Understanding Marketing Strategy and Tactics

Marketing Strategy DefinitionFor most of us who are constantly worried about the next email that will go out, the upcoming webinar presentation, or the trade show deadlines, when the talk switches to business and marketing strategy things can get confusing. Not to worry, let’s take a moment to clarify a few terms so that we can all go back to work.

Marketing Strategy and Business Strategy

I like some examples @cspenn uses when defining strategy from a business and campaign perspective. In his post about the nuances of strategy, he talks about a “grand strategy” being the “what” of the entire war. This is like business strategy, defining what is the company trying to achieve. And the next “what”, the campaign strategy, is related to individual campaigns.

While helpful, I think the examples fall short on really clearing up the definitions. Think of it this way:

Business Strategy: What will the company do in order to fulfill it’s mission/vision.
The business strategy lays out the overall plan to steer the company in a direction that will align all departments to work in tandem to achieve the company’s goals (usually translated into specific values such as revenues, EBITDA, market share, etc.).

Strategic business decisions may involve:
- what markets to go after
- what partnerships to forge
- which departments will get more funding

Marketing Strategy: What will the marketing department do in order to support the company’s overall business strategy.
This where the marketing plan is generated. Once you know the company’s goals and it’s overall strategy, the marketing strategy will serve as the guiding principle to get the whole team onboard knowing what their mission is.

For example, while the business strategy may dictate that the company will sell their products via resellers and will penetrate the European market to establish a stronghold there, the marketing strategy will support these decisions by laying out plans to help the resellers (collateral, training, etc.) and plans to help build the European stronghold (awareness campaigns, market research, etc.).

Marketing Strategy And Tactics

The second level is the tactical one, which defines how you will accomplish something. So if the marketing strategy defines that we will support the European expansion by providing thought leadership, doing joint campaigns with local resellers, and engaging in market research to better know the local customer, the tactical plan will contain the specifics of how that will be carried out.

A tactical plan will have, for example:
- The specific topics, formats, and delivery methods of the thought leadership campaign envisioned by the marketing strategy
- Specific targets for the joining of marketing campaigns with planned topics, dates, and content
- More details regarding the market research to be carried out, maybe a breakdown of countries to be surveyed, specific desired outcomes, etc.

Dissipating the Fog

“The reason that there’s so much confusion about strategy is that we’re trying to lump two very different things together under one label”- Christopher S. Penn

I couldn’t agree more. We all talk about ‘marketing strategy’ and use terms interchangeable without realizing we may be explaining tactics instead of strategy and mixing business strategy with marketing strategy. It becomes even more confusing when talking with marketing managers of larger organizations where you may have the overall company marketing strategy, then Business Unit specific marketing strategy and even product-centric marketing strategies. Ouch!

A recent article on HBR Blog, “Strategy on One Page“, gives us a nice and easy “strategy tree” that can help guide discussions for both the business strategy and the marketing strategy. It asks you to answer the questions:

  1. Why do you exist / what is your purpose
  2. What is your value proposition
  3. Who are you trying to serve/target

I like this question format to help guide the creation of the marketing strategy, so here’s what I suggest you ask yourself when putting together your overall plan, the strategy questions:

  1. What is marketing’s role in carrying out the corporate strategy?
  2. What campaigns and projects should marketing execute given its role?
  3. Who are we targeting with our campaigns?

The tactical questions will be:

  1. For each of the campaigns and projects outlined before, how are we going to execute them?
  2. What resources do we need to execute on the campaigns and projects?
  3. How are we going to reach the proposed target market and when?

Supporting Tools for Marketers

The typical marketing strategy and tactical plan usually is born out of Excel spreadsheets, Word documents, and a bundle of Powerpoint files. The problem is then laying it all out in a way that will help you on a daily basis without losing track of the higher level strategy.

This is one of the reasons why when creating Aprix Marketing Manager, our marketing project management solution, we decided to give you three levels for planning and executing your marketing campaigns.

  • First Level: Project or Campaign
  • Second Level: Marketing Deliverables
  • Third Level: Action Items

However you decide to work on your marketing strategy and marketing tactical plan, I hope this post clarifies the terms and helps solve the confusion.

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About Daniel Kuperman

Daniel is the CEO and Co-Founder of Aprix Solutions. Follow him on Twitter @danielkuperman.

3 Responses to “Understanding Marketing Strategy and Tactics”

  1. Prugh Roeser June 14, 2011 at 11:34 am #

    Hi Daniel,

    It’s great to reconnect!

    We work with the same distinctions you outline, but use a slightly different vocabulary.

    We start with OBJECTIVES which, to use a military analogy, is to win the war.

    Then comes the STRATEGY which are the approaches we’re going to take to achieve the objective. To continue the military analogy, a strategy might be to disable the enemy’s communications, invade his country, and embargo his ports.

    Finally, the TACTICS are the specific actions and tools used to execute the strategy.

    When working with prospects and clients, we often find they’ve jumped over defining the objectives and strategy, and headed straight for tactics.

  2. Daniel Kuperman June 14, 2011 at 12:21 pm #

    Hi Prugh, thanks for the input! I think we are talking about the same things, but with different terms. I guess the important factors to consider will always be: a) what do you want to achieve; b) how do you plan on achieving it; c) what are the steps you will take. As long as marketers think and plan before they act, they will be able to perform better.

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