I recently read a Mark Ritson article about the common mix-up between the concepts of strategy and tactics - where the term ‘mix-up’ rather points to an ignorance towards the real meanings of the terms, often resulting in a typical and unconscious priority shift.
His approach to the topic riveted my attention partially, I must confess at this point, due to my own experience with the issue. I somehow felt caught; reminding myself of times at university, beginning a project with tactical considerations that ended, as you can imagine, in an impasse – a typical and unconscious priority shift had taken place.
Strategy is doing
the right things,
tactics are doing
Likewise, it’s easy for even the strongest marketer to get entangled between the two concepts, despite being able to explain the contrasts in their sleep: in short, strategy is the ‘what’ and the ‘why’, and tactics are the ‘how’. Strategy is doing the right things, tactics are doing things right.
Sun Tzu, a general and philosopher who lived 2,000 years ago, defined the differences quite appropriately in a way directly applicable to today’s marketing world: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
So, why the common confusion among marketers?
Firstly, because tactics are fun, tactics are exciting. Secondly, because marketers, by definition, are creative. It’s natural for them to have innovative approaches in mind and a desire to experiment with the latest tech applications or the jungle of tools available.
But marketers must also be driven by objectives and achieving an ROI – and that’s where strategy has to come in. It’s often easy to pass the responsibility of strategy onto management and leadership teams, but not only does this risk it not being communicated faithfully to those responsible for tactics, it is intrinsic to the success of any marketing communication strategy that everyone contributing to it has a clear and involved understanding of it.
Failure to devise a clear strategy - at all - jeopardises the opportunity to deliver a clear, consistent and compelling message. Furthermore, money, time, and effort will be wasted trialling different tactics – and back-pedalling when they don’t achieve the key outlined objectives.
So, how can marketers ensure they prioritise their focus on strategy, ahead of getting caught up in the allure of tactics?
One action we often take as a team, once a solution has been developed, is to reverse-engineer it back to neutral. This forces us to double-check we haven’t sloped off on a tangent and helps us ensure that the tactics truly work coherently together within the overall strategy, in order to deliver the results.
And failing all else, there’s always the suggestion Ritson makes in his article: “Switch off your phone, open up your Moleskine. Take a long, deliberate breath, and think.”
Mark Ritson, Marketing Week: Ignore all the waffle and set time aside for strategic thinking