Drawing the line between strategy and tactics
Drawing the line between strategy and tactics

By on in Strategy

Drawing the line between strategy and tactics

Strategy is a term that gets tossed around a lot in marketing meetings. There’s talk of Facebook Ads strategy and email marketing strategy and blogging strategy.

If these phrases sound familiar, I’ve got bad news for you. You’re not talking about strategy at all.

The email newsletters you send and keywords you optimize for are tactics, not strategies. Strategy is the way you are going to use your business’s unique attributes to achieve an objective. Tactics are how you get there. By conflating strategy and tactics in your marketing discussions, you’re missing out on the opportunity to create a framework to guide your tactical moves.

Without that framework, you’re left rudderless, throwing tactical ideas at the wall and hoping a handful of them stick.


Defining strategy

According to Oxford Languages, a strategy is “a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.”

Marketing strategy, then, is your raison d’etre. To set your strategy, start by asking questions like:

  • What is the business objective you are trying to achieve with this effort?
  • What will your client or customer have to do in order for you to achieve that?
  • What insights do you have into your audience that will help you drive that behavior?
  • Can you break down your objective into measurable, achievable goals?

That’s why saying your strategy is to run Facebook ads is a recipe for disaster. Who are you reaching? What do you know about them that could drive them to act? How are you going to speak to that insight in your ads? And what happens after they click?

Without a strategy that you’re running the ads in service to, they’re almost guaranteed to flounder. The ads are just as likely to fail as they are to succeed because there’s no bigger purpose to their existence.


Achieving strategy through tactics

If strategy is where you’re headed, tactics are how you get there. Strategy is how you’re going to use what you know about your opponent to beat them, while tactics are each individual move you make on the board.

If strategy is where you’re headed, tactics are how you get there. Strategy is how you win the chess game, while tactics are each individual move you make on the board.

Once you’ve defined your strategy to align with your company’s broader goals, you can begin to drill down into tactics. A good tactical marketing plan is like an onion—it’s got lots of layers.

Defining your tactics is about breaking each portion of your strategy into goals, then breaking those goals into their smallest essential pieces.

For example:

Objective: Reach 20% market saturation among widget buyers, aged 30 to 49

Strategy: Increase sales by building awareness and brand preference; position ourselves as the premium widget provider by educating our market on the long term benefits of upgrading from low-cost, disposable widgets.

Goals: Raise brand awareness 15% over last year, increase demand at retail widget locations,

Tactics: Media buys in trade publications, direct outreach to widget distributors, consumer incentive program

This is a time-consuming process, and there are many moving parts to consider. Sometimes it makes sense to bring in an agency to help you set strategic direction. The up-front investment can be worth it, in the long run, to ensure all of your marketing efforts are working in service to your organization’s overall strategy and goals.


Keeping everything on track

With dozens of tactical moving parts, you must create a framework to help your team visualize how the parts work in service of the whole. Enter key performance indicators (or KPIs). Creating a dashboard to track several leading indicator metrics continuously ensures your strategy remains on track and empowers you to course-correct if things begin to go awry.

The key here is to select the right metrics. Many are tempted to lean on so-called vanity metrics, such as likes or followers that can make you feel good when they swell but don’t ultimately tell you anything about how your work correlates to your ultimate goal: more customers and sales. Try tracking some of these KPIs instead if you want to understand the fruits of your labor.

When it comes to tracking KPIs, less is more. You’re better off focusing on a handful of meaningful KPIs rather than dozens of fluff ones. Too many facts and figures, and you may miss the forest for the trees.

The other critical component of KPI-tracking is a steady cadence. Check in with your KPI dashboard once a month. By maintaining a consistent picture of where your KPIs stand, you allow yourself to identify changes in their early stages.


If you’ve been using strategy and tactics interchangeably when speaking about your marketing efforts, now’s the time to break the habit. How we talk about things indicates how we’ll act, and it’s critical to make a delineation between strategy and tactics in your marketing.

If this whole strategy/tactics thing is news to you, consider reaching out to an agency to get the tools you need to chart a steady course for your marketing efforts. It can make all the difference in the long-term growth of your brand.