man jumping over cliff

Someone once asked me, what is the most crucial marketing problem that our company solves? I thought I would share the answer with you. Surprisingly, organizations of all sizes and in all industries make it frequently. A 2020 research study by Smart Insights showed that nearly half of organizations make the mistake of jumping directly to marketing tactics.

The point is, a successful marketing program has two essential elements: 

  1. a marketing strategy, and
  2. marketing tactics. 

What is the difference, which comes first, and do you really need both? Let’s take a look, and find out.

What is a marketing strategy?

A marketing strategy is a written document, a game plan with a series of actions or steps centered around achieving specific and measurable goals. It’s a roadmap that outlines what needs to happen to achieve a desired outcome, during a set period of time, within a specified budget.

A marketing strategy is based on research, data, and understanding the needs of the target markets. It will identify what tactics will be implemented to reach the goal, in a way that supports a brand.

What are marketing tactics?

Marketing tactics, on the other hand, are tools such as a social media program, email campaign, website, podcast, YouTube video, and so on. It’s the tangible thing that you can see and hear.

“Tactics before strategy is the noise before defeat.”

All too often, organizations are looking for a shortcut. Or worse, they believe they don’t need a documented, well-defined marketing strategy. Or even worse than that, it’s in their head and assume everyone on the team knows it. So, they jump directly into tactics.

Here is how this approach usually plays out. The organization creates a marketing tactic or a series of tactics, or they merely copy what they did last time. Then they go about their normal course of business thinking that the tactics will bring results. Going this route has a high probability that money is wasted, and what’s more costly, time is lost. The quote above from Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War, sums up what happens when an organization puts tactics first, or eliminates the all-important step of creating the strategy.

If you remove the marketing strategy and rush directly to tactics, it might feel good that your organization is doing something, however, results are often minimal, at best. Worse of all, it adds a level of unnecessary risk, missed opportunities, and wasted cost.

What goes into a marketing strategy?

A marketing strategy does not need to be overly complex. Yet it does need to be well thought out and clearly written. Where do you start, and what do you include? Let’s take a look.

These five areas are an excellent way to start creating a marketing strategy:

  1. GOAL: What do you expect to achieve through your marketing tactics?
  2. DATA/RESEARCH: Who is your target market? What does that target market want? What is your competition doing? What are current market trends?
  3. YOUR BRAND ADVANTAGE: What can you deliver that is better, different, and valued by your target market?
  4. TACTICS: Which tactics can bring maximum results within the budget?
  5. MEASUREMENT: How will you measure results? Have a system in place to know what is working so you can replicate it; and know what is not working so you can adjust and revise to obtain better results.

Marketing strategy first, then tactics.

You want meaningful, measurable results from your marketing, right? Create a marketing strategy first, then tactics. There is no shortcut.

The marketing strategy and the tactics work together to create one strong marketing program. Eliminate one, and your marketing effort is weakened. When you truly want results from your marketing, both pieces are required. Imagine building a house with no blueprint, no foundation; just a pile of random wood and a box of nails.

Bonus suggestion:

Here’s one final important suggestion to maximize your marketing dollars. As we all know, the business world is changing rapidly. What worked for your organization last time, might not work this time. That’s where data comes in. With data as part of your marketing strategy, you can often see, in real time, what is working, and what is not. That allows your organization to adjust and revise the tactics, and enhance results. If you don’t know which marketing tactics are not working, how can you re-work and optimize them for better results?

Marketing should not be an expense, a box that needs to be checked off so you can move along. Marketing done right is an organic method to grow your organization and get the results you need in order to compete effectively and thrive. A marketing strategy is how you will win in the marketplace.

If you have any questions, or thoughts, I would enjoy hearing from you.

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