Sometimes we just start digging. We get dirty. And we're up to our knees or even our head before we stop and ask "What are we doing? And why?!"

And that's when it's time to talk about strategy and tactics.

I see a lot of confusion about the difference between the two. And most of the time it’s not because people don’t understand the difference, it’s because they’re not even aware there are differences.
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).

Example:

Goal - $5 million agency revenue
Strategy – Educate targeted audiences on how to improve their businesses/jobs
Tactic – Write blog posts focused on safety management and HR operations

In order to achieve your desired results, you must have all three of these clearly defined and actively in place. Strategy without tactics is just an idea. Tactics without strategy is just activity. When you do get all three aligned, a couple of very powerful things happen.

  1. It becomes very easy to decide if a new idea is worth pursuing. It if doesn’t fit the goal or the strategy, then it gets cut. If it does help the agency 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 the company goals.

I'm going to focus this particular discussion on marketing for our examples. As we’ve established in previous posts, getting started with marketing is a common place for agencies to be, and it’s often new territory. Many don’t understand the scope of options, which questions to ask, or how to effectively incorporate it into business processes. It’s more common to see a group of fragmented activities, which may, or may not, be getting the agency closer to its goals.

Let’s look at a couple of examples of strategies vs. tactics

Example 1

You’ve heard you should be online, so you might say, “let’s set up a Facebook page.”

Is this a tactic or strategy?

Tactic. Facebook is not a strategy. Having a fully defined education campaign incorporating online and offline activities is a strategy. That strategy might include a Facebook presence if you determine through research that your target audience turns to Facebook for educational material.

Example 2

You’ve decided you want to create a brochure. Maybe your agency has always had one, or maybe the owner used one when she/he was on the front lines back in the day.

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.

Example 3

You set up a whole group of online social activities – blog, Twitter, Facebook, newsletter. You promote each of your service offerings (personal lines, P&C, employee benefits, financial services, etc.) 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 Example 1 – 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.

Example 4

Last one. In order to achieve your aggressive growth goals, you need to be proactively promoting your services to local businesses. You want them to know about the array of knowledge your team has and how that knowledge, combined with your processes, can help them improve their businesses. This is imperative for improving sales efforts.

You decide you have three distinct audiences – HR managers, Risk Managers, and CEOs. 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. LinkedIn, blogs and specialty sites)
  • At local business events/groups (e.g. CEO forum, SHRM, Contractors group)
  • From their attorneys and accountants

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 local attorneys and accountants is a valuable use of time. You decide who will pursue each niche and how you will go about developing and maintaining each relationship.

You have follow-through, accountability, and an expectation from the top of the agency that this is mission-critical work to focus everyone and achieve 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 agency resources. You defined your audiences, identified their individual needs, learned where they are going for information, and you developed a plan of what you intend to do and 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 speed up

It’s really true. Instead of pushing ahead with an ad-hoc group of activities because you feel you’ve got to have a presence somewhere, it’s better to just stop and do some strategic planning. If you don’t have a strategy, which ties to a defined company goal, you are wasting a lot of your staff’s time managing projects that may or may not be moving you closer to your company vision.

With an average payroll efficiency factor of 63%, there is enough wasted time in the day that you don’t need to have your staff pursuing activities that don’t directly tie to the company goals.

  1. Stop.
  2. Define your agency goals.
  3. Determine what the major strategies are that will help you get there.
  4. Work with your staff to create the specific tactics that they’ll be implementing and maintaining in pursuit of your strategic vision.

Photo by Lollie-Pop.

Insurance Agency Marketing Assessment