How do you know when your strategy is “good enough”?

I’m going to let you in on a little secret:

You don’t actually need your strategy to be particularly good.

Yes, we’d all love to achieve the elegant brilliance of a Southwest, or an IKEA, but being real that’s probably not gonna happen. There’s a reason why people talk about those same case studies over and over again – it’s because they represent something that’s rare.

No, for you and me, mediocre will probably do.

After all, given that the mean standard out there is no strategy, even something that’s “strategy-ish” will put you ahead, and so we shouldn’t demean that. Strategy-ish is great in the grand scheme of things.

We also need to be mindful that there are good reasons why a truly brilliant strategy will be out of reach for most businesses:

  1. For many, they simply don’t have enough to work with. Their raw materials lack potential. They are, if we’re honest, kinda vacant. And there’s a limit to what you can do with that, short of basically building a new business from the ground up.
  2. For many others, they simply don’t have the stomach for it. No amount of stirring speeches from me or anyone else is going to change that. Like I said last week, great strategy means increasing risk, and there’s nothing wrong with not wanting to do that!
  3. And finally, most obviously, maybe you just can’t think of a good idea. This stuff is hard. You’re trying to uncover an angle with massive market potential, and yet which everyone else has somehow overlooked. The chances of achieving that in a really uncompromised way aren’t great.

So here I want to celebrate and explain mediocre strategy.

Strategy that’s “good enough”. Strategy you can work with (even if nobody’s going to write any case studies about it). And strategy that, realistically, should satisfy the vast majority of brands and founders.

What does that kind of strategy look like?

Here are the benchmarks.

I. It’s a pure marketing play

Great strategy manifests in the creation of a truly unique business, at the core operational level. It’s about doing something different, not just saying something different. That’s how you create genuine daylight between yourself and your competitors.

Mediocre strategy on the other hand tends to only go skin-deep. It’s a glorified comms exercise, more than a company creation one.

This indeed is why many people get confused by the difference between “strategy”, and things like “value proposition” or “positioning” or “marketing”. They are actually quite similar, except that the latter three tend to stop at presentation, whereas full-blooded strategy takes everything under its remit. It’s about creating the thing rather than describing the thing.

Now, the truth is that skin-deep strategy actually can be very effective. If you find a fresh and coherent way to pitch a fundamentally generic product, that’s great! And if you execute artfully and consistently over time, you will start to build the perception of true difference, which is almost as good as the real thing.

So if the story is great, but you can’t really think of any hard ways of executing it… maybe it’s good enough.

II. Competitors can do it, but don’t focus on it

Ideally with strategy we want to find a way to offer something that our competitors literally can’t – even if they tried. That’s how you reach the nirvana of “anti-competitive” status, and everything flows effortlessly.

But like I said, that’s tough, so perhaps we can settle for the next best thing: doing something your competitors can do, but don’t focus on.

For example all car brands can reasonably claim to be “comfortable”. It’s not really an ownable space. But that said, I can’t think of any who aggressively focus on it, and so in that respect someone could take loose control of that area if they really tried.

Like the first point, this approach will largely be a marketing play – but you can also start to build some mild forms of true differentiation, purely by pouring all your energies into something which is only a secondary concern for everybody else.

So don’t necessarily despair if your offer isn’t genuinely unique… it may just be good enough too.

III. Regardless of content, it delivers team clarity

Do not underestimate the power of making things clear, simple, and aligned – even if the thing you’re aligning around is kinda feeble.

Honestly just by getting your whole team to sing from the same hymn sheet you’ll see returns, and this can be done through strategic ideas with no leverage at all.

One of the big biz success stories out there who used this is Zappos, an online shoe retailer. I don’t like to talk about them because I think their “angle” is super boring and unimaginative: “great customer service”. Ugh. But fair play to them, they embraced it so completely and coherently that it built a true sense of vitality in the organisation that then seeped through to market results.

At the end of the day strategy is just as much an internal-comms and leadership tool as it is anything else, so when you understand that you can see that merely “tidying things up” can have massive benefit.

So, if your people seem to like and understand something which doesn’t have real strategic teeth behind it… maybe that’s OK, maybe that’s good enough as well.

IV. It contains at least ONE sacrifice

I’m not going to let you off totally scot-free here. I’m not going to give you license to proceed with something that is genuinely pure waffle. There has to be some substance.

And the best way of ensuring that?

Make sure that you’re clear on at least one desirable or lucrative thing that the strategy makes you give up, or forbids you from doing.

If you embrace the marketing-led approach too much, then you’re likely to stray into “unleash the incredible” kinda bullshit territory, where there is so little specificity that literally anything goes, and you’ve made no decision at all.

Understand there must always be a decision of some sort – which means saying yes to something, and no to something else.

So what are you saying no to? If there is at least something – and that something is quite appealing – then maybe you’ve hit the magical threshold of good enough.


There you have it. Strategy that is watered down so much that anyone can do it, without the need for much courage or intelligence.

This might not sound super inspiring, but the beauty is that even when framed like this, most people still won’t do it. Most people will still let things be an utterly incoherent reactive mess.

And that, ultimately, is why it’s good enough. Because in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

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