When it comes to marketing our businesses, sometimes we just dive right in. And while this may be slightly better doing nothing, it’s pretty ineffective. And it can be very costly.

Before you start jumping into various marketing activities, you need to ask yourself two very basic questions.

  1. What are we doing?
  2. Why are we doing it?

Strategies vs. tactics

Answering these questions will require putting some thought into your marketing strategy and tactics. Unfortunately, many of us don’t understand what tactics and strategies are or how they differ. In fact, we may not even be aware that there are differences at all!

Tactics and strategies are often used interchangeably, but you can’t sub in one for the other. These things are different. And understanding how will save you tons of marketing time, money, and headaches.

Here’s a quick rundown on the definition of each:

  • Strategies are defined plans you put in place to achieve a major company goal 
    • (Think: IDEAS you'd like to achieve) 
  • Tactics are the specific actions you take to fulfill that plan. 
    • (Think: ACTIVITES to make the idea a reality).

Both should be working together to help you reach a specific business goal.

A quick example

Let’s imagine you want to increase sales at your flooring company.

Goal – 10% percent increase in sales revenue
Strategy – Educate targeted audiences about your various flooring products
Tactic – Write blog posts focused on home remodeling, construction, and DIY projects

Strategy without tactics is just an idea. Tactics without strategy is just activity. And strategy and tactics without a specific goal in mind is nonsense.

But when you get all three of these things aligned, a couple of very powerful things happen.

  1. It becomes very easy to decide if a new idea is worth pursuing. If it doesn’t fit the goal or the strategy, then it gets cut. If it does help achieve the goal, then it’s worth considering as a new tactic for a current strategy or as a new strategy itself.
  2. Your entire staff only spends time working on activities that directly tie back to company goals. Much less time (and money!) is wasted on things that may or may not make sense.

Still not quite sure how this applies? Let’s look at a couple more examples of marketing strategy vs. marketing tactics.

Creating marketing pieces

You’ve decided you want a new brochure. Maybe your company has always had one, or maybe you’ve never had one. Either way, you want an updated piece to show potential clients.

Tactic or strategy?

Tactic. A brochure is not a strategy. A defined sales or recruiting process that is intended to inform and educate prospects or potential employees about the benefits of doing business with your company is a strategy.

A brochure might be a specific step in your process if you’ve determined through research that prospects and/or potential employees like to have a generic, printed brochure they can keep on file.

Social media

You set up a whole group of online social activities – blog, Twitter, Facebook, newsletter. You promote each of your service offerings via all of these channels and mostly overlap the content.

Tactic or strategy?

Tactic. This might seem like a tricky one because it’s such a robust set of activities that is taking a lot of time to manage. But social networks and pushing content are not strategies.

Back to the first example about the flooring company – creating a fully defined education campaign incorporating online and offline activities is a strategy. A key to this one is very clearly defining your multiple audiences and targeting your content to each one vs. just sharing all of your content indiscriminately across all platforms.

Marketing promotion

In order to achieve your growth goals, you need to be proactively promoting your flooring products and services to local customers. You want them to know about the array of knowledge and cutting edge products your team has and how your expertise and options can help your potential clients make the best decision for their home, business, or large scale construction project. This is imperative for improving sales.

You decide you have three distinct audiences – homeowners, business owners, and construction companies. You do your collective research and find that your clients in these three groups look for answers, education, and networking opportunities in three separate places:

  • Online (e.g. Facebook, blogs and specialty sites)
  • At local business events/groups (home shows, business expos, contractor groups)
  • Personal referrals

You also find out the type of information and answers they’re looking for when they’re out searching.

  • You decide that an online presence is a valuable place to be. You create a team to manage this effort directed to your targeted audiences and create an editorial calendar to deliver on the targeted content.
  • You decide that an active presence in the local groups is a valuable place to invest time. You determine who will participate in each and how each will participate.
  • You decide that developing strong connections with happy customers and securing testimonials is a valuable use of time. You decide how you will go about developing and maintaining client relationships, who will ask for testimonials, and how they will be used.

You have a plan for follow-through, accountability on all of the above to keep everyone focused on achieving agency goals.

Tactic or strategy?

Strategy. You defined what you are trying to accomplish with your marketing efforts and why it’s an important use of company resources.

Then, you followed up by defining your target audiences, identifying their needs, and figuring out where they go for information. Based on that information, you developed a plan of what you want to accomplish in each of the targeted areas, who will be involved, what the content will be, and what the timing/frequently will be.

Slow down to move forward

Instead of pushing ahead with random activities because you feel you’ve got to have a presence somewhere, stop and do some strategic planning.

If you don’t have a strategy with tactics tied to a defined company goal, you’ll be wasting staff time and organizational resources managing projects that may not move you any closer to your goals. And you might end up spending a ton of money in the process.

No Diving!

It’s never a good idea to blindly jump into the marketing pool.

  1. Stop.
  2. Make sure the pool is full of water
  3. And that you have a swim suit
  4. And that you know how to swim

You’ll be glad you did.


Photo by Greg Brave

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