The Difference Between Marketing Strategy and Marketing Tactics

The Difference Between Marketing Strategy and Marketing Tactics

For many entrepreneurs the difference between marketing strategy and marketing tactics is a bit of a blur. It is also one of the most important differentiations business owners need to make.

When I ask a client about their current strategy, many times our conversation skydives into stories of ineffective Facebook ads, how they blew a few hundred dollars on a search ad that only got one unqualified phone call, or how they started a newsletter campaign but ended it after a few months because it was too difficult to maintain. These are all very valid problems that need to be addressed.

However, the machine gun manner in which these problems are rattled off tells me there is chaos where there should be order. This laundry list of problems is a list of tactics. Tactics that aren’t working. This indicates to me that the problem is not necessarily the tactics themselves, but a lack of strategy behind them.

So I’d like to address the difference between marketing strategy and marketing tactics, and how they are linked together in digital marketing.

Marketing Strategy

A digital marketing strategy is the backbone to all your online efforts. It aligns directly with your objectives, defines your marketing approach, is focused on the future and answers the questions of what you are trying to achieve and why.

Your digital marketing strategy should answer questions like:

  • What digital trends exist in our industry and what do we think the future will look like?
  • How will be grow our market share with the funding we have available?
  • Where will our target demographic be in the next 10 years and what will be the best way to reach them?
  • What resources will we need to be able to execute on our strategy?
  • What milestones will we need to achieve in 1 year? 3 years? 5 years? 10 years?

Note that a strategy does not specify the details of how to accomplish these objectives.

That would be thinking too close to the present. A company’s digital strategy is the vision that paints a picture of the future. It is a reflection of the company’s underlying goals and mission.

Business owners need to be able to “refocus their periscope” to the short, mid, and long-term when the situation calls for it. When you are putting out fires in day to day operations, you are focused on short-term problems. When we are talking about strategy, we need to refocus our periscope all the way out to the long term.

Sadly, 50% of organizations do not have a defined digital marketing strategy.

These companies are charging out into the battle field with their swords drawn, with no idea of where the enemy is. In fact, they don’t even know why they are in the field at all. Or if there is even going to be a battle.

The failure to have a defined strategy points to a failure at the leadership level. C-level executives and Directors must keep their eyes focused on the long-term strategy even when there are immediate fires extinguish. They also must understand when they are lacking a strategy altogether!

If you don’t have a strategy you will never be able to forecast your future. You won’t know if your current efforts are effective. And most importantly, you won’t know if your ship is sinking until it is too late.

Marketing Tactics

Marketing tactics are the more granular means by which you will accomplish the objectives described in your strategy. While strategy is focused long-term, tactics are focused more on the present and near future, and are very focused on a single objective.

It is a step in a direction towards a goal. Tactics work hand in hand with the strategy—communicating the risks, accomplishments and failures along the way.

Tactics are very action focused and would look like:

  • Implementing a local SEO campaign to target customers within a 20 mile radius of our geographic location
  • Sending out weekly newsletters that includes most popular products with discounts to interested customers
  • Utilizing Tumblr as a secondary channel for communicating with a specific, younger demographic.
  • Offering starter subscriptions to customers for free while charging for higher usage accounts
Source: UX Matters

Credit: UX Matters

Often this is where struggling business owners are focused, which is why it comes up so quickly in conversations. “I need a new website”, “nobody is reading my newsletter” or “I should post more to Facebook” are common concerns. While these issues are valid, the underlying “why” is where they should be looking.

Why do you need a new website? Is it because nobody is reaching out to you on the contact form? How do you know the website is the problem and not the lack of traffic that is coming to it? Perhaps your website is fine but your SEO is lacking. And will more posts on Facebook actually achieve your underlying goal (“more sales”)? Not if your conversion rate is still 0%!

Feedback Loop

It is important to understand that tactics can (and will) fail to meet your expectations. That is okay. You may try a tactic and find that your customers aren’t interacting with it as well as you anticipated. Or perhaps you wrongly assumed changing a particular tactic would resolve a problem, but in the end it did not have an impact. Or maybe the tactic worked for years and the market has changed.

But, in order to continue moving toward your business goals, you need continually monitor the success of your tactics. You must ensure your tactics are aligned with one of your business goals. If you decide to undergo a website redesign, how will you measure its success? Reduced bounce rate? Increased page views per visit? Creative agencies have a tendency to overlook quantitative metrics. We all love a fresh new look and a sleek new design. But if you haven’t set specific expectations for it, how will you be able to objectively measure it?

If you are constantly checking in on your tactics and measuring their impact, you are able to adjust. Sometimes this can be as simple as changing a tactic. In critical cases it could mean your strategy is ineffective and you may need to revamp a major portion if it.

The main point is to always align your actions with your strategy and business goals. Then hold yourself accountable to meeting those goals. If you find yourself sitting up at night thinking of the huge list of marketing tactics that need to be addressed, you may want to consider if you have a solid strategy behind your actions.

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