The Cycle of Strategy

Effective strategy, be it marketing related or otherwise, is what really sets one company apart from another. I’m not really saying that every successful company plans and implements better strategy, in some cases strategy just happens because a market and a product find each other and grow organically.

spiral strategyHowever, small businesses that understand the power of an overarching marketing strategy, filtered and infused in every tactical process, will usually enjoy greater success.

The problem with strategy however, is that most people don’t really know what it is or, if they do, hobble its effectiveness by viewing its creation as something of a linear event – hold a planning retreat, decide on everything in a vacuum, report back next year.

I don’t think strategy works well like that. Strategy planning is an essential first step, but at best it’s guesswork. You’re obligated to do it to get the ball rolling, but not as some sort of final destination to act rigidly against. The value of a marketing plan and strategy comes into focus through the process of planning coupled with real world analysis and a willingness to shift your thinking as you go.

Strategy is more circular than most people view it. In fact, the upward spiral might actually be the best metaphor.

In my experience there are about seven steps in the ongoing planning and execution of a marketing strategy. When effectively viewed as a tool, these steps are never done, they are just waiting around for the next cycle. These cycles happen for one reason primarily – the market tells you the answer.

That answer can come in the form of growth, an opportunity to seize, or even an economic downturn. Either way, the circular motion needs to stay in tact.

I believe business owners need to continuously monitor these seven elements of the marketing strategy circle.

Who – Are you attracting the ideal customer and can you more narrowly define who that is?

What – Do you have a clear core point of differentiation? What is it and how are you communicating it?

The Plan – What action steps do you need to take today and tomorrow to bring your marketing strategy to life? What goals have your set for success of the strategy?

Execute – Are you executing against the plan?

Measure – What indicators need to be tracked and captured to allow you to determine your success?

Analyze – How will you analyze the data you collect to determine if you are on course, need to make alterations or even move towards a new opportunity?

Shift – How will you change course? How will you start the cycle over again?

Holding the guess, test, and realign state of mind when it comes to marketing strategy is the one of the surest ways to successfully tap the power of effective growth by way of planning.

Image credit: ZeroOne

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  • Ted Hessing

    This approach is very reminiscent of Six Sigma's DMAIC approach. Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control. One of many strategies I am surprised more small businesses don't implement. Thanks for the reminder!

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  • mikemoore

    Great post – the cycle concept you present makes planning worthwhile – without that idea, the primary value of planning is the donuts served at the planning session.

  • bobboucher

    Regarding strategy, I read somewhere (maybe it was here!) that a truly successful business strategy doesn't just affect your company, it affects your whole industry. Since then, I've always look for that “game-changer” factor in any client's strategy statement.

  • Jeremy

    Really brilliant cycle concept! I just love it.

  • Ryan Hanley


    this is a great post because it speaks to a very specific problem that most governing bodies face, that decisions often have to be dynamic.


    Ryan H.,

  • ducttape

    Mike – like that – making planning worthwhile – I think so many people find little value so they give up.

  • ducttape

    I wish it was hear because that's a powerful idea and one that I plan to start using for sure. One caution might be that some people need to experience a little win with a little strategy before they can wrap their heads around changing an industry.

  • ducttape

    Hey Ryan – agree for sure, but worse that just static many strategy decisions are made without input or data.

  • bobboucher

    Totally agree. Small steps first. And truthfully, how many strategies truly change the game? Very few, for sure. But, as you say, it's a powerful concept and whenever I use it with clients, it ALWAYS grabs their attention.

  • Terez

    Circular strategy is very sensible. It will never stop. It's obvious that you need to have a plan to make your marketing strategy work. But you also have to analyze whether or not what you're doing is having good or poor results. Then you have to readjust. I think this can be the hardest pill to swallow – that your hard work needs fixing, that the time you invested might be a waste. When you're willing to adjust/shift, you provide for your market in the best possible way.

  • 1_MikeHarris

    I've used this model for years and it works very well.
    1) What are the trends in my industry?
    2) What's driving those trends?
    3) What am I currently doing about those trends?
    4) What are my competitors doing about those trends?
    5) What should I be doing about the trends to increase profits?

    Here's a good paper on a guerilla-style approach to market concept testing.

  • Monique

    I was going to say the same thing! I'm very familiar with the DMAIC approach, and this article brought it flooding back to mind. Nice.

  • Phill Barufkin

    Demystifying the myths of strategic planning. It is as simple as discussed but often is intimidating particularly to small and mid-size businesses. In this economy, I have experienced an increase in the number of these size companies, some of which have been around for decades, that are for the first time deploying a strategic process. Whether a big company or small one, strategic planning is nothing more than formulating a framework for which to aim all resources in the most effective and efficient ways. Phill Barufkin

  • Daniel Shlifer

    I loved this blog post. It differed than many I read in that it seems to communicate the basic Inbound marketing ideas and components using a more traditional marketing language. Maybe this info was generated with traditional marketing in mind but it can be applied to Inbound marketing as well. I think this is important in helping businesses and professionals learn more and better understand how to use the new Inbound marketing methods to be successful.

    Overview is always important in order to use any system well and this article explains overview well.

  • Kim K.

    As a business owner, I like the thought of thinking in this type of organized manner. It helps to make every strategic decision come full circle.

  • seanmiller

    Interesting read, thanks for sharing!
    What I liked the most was the final seven elements that would make the cycle possible. My opinion is that the cycle should not be started again but introducing a change where you have missing points. Your strategy must be flexible enough to match consumers behavior and needs.

    If you run a small business, join the conversations about this and other business related topics on

  • erikjohnson123

    Interesting points. Thought you might like the law of perception in marketing strategy…

    Erik Johnson

  • Lloyd

    I just loved your concept. It is user friendly and highly flexible. But how could anyone execute against their own plan?

    Nice approach on the whole,

  • Robin

    John used to give helpful advice about Amazon. Anything in the future log for more?

  • Wally Bock

    Congratulations! This post was selected as one of the five best independent business blog posts of the week in my Three Star Leadership Midweek Review of the Business Blogs.

    Wally Bock

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  • TAGtribe

    Great organization of those ideas into the cycle – this concept makes effective planning seem very simple.

  • matthewneedham

    I think you're right here. Although I'm not sure that all the elemets are sequential. When you get to launch you may need to be more flexible and adapt to how the market reacts to your products/service in the 'real world'.

  • DoKC

    The marketing flip side of the seven steps of the scientific method. Each step, in order, without fail. This blueprint for strategic analysis is on spot.

  • DoKC

    The marketing flip side to the seven steps of the scientific method. Each step, in order, without fail. This strategic blueprint is spot on.

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    Thanks for the post. Cycle of strategy..cannot add more to that. Thanks from Legal Vanity

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    A fantastic presentation. Very open and informative.You have beautifully presented your thought in this blog post