To accomplish anything meaningful, you have to have a firm understanding of where you’re going. Strategy and tactics are commonly used in marketing and business—and they are often used interchangeably. But strategy vs. tactics is a fundamental distinction. It’s the difference between knowing what you want to accomplish and how you’re going to accomplish it.
Defining Strategy vs. Tactics
The terms “strategy” and “tactics” both originated as military vocabulary, but their use has become almost ubiquitous across all industries as terms used for setting and achieving goals.
Strategy is a set of goals or a plan—it’s where you want to go. Tactics are specific steps or actions that you take to achieve your strategy. Changing tactics is relatively easy—you can simply stop what you’re doing and try something else (generally speaking). You can change tactics without changing your strategy. On the other hand, strategy is much more difficult to change—it’s like trying to redirect a cruise ship, definitely possible but cumbersome and time-consuming.
To fully understand the difference between strategy and tactics, it might be helpful to visualize an example. Your strategy for your business may be to increase brand awareness and become a household name. The tactics you put into motion to achieve this strategy might include social media campaigns, networking events, billboards, or sponsoring high-profile charity events. They work together to help you achieve your goals, but they are different parts of the machine.
Without a strategy, we’re simply stumbling through life, hoping that what we do will make something good happen. A company without a strategy is like a hiker lost in the woods—no path to follow. On the other hand, without tactics, you’re dooming yourself to a career of big dreams and no results. You can spend as much time as you want strategizing, but until you put that strategy into action with achievable tactics, you can’t move forward.
Creating a Strategy
If you’ve made it this far into the article and you find yourself realizing that you’re swimming in a sea of tactics, with no solid strategy on the horizon, don’t worry! Developing a strategy takes time and effort, but it isn’t intrinsically difficult. There are some straightforward steps you can follow to develop a strategy for your company. And once you’ve developed a strategy, it will inform the types of tactics you choose to employ.
Understanding the Components of a Strategy
There are many different types of strategy—military, organizational, personal, etc.—but they all follow a general set of guidelines. Geoffrey P. Chamberlain first laid out these components of strategy. A strategy is:
- Used within a particular domain (your industry or vertical, for instance)
- Has a single, coherent focus (your vision and mission)
- Lays out a path which can be followed
- Is made up of parts (tactics)
- Each of the tactics works toward the defined focus.
- Recognizes its sphere of influence
- Either develops naturally or is intentionally formed (you want it to be the latter)
Now that you understand what makes up a strategy, we can walk through the practical application of creating one for your company.
Developing a Strategy for Your Company
1. Develop a True Vision
A vision statement is a snapshot of what you want the future to look like. Take time to really envision it and then work backward to figure out what it will take to make that vision a reality.
2. Define Your Competitive Advantage
Pinpoint exactly what sets you apart from the competition. Whether it’s your innovative products or your insanely good customer service, your competitive differentiators will help you set your prices, build your business model, guide your company culture.
3. Clarify Your Targets
Understand who your target market is and then pursue them relentlessly and single-mindedly. Developing a nice or a specialty allows your company to focus its resources. Not sure who your targets are? Look at your best-performing customers or products and see if any patterns emerge.
4. Focus on Growth
Growth means having the resources to invest in talent, technology, and product development. Your company’s strategic plan should identify the segments (and proportion) in which your company can grow. This will help you understand how much you can afford in overhead expenses, CapEx, etc.
5. Make Data-Based Decisions
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the “vision” for your company and make gut-based decisions. The problem is, your gut doesn’t have access to the analytics that your site, social, CRM, and other customer databases do. Take time to understand the numbers and then shift your tactics accordingly. It’s okay if the data sometimes throws you for a loop. A strategy is an ever-evolving entity.
6. Think Long Term
In a post-pandemic world, it’s easier than ever to get sucked into a quarter by quarter cycle. But in the bigger timeline of your company (hopefully), a quarter—even a year—is just the blink of an eye. A strategy should be a five to ten-year plan. That plan will certainly change as technology and politics evolve, but if you’re looking to the future, you’ll always be heading in the right direction.
7. Be Agile
This may seem like a direct contradiction of the previous step, but you can think long-term and remain agile. It’s all about your mindset. Having a strategy in place is like having a digital map. The information may update from time to time, but it’s still your map. Be willing to adapt your strategy as your circumstances evolve, or you’ll end up trying to travel with a decades-old map.
8. Be Inclusive
Diversity means bringing a collection of different perspectives to the planning table. Listening to and implementing different backgrounds and perspectives in your strategic planning means that you’re prepared for a wider variety of problems. This means that you’ll often be more prepared (and therefore more successful) than a more homogenous group.
9. Invest Time and Effort in Research
The best way to get buy-in for your strategy is to involve your leadership team in its creation. Have them dig for and interpret the analytics, ask them to prepare competitor research, and present their findings to the team. This builds trust and gives them ownership of the strategy in a way that encourages real engagement and dedication.
10. Measure Your Results and Adjust
As we’ve discussed, your strategy is just a dream without your tactics. But you can’t manage what you can’t measure! It would be best to create KPIs for each of your tactics to ensure that their performance is measurable. Check-in on those KPIs regularly and adjust as needed to make sure you’re always pursuing your strategic goals.
If you still have questions about strategy vs. tactics, check out our latest VLOG on the subject! And for more articles and tips like these, sign up for iProv’s newsletter! We only reach out with useful, research-based information like what you’ve found here.