever I see resumes of people with two or three years of work experience claiming to be a social media strategist or digital marketing strategist, I question what exactly they mean by it.
A good strategy is extremely important for the business. In order to claim to be a strategist, one needs proof of having successfully ideated or executed a few strategies in the past. When I was in business school, everybody fell into two buckets — either they wanted to go into banking or they wanted to go into “strategy consulting” at Bain, McKinsey or one of the other big firms. Although strategy consultants should technically be experts utilizing their intellectual skills to create an impact on business, they were sadly made to push paperwork. They seemed to have no accountability for the execution of the strategy. So, I’ve always been sceptical about the word strategy from the very beginning. And ever since I’ve been in the startup community, I encounter a lot of strategy consultants, social strategists and personal branding strategists. And a lot of them do not have the relevant skills or the experience to do any meaningful work.
A strategist needs to have a point of view. They need to be able to synthesize information about a brand, put it together in meaningful ways and make a convincing argument for a particular plan. But I find that the word is freely used without any sort of substance behind it. The title may be alluring or fancy, and lend certain importance to a role, but we cannot use it as a getaway! It needs the backing of intellectual capacity and the willingness to do real work.
The way to solve this problem is by holding strategists accountable for their work. So, if someone wants to lay a claim to the title, they have to showcase that they have created strategies in the past, have been accountable for them and executed them. Why the fuss? You would never find a twenty-three-year-old claiming to be a wealth management strategist or an investment strategist. One needs to show numbers to lay a claim to such roles and numbers don’t lie. So why then do we misuse the term when it comes to a lot of intangible things like branding or social media or content? Is it because it is easier to escape with it?
In the saturated world of social media, strategy as a term itself seems to have morphed making it all the more important for us to establish its importance. Whether we are playing the number game or not, a strategy is a holistic approach to propel a brand. Its meaning cannot simply represent the number of social posts we put out. The latter is operations. The former is not. A true content strategist will not just be able to write a blog post but also have the skills to generate content to run a media company’s television, print, radio, internet and other disciplines with ease. Apart from an understanding of multimedia, they also tap into people’s behaviours, consumer preferences, trends in the market, creativity and the business to create sound content. And these insights come only with experience.
Today, the word strategy is often correlated with mediocrity. We need to redefine this state and reinstate the meaning of strategy.
A strategy is that which requires planning, patient execution, discipline. It is not something that happens quickly. It evolves over time and is not set in stone. It is not a commentary. It’s about the day-to-day grind and perseverance. A strategy is about always rising up despite your failures. It is everything else but an ethereal concept. It is work and sacrifice, and not a philosophy. A strategy is your brand’s map that gives you a general sense of direction.