Strategy or Tactic?

Developing a common language for your marketing approach.

Make no mistake, there are plenty of so-called marketing “buzzwords” floating out and about. Some are so overused, like “synergy” and “alignment,” that they’ve lost some of their meaning and gravitas.

But, the two words we hear interchanged the most are, “strategy” and “tactics.”

Well, newsflash - they’re not interchangeable. Yes, they work in concert, but strategy and tactics are not the same thing.

Allow us to explain.

So, What Are the Differences?

Historically, the terms “strategy” and “tactics” come from Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.” Yes, a book written about Chinese military tactics sometime around the 5th century BC is applicable in marketing.

But, before we get into the differences between a strategy and tactics, let’s start at the very beginning. Every business is built on the foundation of a goal, generally centered on driving revenue. That goal is where marketing becomes a necessary tool.

If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, did it happen? The same can be said of your business without marketing aid - if you create something - a product, a service, a new widget - and no one knows it exists, the chances of your business thriving are highly unlikely.

Whether you opt to undertake marketing in-house or hire an outside firm (hi there), you still need to go beyond just the goal of, “make more money.” You must have a plan in place to get there. Call it a roadmap, if you will.


We’ll illustrate it this way: In Indianapolis, there is a rapid transit bus line known as the Red Line. Let’s say that you are trying to get to a restaurant in Broad Ripple on the north side from your office downtown. Your strategy might look like this.

Goal: Go to Broad Ripple
Strategy: Take the Red Line
Tactic: Buy a pass
Tactic: Wait at the bus stop
Tactic: Ride the bus to the Broad Ripple stop.

This is Where a Marketing Strategy Comes Into Play

In this example, let’s say your company wants to find new customers, but aren’t really sure where to look. So, the strategy would be to not only find those new customers, but turn them into brand evangelists and repeat customers as well. A strategy is the overarching plan to reach a specific goal.

So, What Does This Mean for Marketing?

Simply put, your strategy is the ”what”. Tactics are the “how.” In the above example, the following tactics could be deployed in order to execute a strategy to identify new audiences:

  • Competitive Research
  • Interviewing Internal Stakeholders
  • Polling Previous Customers
  • Building Audience Profiles from that Research
  • Tailoring Messaging to the updated audience profiles
  • New Branding and Messaging (if needed)
  • Identifying New Channels, whether it’s social or email or kick-starting a blog

There’s surely some we left off, but you get the idea. The tactics are the actions you or your marketing firm will take to bring the strategy to life. Note: tactics should be completed in concert with each other in a chronological order to ensure best case scenarios.

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