Strategy v Tactics: You need to know the difference

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Strategy v Tactics in Digital marketing

Creating and running a thriving business can sometimes feel like you’re fighting a war with no easy way to win. History tells is that strategy and tactics are vital to success, but how can we apply this to our modern marketing practices? The difference between strategy and tactics in digital marketing can be confusing, but mastering these two ideas will help ensure any marketing tactics you try have a greater chance of helping you achieve your business goals.

The Short Version:

No time to read the finer details? This is the handy-dandy dot point list for you! Just know this: Goals lead to strategies, and strategies lead to tactics. 

Goals:

  • What your business aims overall to achieve
  • The BIG PICTURE

Strategies:

  • The plans made to achieve your goal
  • Your general ideas and efforts

Tactics:

  • The specific actions you take to support your strategies
  • Single objectives that can be measured

Let’s dive a bit deeper

Easy right? Goals are your big business dreams, strategies are your ideas on how to achieve your goals, and tactics are the specific activities that you’ll do to execute your strategies.

These abstract terms are a little hard to picture on their own, so let’s make up some ‘real world’ examples to help you visualize their meanings.

Strategy v tactics Example 1

You are a knight-commander in a medieval war, looking to take over an enemy castle. It’s too strongly defended for a head-on attack, so what can you do?

Your GOAL

  • take over the castle

Your STRATEGY

  • deny the enemy the supplies they need

Your TACTICS 

  • Poison the castle’s water supply
  • Cut off neighboring supply routes to stop food coming in
  • Guard all entry and exits of the castle to stop the enemy from leaving to gather supplies

This way, your enemies in the castle will have no food or water, and so will not be able to stay in the castle for long. They will need to come out, and when they do, you will be able to achieve your goal; taking over the castle!

…that was a bit grim, wasn’t it? How about something a little more modern?

Strategy v Tactics Example 2

You are the coach of your local basketball team, and you want your team to start winning some more games. You notice your teammates aren’t super strong or big compared to the other teams, but they’re quick. How can you improve your team’s chances by playing to your strengths?

Your GOAL

  • Win at least 2/3 of your games this season

Your STRATEGY

  • Increase your team’s agility on the court

Your TACTICS

  • Improve your team’s fitness with cardio exercises so they can run rings around the opponents
  • Practice footwork drills to get quickly and safely around the opponents
  • Emphasize fast, short and accurate passing so other teams can’t intercept

This way, even teams that are tall and strong won’t be able to keep up with your own team – you can score goals before they even know what’s happening!

But maybe sports aren’t your thing? How about the one thing we all know and love – a marketing example!

Strategy v Tactics Example 3

You are a small business owner selling homemade candles, and you want to increase your online sales via social media. Your products should be appealing to all ages but you are struggling to draw in a younger crowd.

Your GOAL

  • Increase sales and website traffic from consumers aged between 16-30

Your STRATEGY

  • Create content on platforms popular with young people, like TikTok, Tumblr and Instagram

Your TACTICS

  • Film your candle making process in bite-size clips for TikTok and set the clips to music that suits each candle’s unique scent
  • Take high-quality photos of your most popular candles in gorgeous settings for Instagram with appropriate hashtags
  • Upload pictures of some of your more unique-smelling candles in funny places to Tumblr

You’ll attract a range of young people by appealing to these three different platforms, and hopefully, that interest will translate into sales from your website.

Still here? Looks like you’re in for the long haul then! Read on and let’s get into the nitty gritty of digital marketing strategy and tactics.

The Long Version: Strategies

Your strategies are, in the long term, more important than your tactics. Knowing your goal and how to achieve it is vital to making your tactics feasible – jumping straight from your goal to your tactics will lead to tactics that just won’t work, and will be a wasted effort on your part.

To create feasible strategies, do your research and find out what the needs of your industry are. Being able to fill those needs will require some clever tactics, but to create those tactics you’ll need a clear set of strategies to fulfill.

Try to answer questions like; what kinds of demographic am I appealing to, now and in the future? What kinds of resources and funding do I have at my disposal? What is trending right now in my market? These will help you create feasible strategies that, when achieved, really boost your business.

When you make your strategies, it also won’t hurt to think about what NOT to do. Outline what you know won’t work for your business and make to stay away from them as you plan and execute your strategies.

The Long Version: Tactics

Tactics are the fun part of marketing – the individual actions you’ll be taking to increase website traffic, bounce rates, clicks, likes or whatever it is your business objectives are. Make sure your tactics suit the audience you’re appealing to; email campaigns may suit a certain demographic while social media posts may appeal to another. 

Make certain you have sound strategies before you execute your tactics. You can get by with mediocre tactics if you have strong strategies, but even the flashiest, whiz-bang tactics won’t work without their strategic foundation. For example, creating a hilarious TikTok video for your business won’t mean squat if you haven’t thought about when to post it, who you’re appealing to and what you’re actually trying to achieve with it. But a rather ‘meh’ TikTok can still generate interest if it’s posted with laser-point accuracy to a keen and interested audience.

Sometimes, your tactics won’t work, and that’s okay! What will and won’t work for your business will depend on a wide range of factors like your product and demographic, and what’s most important is that YOU know it hasn’t worked. Tactics must be continually monitored to see if they are functioning the way you want to, and if they’re not? Adjust and start again. If you’ve made your tactics with your business strategy in mind, chances are it just needs a few tweaks before it does the job.

It’s All Coming Together!

So, now we know that to make great tactics, you need some sound strategies. And to create strong strategies, you’ll need clear goals! It will often take multiple strategies to achieve your goals, so don’t be afraid to think big and create a bunch of clever strategies with even craftier tactics. Do the research, keep your goals in mind as you work, and soon you’ll find the difference between strategy and tactics is what helped you to create a winning business plan!

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Martin Carlill

Martin Carlill

Martin is founder & lead instructor at Relearn. Martin is a digital marketing specialist with over 20 years experience across inbound marketing strategy, eCommerce, digital strategy, social media, SEO, SEM and content marketing.

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