It haunts me.
We’ve all encountered a helpful diagram, quote, or quip in our careers that becomes forever frozen in our professional repertoire. They sit on the top tray of our rhetorical toolboxes and are often accessed reflexively when first approaching any assignment. I’m a collector of such tools.
This version of a GOST diagram shared by Jane Newman was one of my first to hold onto tight. It organizes in sequential order the use and meaning of the most basic rudiments of strategic planning: Goal, Objectives, Strategies, Tactics.
For those unfamiliar with Jane Newman, let this Behance article by director Florence Buchanan be your guide to “The Queen of Planning” (a brief biofilm as part of her induction into the Advertising Hall of Fame where Lee Clow, Sir Chris Powell, Marty Cooke, Robin Hafitz, Merry Baskin and many, many other industry luminaries wax poetic on her accomplishments.)
I first met Jane in January 1999 as one of 20 students accepted into the second Miami Ad School Boot Camp for Account Planning. It’s been 22 years since that day, and in addition to fond memories — I have this pyramid drawing in a premillennial Moleskine with a litany of other “Jane says…” notes. (If you know that Gen-x musical reference let me know in the comments 😉
After a quick sketch on the whiteboard, Jane provided a simple example to demonstrate how it worked. My notes suggest it was “about living a long life” instead of some forgettable business example. It went something like this below (I’ve updated the demonstration examples.)
GOAL: Singular. It should be one significant, quantitatively measurable achievement. It’s usually first framed as one of many objectives. But then, after some analysis, you realize that to achieve it, you must accomplish all other objectives in unison.
Example: Live until 100
Such a goal is knowable without any ambiguity but involves quite a bit of orchestration to make it happen.
OBJECTIVES: Plural. A set of successful outcomes that are all objectively measurable (think KPIs.) There should be little to no redundancy, parallel efforts working together to accomplish the GOAL. It’s where you often find all of the symptoms of business problems too often misconstrued as the problems by marketers. So, if traffic and awareness are on the decline (as problematic as they seem), first diagnose the why to identify the real underlying issues.
Ideally, all of these quantifiable diagnostics are easily tracked and measured.
STRATEGIES: Plural (you often need more than one to achieve all objectives). Straightforward, action-oriented “ways” to achieve objectives. They are “how” you do what you do (for those that speak Sinek.)
Each possesses a strong verb capable of inspiring lots of specific things to do. Those things are the >>
TACTICS: Plural (lots of things to make and do). These specific activities and tools are inspired by the strategies to meet the objectives to achieve the goal. This is all of the work that comes after a (good) briefing.
The common clues here are that these are the things that need calendars, pricing, point people, and resources to make happen. None of these recommended actions are accidents, all intentional given the strategies defined.
A belief quickly debunked by an online search. (Do so, however, at your own risk. Like a chord progression, GOST can be used in many unnecessarily complicated ways.)
However, to that skinny 27-year-old version of me, what Jane shared was elegantly simple — thus serving its purpose. Up to that point, I assumed I knew the differences. GOST took the word sausage of marketing and flipped it into a fillet. You know what I mean – that slurry of phrases that get cast like spells to make meetings sound productive. Meanwhile, every person in the meeting has a different definition for each term – often confusing strategies with tactics with no interest in setting it straight. So when the loudest voice in the room claims the Facebook carousel ad buy is, in fact, a strategy… you either nod unknowingly or quietly question how this individual ever got to where they are (while simultaneously planning your escape from the conversation.)
But don’t escape. Be brave, speak up and help balance the room. A simple GOST mapping exercise in Zoom using the shared whiteboard screen is more than enough. This is your role as a strategist. Words are the programming language for strategic systems. Just like any system, the fidelity of the output is proportional to the input. So in moments like these, words matter.
Colleagues tell me Jane is still strategically active in retirement with her charity in Kenya, Thorn Tree Project, which has provided dorms and full-time schooling for more than 1,500 children (for more info thorntreeproject.org/). In addition, she was one of many luminaries who taught that semester in 1999 — Douglas Atkin, Pam Scott, Chris Chalk, and John Gerzema come to mind. Perhaps in future articles, I’ll share some of their wisdom as well.
For those that missed my INTRO article to this series, I will cover a broad range of subjects — some permitting me to hit <<REW and reflect on my beginnings to understand better how I PLAY> today. Others will firmly press FFWD>> to ponder what is to come. The goal is to avoid STOP.
Up next are my first interviews reconnecting with Miami Ad School Boot Camp students of long ago. Where are they now? It will be like hitting <<REW + FFWD>> at the same time – opening that secret menu you never knew was there.
Be seeing you.