When Strategy and Tactics Fight

How well do you understand the difference between strategy and tactics? Do you find them fighting each other for bragging rights? 

At some companies, these two activities collide all the time. Managers want to jump in and solve problems when there isn't consensus about what problem you are trying to solve.

It took me many years to fully understand the difference and to learn to think strategically. By not jumping right into the tactics, I have gained a clearer understand of the problem before figuring out how to solve the problem. The following are 3 ideas to help you be a more strategic thinker as a marketing professional.

ASK THE QUESTION, WHAT PROBLEM ARE WE SOLVING? This is such a great question to ask to help insure that you understand and have an agreement about the real issue at hand. If your team is trying to decide among creating a video, printing a brochure or putting up billboards, you have jumped into the world of tactics. 

A strategic conversation might say: “Our customers see us as not adding real value. How can we change the mind of our customer?”  How you change their mind, plunges you into tactics of how to solve this problem. A simple way to think about this is that your strategy defines the goal that moves you in the direction that you want the company to go. A tactic helps you leverage the resources and tools at hand to get the job done.

RECOGNIZE THAT STRATEGIES LAST LONGER THAN TACTICS:  A strategy is usually a longer-term proposition than a tactic. In some companies, strategies are set for a year or multi-year period.  Tactics tend to be much more short-lived and immediate. So a strategy might be, “we want to influence several key department heads at our customer who influence a purchase”.  A tactic might be an email communication, a mailer or an event tailored to help you connect with one of those people in Q4. 

STRATEGIES ARE GUIDED BY INTELLECT, TACTICS REQUIRE MUSCLE.  A strategy can be based on research, market insights or competitive analysis. It usually comes from understanding market structure using SWOT analysis or other similar tools. It may blend gut instinct with some specific market data. 

"Taking the river is a strategy. The boat is a tactic."

A strategic idea might be that our company’s products are only used by the very high end of the market because we are perceived as expensive. A tactical approach to solving this problem is to take what we understand from the research and find ways to dispel this myth. 

For example, a tactic might be to put together on our website a dozen testimonials of modest, small-mid size companies who use our product as they tell their story why they think our products are reasonably priced.

Breathe and Ask a Question
It is so easy to be part of meetings where you jump into solving problems with a stream of consciousness of ideas. My recommendation is take a deep breath and ask everyone to write down what problem you are all trying to solve. You may find that not everyone is trying to solve the same strategic problem and your team is just throwing ideas at the wind. 

Until you get agreement and have a clearly defined problem, you are wasting time on a laundry list of tactics. Learn to think strategically before you start throwing tactical punches. 

Cartoon by Rich Goildel


Need help sorting the wheat from the chaff? Contact me through this link on Clarity where you can learn more about marketing coaching by the moment. 

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