Back in my corporate days I was always dictated with the view that marketing strategy was always superior to tactics, where I ended up spending endless hours in the planning phase and building sizeable budgets so we could throw a tonne of money at the execution.
Even many textbooks reinforce this bias about strategy’s reign, which is no surprise. The so-called experts write text books, and most professors and lecturers think that working on strategy sounds like a more honourable use of one’s gifts than toiling with tactics.
To go back one step for small business owners, a marketing strategy can be defined as a marketing plan in this instance. An effective marketing plan will act as a reference document to help you to execute your marketing strategy. It will also help you to develop a methodical approach to creating services and products that satisfy your customers’ needs. When writing a marketing plan you need to be clear about your marketing objectives and how you’re going to achieve them. A good marketing plan sets realistic and measurable objectives, includes budgets and action plans, and allocates responsibilities.
A marketing tactic on the other hand, are all the initiatives you have set in place to help you fulfil the objectives of the marketing plan. These include Email marketing, advertising, branding, Telesales, Facebook competition… and the list goes on. And when you start implementing your marketing tactics, you may for example split test the ad you’re running in the local paper simply by changing the offer, or even just your headline, to see which ad delivers the biggest return on investment.
In my experience, tactics drive strategy just as much as strategy drives tactics. They’re not the end result of a marketing plan being implemented, but they continue to shape one. Sometimes, your marketing strategy evolves from a Ready, Fire, Aim approach, where you sometimes have to take a shot, listen, respond, then lead again. There are not always textbooks to help and guide you with what works and doesn’t work in the market. And this is why you need to get out there and test the market.
An example of tactics redefining strategy can be seen with Facebook Advertising, as one of my favourite travel clients experienced so much success with promoting holiday packages to Asia through this channel, we decided to make this a key product category for their business. We then further developed and expanded the Asia product range to promote on Facebook, while exploring new market channels, leading to great success and reshaping the original marketing strategy we devised.
Tactics can sometimes be at the end, the middle and even the beginning. They also play a critical role in information gathering. You do something and learn from it and it changes the way think. By contrast, you can’t learn anything from just writing a marketing strategy. It just sits there pretending it knows what it’s talking about, while your tactics are out there getting battle-tested by the market.
Now if you’re one to get pulverised by indecision as to what tactic you should be working on, then I suggest you whip out a post-it note and stick it to your computer with the words following words printed in bold: Do anything. It’s better to focus on one or two marketing strategies and continually test them rather than do nothing at all.
Article written by Craig Pethebridge, who was inspired by a great author: Harry Beckworth, who wrote the must-read book, Selling the Invisible, for anyone involved in services marketing.