A provocative post by the always interesting Ad Contrarian:
He's not exactly wrong, but the weight of history seems to be on the other side of the question.
The Luxury Of Strategy
Tactics can often be a matter of life and death, while strategy is often a luxury. As Mike Tyson once said, "Everyone has a strategy until they get hit."
Having spent centuries in the ad business, one thing I learned is that the tactical always seems to drive out the strategic. When the rubber meets the road, and decisions about spending money have to be made, if financial resources are scarce, the tactical always wins.
One of the most powerful and unrecognized benefits of a successful brand is the financial wherewithal to support both tactical and strategic advertising. Most businesses don't have the means to do this.
Strategy is the advantage of the wealthy.
Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.This is not to underestimate the importance of the short-term and the tactical. Successful leaders have always understood the need to balance the short-term and long-term.Sun Tzu, The Art of War
In the end, competence in strategy and policy is the most important component in the success or failure in the conduct of war over the past 400 years. As the author and his colleague, Allan Millett, have noted about the first half of the twentieth century, “it is more important to make correct decisions at the political and strategic level than it is at the operational and tactical level. Mistakes in operations and tactics can be corrected, but political and strategic mistakes live for ever.”Wm. Murray, War, Strategy and Military Effectiveness
Any statesman is in part the prisoner of necessity. He is confronted with an environment he did not create, and is shaped by a personal history he can no longer change. It is an illusion to believe that leaders gain in profundity while they gain experience. As I have said, the convictions that leaders have formed before reaching high office are the intellectual capital they will consume as long as they continue in office. There is little time for leaders to reflect. They are locked in an endless battle in which the urgent constantly gains on the important. The public life of every political figure is a continual struggle to rescue an element of choice from the pressure of circumstances.Henry Kissinger
What distinguishes leaders who have attempted to develop and execute a grand strategy is their focus on acting beyond the demands of the present. In other words, they have taken a longer view than simply reacting to the events of the day. Nor have they concentrated on only one aspect of the problem. Instead, in times of war, while they may have focused on the great issue confronting them, such as Lincoln's effort to maintain the Union in the great Civil War that enveloped North America, that vision has recognized the political, economic, and diplomatic framework within which the conflict was taking place.
Thus, those who develop a successful grand strategy never lose sight of the long-term goal, whatever that may be, but are willing to adapt to the difficulties of the present in reaching toward the future.Williamson Murray, The Shaping of Grand Strategy
Lincoln critically assessed costs, neither brushing them aside – like Napoleon in Russia – nor dreading them to the point of immobility –- like Union army generals before Grant. He relied on experience, incrementally accumulated, to show what worked, not on categories, professorially taught, to say what should.Related:John Lewis Gaddis, On Grand Strategy
So how can we reconcile these two propositions? How can Ad Contrarian's analysis be on the money if strategy is not a luxury but absolutely essential?
Making strategy in the real world
Smart talk on strategy
Part of the answer can be found in an old Borscht-belt joke. To restate it for our purposes:
To the client you're a strategist, to the agency you're a strategist. But to a strategist, you're no strategist.
We know that they are not strategists because their solutions ignore the short-term imperative that their clients face. A strategy is a map from here/now to there/future/better. What matters is the path forward. Too often advertising strategists ignore the path and just emphasize the beautiful, desired end-state.
That isn't strategy--- it is hope repackaged as sales hype.
Conquest's Law definitely applies.