When discussing marketing strategy with clients, I often find that many are unclear on the difference between objectives and strategy. When I pose the question of objectives, they return with “well that’s why you’re here – to create our strategy.” Sure. But what do you want the strategy to work towards, exactly? I can’t decide that for you.

Objectives are the starting point for any business. What do you want to achieve? Who do you want to reach? What do you want them to hear from you? Objectives answer the “who”, “what”, and “where” questions. Excellent objectives will also answer the “why” question.

Following objective setting, a strategy is then the plan that illustrates exactly how you plan to achieve those goals. So, objectives first, strategy second.

IBM was the center of an internet firestorm this week because part of their strategy to achieve a perfectly valid objective was off the mark. A company can set precise and compelling objectives, but then sabotage their good intentions with poor strategy and execution. The IBM debacle is a perfect example of this.

Less than 3 in 10 engineering and science jobs are held by women, according to IBM, and the company wants to become a catalyst to help boost those low numbers. Promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers to women is a hot topic among technology companies these days, and so this objective is relevant and worthwhile. No issues here.

The issue arose when back in October IBM launched a campaign online called #HackaHairDryer. The ad that was created to launch the campaign urged girls to get involved and break the stereotype that women are not interested in STEM careers by “hacking a hairdryer” and using the styling tool in an experiment in some way.

The problem? IBM was asking women to defy one stereotype by unwittingly enforcing another stereotype, which is that to appeal to women you need to use a hook that involves beauty.

The campaign went live in October but only faced massive backlash this week when it was picked up on Twitter. Female scientists and engineers mocked the technology company with tweets like:

AJ+ perfectly summarized the outcry in this summary video.

Nobody focused on the fact that IBM’s objective was a valid one. People focused on the execution and the tired strategy of attracting women through the typical gender stereotypes.

I do give the tech giant points for trying, because the video (which is no longer available) does focus on using the hairdryer to “blast away” the stereotypes so I imagine they believed that the irony would have great PR factor for their campaign. Unfortunately for them it did, but just not in the way they intended.

The company has since withdrawn the campaign and apologized for missing the mark this time.

What do you think? Did IBM miss the mark or did people miss the intended irony?