Strategy and Cocktail Napkins

Strategy is a word everyone seems to define a little differently, but here's where brands often fail when writing one.

Strategy is a word everyone seems to define a little differently, but often, what people call a strategy is not one at all. Over the years, I've found that most strategy documents are either focused on tactics or too complicated to bring a team into alignment. Even if the content is good, it is only valuable if you can communicate it to your team or partners and earn buy-in from each stakeholder.

I would argue if you can't distill your strategy down to a simple concept scribbled on a cocktail napkin, you don't yet have one.

The most effective strategy is so simple it can bring a whole enterprise together to execute the plan. It's the one that can be communicated on a cocktail napkin. That means your strategy’s main goals, high-level directives, and key objectives should be concise and to the point. All the rest is details.

How To Write an Effective Strategy

Communicate the goal, communicate the path you will take, and note the most important top-level tactics. Let’s illustrate it this way: We have the Red Line, a rapid transit bus line in Indianapolis. To get from our office downtown to Broad Ripple on the north side, this is what our strategy would look like.

  • GOAL: Go to Broad Ripple
  • STRATEGY: Take the Red Line
  • TACTIC: Buy a pass
  • TACTIC: Wait at the bus stop
  • TACTIC: Ride the bus to the Broad Ripple stop.

For a brand, the cocktail napkin of a strategy can be just as simple. Let’s say you have an auto repair shop.

  • GOAL: Increase preventative maintenance business
  • STRATEGY: Deliver a “Never break down” message
  • TACTIC: Market the NBD advantages your shop offers
  • TACTIC: Provide NBD savings opportunity after service
  • TACTIC: Brand all materials “the NBD guys”

The strategy provides direction. A detailed strategy can be necessary but may not be as helpful for team buy-in as a simple and clear cocktail napkin strategy.

What is your brand strategy?

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