“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat”. Sun-Tzu

The words “strategy” and “tactics” often refer to work conducted and organised in the business world. They may share similar meanings but there are clear differences between the two. If you are planning a marketing campaign, you need to know the difference and have a plan for each.

In this article, we will be highlighting the differences between strategy and tactics. We will compare the characteristics of marketing strategy to marketing tactics.

Marketing campaigns are often driven by goals, but they’re often missing a clear strategy. Companies need to start figuring out an overall plan before they can take action. Here are some of the situations that would highlight that this is actually happening:

  • A monthly newsletter that has a high unsubscribe rate and a low click through rate
  • A spending increase in Google Ads, but no increase in e-commerce sales.
  • Publishing regular content that doesn’t seem to have any conversions or value to the company.

It’s essential not to get goals confused with strategies. Goals express what you hope the outcome will be, they are aspirational and singular. They are easy to measure if marketing has aided reaching these goals.

Strategies are used to explain how you will make it happen. An example of a marketing goal is: “we want to create more engagement on social media”. While “Our goal is to be the number 1 brand in this field” is a business goal.

What’s the difference between strategy and tactics?

A business’s strategy dictates the type of marketing activity needed to achieve its goals. Whereas tactics are the crucial ‘detail’ that answer how exactly that will happen.

What is a marketing strategy?

A marketing strategy is your game plan for reaching and engaging your target audience. But more than that, it will show how you’ll contribute to achieving marketing and business goals. A strategy can be determined as an overall explanation of ‘how’. This is usually where a campaign can be creative and differentiate from industry competitors.

What are marketing tactics?

Marketing tactics are the specific activities you use to execute your marketing strategy. Sometimes these can differ depending on which digital marketing plan you’re using and can involve hundreds of things. Here are a few examples:

  • posting focussed content on social media[1]
  • Increase website visibility by publishing blogs[2]
  • Creating backlinks to improve SEO ranking[3]
  • Google Ads campaign[4] that targets specific buyer personas.

It’s essential that your marketing tactics help your marketing strategy and contribute to getting you closer to your goal.


Strategy must define the most effective resource allocation

Each business has limited resources of budget, people, and time. Deploying these to your advantage will maximise the potential of your business.

It’s important not only to pinpoint what you will invest in, but also what you won’t. Many people are hesitant to act because they don’t realise that ‘new strategies’ often have already been tried and tested. A good strategy involves clear choices that define what the company plans on doing and not doing.

A strategy should define a long-term vision for a business

Goals are an important part of any communications strategy. When there is a clear strategy in place, it becomes easier to create targets and check the performance. The goal of your marketing strategy should be to link vision, goals and objectives. A marketing expert would be able to guide you and inform you on the most appropriate strategies for your business.

Tactics contribute to linking objectives with strategies.

Marketing Tactics should help contribute to the direction of a business. The tactic’s bigger picture should be consistent with the ultimate aims of the organisation. The best way to know if the tactics you’re using are contributing to your company’s goals is to link them against your company’s strategies. Do they align with the brand communications strategy? Are you achieving results that benchmark with your competitors?

Marketing strategy defines the priorities of your business

This is where STP (Segmentation, Targeting and Positioning) fits. Tactics will involve understanding which audiences to approach first. This may not involve a strategy about where the best place for your business is in the market.

Using the BCG Matrix is a great way for businesses to reassess what they need to be focusing on. The matrix will help you decide whether you should be investing more in your existing business or looking towards new growth opportunities.

Another key part of STP is defining your audiences and marketing personas. This will help you define the best tactics for presenting your products to them and getting their attention.

Success comes from understanding the link between goals, strategies, and tactics

Understanding marketing strategy, tactics, goals, and how they link up is the first step to launching a marketing campaign. When you think about your marketing plan, make sure you have your marketing goals and then build your strategies around them. Then, find the appropriate tactics you will need to make those things happen.

Strategy defines how to engage the audience through branding

At a tactical level, brands need to consider the identity and colour-pallet they want to use. But a business should also think about branding from a strategic standpoint. This means that you understand what message you want to send and how to appeal to target audiences through your key messaging.

In today’s marketing you need to leverage data and technologies to get the most out of your marketing efforts. For us to tap into the potential of our marketing strategies, we should have conversion optimization tools whereby we can create run A/B tests. But in order for this to work, a marketing technology stack needs to be defined first.

In this era of digital transformation, many organisations are running change initiatives and seeing the results in their business. This is done to improve their business processes using marketing technology, such as customer insight and data. Better data allows for better strategy and tactics.  There will be significant investment in digital experiences, marketing automation, and AI across most industries.

Here are some examples of successful Marketing Strategies 

Nordstrom: Retargeting Campaign

Given Nordstrom’s reputation for marketing supremacy, their promotion was incredibly successful. By utilising the most up-to-date retargeting strategies and technology, Nordstrom was able to significantly increase its revenue and lower cart abandonment. Their campaign mainly used social media advertising that were launched when a user visited the website, along with abandoned cart emails.

Twitch: Niche-specific Marketing

Many businesses make the error of attempting to promote their goods or services to a market that is simply too large. But doing so merely results in a message that is unclear and few actual clients. Instead, mimic Twitch, a social streaming platform. Advertising to those who won’t be interested in what makes the brand distinctive wasn’t a waste of time or money for this company. Instead, all of its efforts were focused on identifying the niche market and figuring out how to appeal to it.

Tactics don’t define the future direction, strategy does

All businesses use tactics and techniques to promote themselves but that doesn’t define their marketing strategy. Instead they need to take a proactive approach by defining their strategy and communicating it to inform any tactics they decide on. It’s vital to develop a marketing strategy[5] for your business. This is the key differentiating factor that will allow you to succeed against the competition.

Finally, for a successful marketing strategy, it’s important to maintain a cohesive flow between tactics and your overarching marketing strategy. It is important to map all the different tactics that need to be executed. Make sure those tactics stay aligned with your company strategy.