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You would think that we wouldn’t need to bring this up anymore, but I have noticed recently that some folks still have a little trouble separating Vision from Strategy, and Strategy from Tactics. So for everyone’s benefit, let’s go over the differences between the three, this time courtesy of the very bright Christopher S. Penn:

Vision: If you don’t know why you’re in business, if you don’t know why you get up in the morning every day, you don’t have vision. You don’t have a reason, you can’t answer the question of why.

When the alarm rings at 4:55 AM every weekday, I get up and go to the Student Loan Network with the overarching reason of going to help someone get an education. I believe in education. I believe that education on the whole makes things better, makes society better, and in true enlightened self interest, makes my world better. Smarter people around me means better conversation, better ideas, better friends. Smarter coworkers and colleagues means higher paid colleagues and my share of the tax burden decreases proportionally the smarter and more talented everyone else is.

If you can’t answer why your company exists (besides make money), then you have no vision.

Strategy: Strategy is knowing the destination. Knowing where you want to go, knowing what the goal is. Strategy is having defined, achievable goals that are in alignment with your vision.

If my vision is to help someone get a better education, my strategy is to develop trusted relationships with that someone so that we mutually benefit. I vend products and services that I believe in, that will legitimately help my customer achieve a better education, and I am compensated in return. If I say I want to build one million trusted relationships with customers to help them afford an education, that’s a strategy. That’s where I’m going.

If you can’t answer where your company is going, then you have no strategy.

Tactics: Knowing how to get there, how to get to our destination, how to achieve on a turn by turn basis the mission of getting the van to the end point. I need a map.

If my strategy is to build one million trusted relationships with customers, then I need allies. I need to develop relationships with influencers and force multipliers who can help me share things like the Financial Aid Podcast. I need tools like Blue Sky Factory’s Publicaster email service, I need techniques like search engine optimization, I need great products and services that are worth talking about so that others are so inspired that they want to talk about them without my goading them to.

If you can’t answer how your company is going to actually get to the destination, then you have no tactics.

Let’s review:

Vision: Why are we even getting in the van?
Strategy: Where are we going?
Tactics: How are we going to get there?

Finally, a couple of key mistakes I’ve seen especially in social media.

“It’s all about the community!” Wrong. That’s like saying, “Put more people in the van!” So what? Now you have a van full of people. Do you know why they are there at all? Do you know where you’re going? Or are you just in a van with a bunch of people hoping someone else drives ahead of you and you can tag along?

“It’s all about driving traffic to our shiny 2.0 widgety trendsetting flexible scalable social media hub!” Wrong. That’s like saying, “Drive the van faster!” So what? You’re driving the van really fast. Do you have any idea where the van is actually going? Drive the van faster is both useless and dangerous, especially if faster means into a telephone pole.

“It’s all about being remarkable!” Wrong. You’ve got a nice van. A really nice van. A tricked out van. So what? The product is not the marketing. Yes, absolutely, taking a road trip in a nice luxury limo will be a lot more pleasant than taking a road trip in a beaten up Yugo. But if you don’t know where you’re going, you have no map, and you don’t know why, all you have is a nice van, and while it’s remarkable, you’re still not going anywhere.

Remember: why? where? how? and you’ll know vision, strategy, and tactics.

Simplicity at its best.

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