A strategy describes the actions a company will take in order to achieve its goals (typically growth). It generally requires investment over a sustained period (time / money / effort) in order to develop capabilities that others do not have. It is grounded in an insight, something others have not realised or acted on yet in the market, maybe new legislation, technology, or customer needs. A company’s strategy may not always be clear to the market it serves. Think ‘easy in – impossible out’ from Blackberry, they knew they were making switching costs hard for their clients, but that certainly wasn’t what they led their advertising with.
Positioning statements (or ’taglines’) are market / customer facing, and encapsulate the words / images that the company wants to evoke or impress upon clients at a particular time. They usually emphasis some perceived benefit for the client in that market. They may relate to a specific strategy (Walmart – a low cost strategy with a tagline ’Save money, live better’), or evoke a certain image or ideal (such as Nike’s ‘just do it’).
Can strategy and positioning statement be the same? Of course. Think The Body Shop’s ‘Against Animal Testing’. It’s why Anita Roddick set up the company, it was a difficult thing to achieve – a product range without any animal testing – and it was a consumer-facing strapline that we all remember.
The two key things a CEO needs to do are to get the strategy right, and bring together the right people to deliver it. The sequence should be to work out the strategy first, then figure out (with a creative team) what to communicate to the market.