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Marketing 360® Blog

Marketing Strategy vs Tactics

Post By Scott Yoder | eCommerce Marketing

In marketing, it’s critical that you understand the difference between strategy and tactics. Here’s the breakdown.

A serious mistake new businesses make in marketing is to confuse strategy with tactics.

Actually, that’s not accurate. They don’t confuse the two. Instead what they do is ignore strategy and jump right into tactics.

Either way, it’s certain that this is a costly, time-wasting mistake you can’t afford to make.

Here’s how not to.

Know the Difference

What is the difference between strategy and tactics?

Strategy is the big picture. It’s what guides your underlying purpose.

Say you got diagnosed with high cholesterol. You have to create a strategy that alters your lifestyle. You plan to change your diet, exercise more, and reduce stress in your life. These are strategic goals.

Tactics are specific actions you take based on your strategy.

When you replace bacon with fruit at breakfast, that’s a tactic. When you commit to going to the gym 3 nights a week, that’s a tactic.

A marketing strategy is an overall blueprint for what you’re doing. It’s the high-level view of how your offer fits into the market place. It outlines the value you deliver and the audience you’ll target.

Tactics are the individual activities you execute that support your strategy, such as designing a website or creating a Facebook Ads campaign.

Shiny Object Syndrome

So why do so many business owners jump into marketing tactics without developing a clear strategy?

One of the biggest reason is shiny object syndrome (SOS).

Online marketing is awash with fancy tools that let everyone create really cool content. It’s also full of platforms that quickly publish this content with a polished presentation, often for free.

These resources have the allure of a shiny, lovely object you just want to hold.

Today’s business website templates cause SOS. It used to take months and tens of thousands of dollars to develop a top-notch website design. Today, any business can have a gorgeous looking design completed quickly at a nominal cost.

Blog platforms cause SOS. You used to have to submit to established publications and deal with editorial gatekeepers to publish an article. Today, you have your own publishing tool. You write something up, click a button, and wallah, you’re published!

Video and photography technology cause SOS. We all walk around with equipment in our pockets that make creating videos or talking pictures so easy it’s become second nature. Easy to use editing tools turn everyone into pros with visual mediums.

Social media causes SOS. You can reach out to people with just a click. Share content, opinions, and even personal stories. And what an advertising allure…so many potential buyers are on social media.

Online search causes SOS. All those people out there who should be looking for what you offer. Just create the right keyword targets and ads and they’ll be knocking at your door.

Last, automation is starting to cause severe SOS. Now machine learning is doing even more of the work, making it uber-efficient to execute marketing.

However, you use these resources at the tactical level. They’re powerful communication tools, but they only present and amplify your message.

The Messenger Isn’t the Message

Think of these tactical marketing tools as a microphone. They carry the speaker’s message, but that only means something if the message has value for the audience.

The basis of a marketing strategy is understanding how the value you offer connects to the needs of a specific group of people. It’s also about interpreting the situation so you know what affects their decision-making process.

First and foremost, your strategy outlines why people will buy your product. It details what your solution is and how it solves a problem people have, care about, and will pay to resolve.

Intrinsic to this is understanding who your audience is. You can’t communicate effectively unless you know who you’re talking to. It’s vital that you understand why they need your solution. Whether or not they know they have the problem you solve (often, with new product ideas, they don’t) has a major impact on how you implement tactics.

You also must understand their decision-making process. Intrinsic to this is knowing what their options are, which includes competitive analysis. You can’t make the argument that you’re the best choice if you don’t know what the choices are.

As you develop your strategy, you’ll execute one tactical piece, which is to develop your unique value proposition (UVP). This is a brief piece of content that encapsulates what your offer is all about. It specifically states the value you deliver, clarifies how you solve your customer’s problem, and distinguishes you from your competition.

Your UVP is your manifesto. Ingrained in it is the very reason you’re in business. It directly communicates the value you deliver and, in doing so, implies why someone should be willing to pay for that value.

The Cart Before the Horse (Or, SOS Before UVP)

What we’ve outlined here is the cause of serious misdirection in marketing execution. The allure of technology causes you to chase tactics before you have a UVP to base your messaging on.

It results in:

  • Advertising campaigns that target general audiences unlikely to be persuaded into action.
  • Superficial website designs weighed down with muddled, weak copy.
  • Bland social media feeds filled with unoriginal, perfunctory content.
  • Videos that are vague to the point of being meaningless and the use of fake stock photos instead of genuine, real-life photography.
  • Chasing keywords that are all but impossible to rank for instead of identifying niche topics that can be dominated.
  • Lazy, push-button marketing that latches onto automation while missing competitive opportunities.
  • Vague, unconvincing, confusing messaging that does nothing to shift the thinking of the group of people you must influence.
horse before the cart

Strategy Doesn’t Mean Complicated

Another reason businesses skip creating a strategy is they think it’s a grand, complicated process beyond their vision or ability. They believe they must create a massive document outlining their strategy, replete with graphs, citations, and endless analysis.

Not true. Consider this example.

We did a marketing consultation with a therapist starting her practice. When we asked what services she provided, she rattled off a list of just about every type of therapy there is.

We explained that being a generalist is hard to brand. So we started asking more about her specific skill sets and interests.

Turned out what she really loved was family therapy, and also she had a lot of experience dealing with technology. As we spoke, a strategic concept developed.

She decided to brand herself as a family therapist focusing on helping families deal with digital media. This way she could focus on issues like cyberbulling, sexting, and screen-time abuse.

Just like that, she had a strategy. She could dial-in a specific, crisp value proposition. Her specific expertise gave her a big competitive advantage.

Tactics fell into place. Suddenly she had a slew of interesting, important topics to create content about. Her advertising was more niche and therefore more affordable. There was low-hanging SEO fruit, ready to be plucked.

And best of all, her solution became more focused and credible.

You Need Both

You need to have a strategy to guide your tactical execution. Otherwise, you end up in the trap of busy-work, checking off tactics with no sense of how they’ll work to achieve your goals.

But of course, your strategy must have follow-through. Tactics are the actions that get your message out there. Without a tactical plan, you sink into analysis paralysis. Another unfortunate mistake is to have a great strategic idea but never doing the execution needed to manifest a presence in the market.

However, the strategy must come first, otherwise the tactics will be misguided and your execution will be riddled with wasted effort.

Avoid the lure of SOS and remember that nowadays, coming up with a marketing strategy and viable product is the hard part. As automation increases, marketing tactics will be that much easier to execute.

It’s the strategic marketer that has the advantage now. Spend a lot of time developing your idea before you design any web content, advertise on social media, or write any copy.