Marketing Tactic vs Strategy

Strategy is one of those words that gets thrown around a lot. Too much. Especially when it comes to marketing.

Real strategy is, of course, crucial for effective marketing. Marketing tactics that are mistaken for strategy, on the other hand, put businesses on a path of misguided investments, missed opportunities and depressing results.

Increasingly, we’re seeing tactics being mistaken for strategy. And it’s a real problem for small businesses.

Facebook isn’t a strategy

Let’s start with a quick definition of terms. Marketing tactics are the pieces of your campaign – channels, platforms, techniques and so on. AdWords, social media, blogging, direct mail, carrier pigeon missives, firing a shotgun outside of a bowling alley and shouting “Get your bowling!” – these are all examples of tactics.

Your strategy is a comprehensive roadmap that starts with your business objectives and guides your marketing operation toward making these goals reality. This is a plan built on market and competitive research that informs your positioning, messaging and branding and – finally – your tactics, those mechanisms by which you execute your strategy.

Important distinction: a strategy is not a list of tactics; a list of tactics is a list of tactics. While strategies can take a variety of shapes and formats, there’s no strategy if the tactics aren’t tied to documented behaviors of your target market. A good strategy document will answer the questions:

  • What is the high level objective of the plan?
  • What are your SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timebound) goals?
  • Who is your audience and what do we know about them?
  • Who are your competitors and what do we know about them?
  • Given what you know, what are the best opportunities to compete?
  • Based on this, what messages, tactics and channels should you use?
  • What is the project plan and timeline for execution to maximize the efficiency of each tactic?
  • What are the expected outcomes?
  • What key metrics will be used to measure results against your goals?

At some point in the last decade, with the influx of new technologies, social media platforms and online channels, marketing has become increasingly focused on and infatuated with tactics. Ask someone in my field about the state of marketing and you’re likely to hear a whole lot of talk about mobile, social, The Internet of Things, predictive marketing, big data, virtual reality and maybe, if they’re feeling really spicy that day, even something about augmented reality .

All of these are tactics.

For some businesses, these tactics present real opportunities and should absolutely be part of their plan. But there’s a real danger when these things get talked about like they’re strategies, because then they become the starting point for marketing plans while real strategy falls out of the picture. And this is exactly what’s happening.

The marketing field is now full of Digital Strategists, Social Media Strategists, Inbound Strategists, PPC Strategists, and Facebook Advertising Strategists. Seminars are given on Snapchat strategies and LinkedIn strategies. (Pro Tip: LinkedIn Strategy #1 – pick a good headshot!)

People like to think that by using the word “strategy” often, they’ll sound more strategic – which we like because it makes us think about smart-people-stuff like Sun Tzu, chess and defeating the Germans. But Facebook is not, on its own, a strategy – regardless of how many times that word is used.

Yes, the range of available tactics is changing, and they’re worthy of attention and consideration. But, it’s important to remember that the buyer’s journey hasn’t changed</em>; there are simply new ways in which to get in front of buyers.

What this means for small businesses

If the subtle undercurrents haven’t made it apparent by now, I find this whole trend annoying. But it’s more than annoying; it presents an existential threat to small businesses. If you have precious, limited resources, you can’t afford to invest time and money on ill-advised tactics masquerading as strategies.

So, the next time someone’s recommending a “strategy” for your business, give that word some good, hard scrutiny. What makes it strategic? How does it help you achieve your objectives?

If the answer to these questions isn’t clear, you might as well be following Homer’s approach to marketing.