The difference between tactics and strategy in marketing

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The internet is full of tips, tricks and tactics for how to get ahead with your online business. But there’s a difference between strategy and tactics. For example, these would be tactics:

  • “Have you tried a welcome mat? Those can 10x your subscribers!”
  • “Did you add social media buttons before and after your content? Those can double your shares!”
  • “Are you using embedded tweets for your social proof? Those can skyrocket trust!”

The problem with these tips is that  they’re surface level. And this is why most people think marketing doesn’t work. Because if you just focus on surface level shit, you’ll, at-best, only see surface level results.

Having a mishmash of try-and-fail tactics isn’t doing what you’re marketing any justice at all. In fact, it’s probably doing more harm than good.

Yet most people lack a strategy for their marketing efforts – the “why” of what they’re doing, as it relates to a bigger plan. Those tactics listed above aren’t necessarily wrong or evil or ineffective, but they should be the final action that results from both a greater plan and a reason for them happening in the first place.

Instead of chasing the latest and greatest tactics, consider first creating a strategy for your marketing. As in, what’s the ultimate purpose and objective for what you’re doing? Who do you want to reach?And how will what you’re doing actually and honestly help them?

A strategy is the vision, or guiding light, for every action you take to get word out about what you do. A tactic on the other hand, is one single action you take. Tactics can come and go, based on trends or algorithms, whereas a strategy tends to stay the same.

Strategy is why you do something, tactics are how you accomplish each step you want to take. The two definitely have to work in tandem, but things tend to fall completely apart if you’re only trying single, isolated tactics. Just like they would if you had a strategic plan but didn’t do a damn thing to implement any part of it.

For example:

Strategy:

  • Become a known industry leader in teaching web designers how to charge more money for their services.

Tactics:

  • Build a targeted mailing list of designers, organized by where they currently are in their journey and what they’ve purchased.
  • Drive designers to specific landing pages through outreach and interviews.
  • Use a welcome mat for first-time visitors only (i.e. don’t keep showing it over and over again to returning visitors) with a great offer to join the mailing list.
  • Create content that’s easily shared on social media and on platforms like Designer News, Hacker News, graphic design subreddits, etc.

See the difference? A strategy is the broad strokes of what you want to accomplish, and tactics are the specific things you try to get there. Without a strategy all those tactics are ok, but there’s nothing guiding them.

Strategies are often sequential too, and work backwards:

  • I want to sell more of my product.
  • To sell more, I need a bigger mailing list of the specific type of people that would want to buy it.
  • To build a bigger list, I need to drive more targeted traffic to my site.
  • To drive more targeted traffic and audience growth, I need to show up in places those people are currently spending their time.
  • To show up in those places, I need to do outreach so I can be interviewed or create guest content.

And so on, down the line. You start with your objectives and then work backwards through the steps. And then each step can have a tactic associated with it. And of course, if that tactic doesn’t work, which happens with tactics sometimes, the strategy doesn’t change, just the tactic does. This is where marketing can be fun, and it’s why you don’t hate marketing, you hate what you think marketing is (it’s a process, not a sleaze-ball tactic).

The other benefit of having an actual strategic reason for the tactics you employ is that you can focus on one at a time. If you’re trying to do everything at the same time, you’ll run into several problems.

First, it’s hard to measure specifics when you’re trying everything. Which of the tactics are producing the results you’re seeing? If you aren’t able to tell, then how will you ever learn what works best for your business?

Second, it’s hard to do anything well when you’re trying to do everything. A good plan implies simplicity, and simplicity requires focus. Do one thing at a time as it makes sense for where you’re at in your strategic process.

Thankfully, doing one thing at a time, in a specific order, means you can create a process from it. That process can then be reused over and over—with both new products and relaunches of existing products. The process itself becomes a product asset, which you can then automate parts of.

So before you start trying (or keep trying) random marketing tactics you read on industry blogs, think about why you’re doing them. Are they a part of your overall strategic plan? If you don’t have an answer for that, start thinking about your strategy first.

Posted in Growth hacking