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I recently returned from Bangalore where I spent two full days discussing strategy with David Yoffie. David is Head of Harvard’s Executive MBA Program and sits on numerous boards, including Intel and Mindtree. While his credentials are irreproachable, I admittedly was not looking forward to the long journey across the world to discuss “strategy” of all things. Furthermore, my beloved Yankees were in the baseball playoffs and my girlfriend was days away from competing in her first marathon.

In looking back however, it was an enlightening session that has had me thinking about our marketing strategy at MindTree ever since I returned.

As David tells it, strategy is not about predicting the future. He shared with us that many companies he works with do not have a clear strategy. There are many reasons for this, ranging from:

– There is no strategy…period.

– It is buried in a huge document and revisited only every so often by a select few.

– A strategy means different things to different people within an organization i.e. there is no consensus on what the strategy is.

– A strategy is misunderstood by the people at the ground level: directors and managers.

The last point is a particularly scary one to me. If most executives do not understand what a company’s strategy involves and cannot communicate it, how can senior management expect them to carry out their work (role) effectively?

During the 2 day session, we agreed that strategy has two main components: external positioning and internal alignment. Marketing’s role in external positioning is pretty obvious…not to mention important. More specifically, David helped us define strategy as a goal and set of policies designed to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage. In a marketing context, our job is to take the corporate strategy (what business are we in?) and exploit the “sweet spot” against our competition; our client needs; our capabilities companywide; and the entire market place.

To help MindTree avoid making the same mistake other companies make (unclear and unknown strategies), David asked us to come up with a strategy that can be articulated in one sentence. It should answer “Who,” “What,” “Where,” and “How” and state your Company’s competitive advantage.

See if this “one sentence strategy” exists within your Company. Furthermore, if you are a marketing executive, ask yourself: can define your marketing strategy in one sentence?

Without revealing any proprietary company information, answer me this: was it easy to do?

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