Sometimes it seems that Direct Marketers plan a new business every day.
Whether our plans have a thousand pages or five pages, they start with the same four elements: Background, Objective, Strategy, Tactics.
The Background is the answer to “Why are we doing this?” It contains every bit of information relevant to your task.
The Objective is a simple statement. You can’t have more than one Objective. It answers the question “What are we trying to achieve?” It can’t be vague. It has to be as specific as you can make it. This frightens some people.
NO: Sell as many widgets as we can
YES: Sell 50,000 widgets @$38 by Q4, 2013
Each stage should be consistent with the previous stages. For instance, if you sold only 500 widgets last year, you probably won’t sell 50,000 this year unless there’s something really spectacular in the Background.
Then comes the hard part: Strategy
A lot of people have a hard time distinguishing between Strategy and Tactics. That’s partly because Tactics are fun and easy while Strategy is no fun and hard.
The short version of the difference is that Strategy is what Generals do; Tactics are what Captains and Lieutenants do.
Usually you have only one straightforward strategic statement unless your Objective is complicated. (I’d de-complicate it before doing anything else.)
You can have as many tactical statements as you want as long as they’re consistent with Background/Objective/Strategy.
When I taught Direct Marketing at NYU, our Creative Director came up with an oddball analogy to make the Strategy/Tactics difference come alive:
The Trojan Horse
He’d start by telling the students that the Trojan Horse, famous as it is, was merely a Tactic.
The story’s probably mythical. The Trojan War started 3,200 or so years ago when drop-dead gorgeous Helen, the one with the face that launched a thousand ships, ran off with a guy named Paris. This would have been okay except that Helen was married to a Greek –
Menelaus, King of Sparta.
Menelaus got his brother, Agamemnon, to take an army and follow Helen and Paris to Paris’s hometown of Troy, not all that far away in western Turkey. The Greeks laid siege to the city for 10 long years but Troy was impregnable.
At first, the Objective was “Get Helen back now”
Then it became “Take Troy and maybe get Helen back.” The siege strategy wasn’t working so they had a meeting. Everything they’d done up to that point was Background. They reviewed it and decided they needed a new Strategy. This happens in business all the time. In the military, too.
I’ve always imagined a brainstorming session around a campfire until somebody, probably Ulysses, came up with an idea: “If we can’t get the gates open from the outside, maybe we can get open them from the inside without the Trojans knowing.” Aha!
At this point, as everything focused on the new Strategy, we see the trickledown theory of planning: your boss’s Strategy becomes your Objective.
Maybe they tried different tactics: bribery, sneaking in, swimming through sewers or just tossing volunteers over the wall. Nothing worked. That didn’t mean the Strategy was wrong. It just meant they needed a new tactical idea.
Finally, Ulysses came up with the elaborate notion of a hollow horse with soldiers, including Ulysses himself, hiding inside. The plan included the window dressing of pretending to sail away and leaving behind a soldier (named Sinon). His job was to tell the Trojans that the Greeks had gone home leaving this giant horse as a gift to the Goddess Athena. Sinon said the horse was made so big in order to keep the Trojans from taking it into the city. Ah, human nature.
You know what happened next. Despite warnings from wiser heads, the Trojans dragged the horse into the city and partied hearty. Meanwhile, the Greek army came back, the soldiers hidden in the horse came out and opened the gates. The Trojans were slaughtered.
The Greeks won, thanks to a solid Strategy.
And the tricky Tactic got all the credit.