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The difference between strategy and tactics

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Many small business owners are driven by short term needs and don’t differentiate between strategy and tactics.  Their first thoughts go to the web ad, direct mailer or newspaper insert they think they need.  The operative phrase here is “short term”.

A simple example illustrates the difference between strategy and tactics.  Let’s say you want to take a trip.  If your first thought is “I need to decide if I want to drive or fly” you are thinking tactics.  How can you possibly make that choice if you don’t know where you are going?  If you think “where do we want to go” you are thinking strategy.  Once you know the destination you can then determine how much money and time you have.  Only then can you make an informed decision about whether to fly or drive.  Understanding the strategy/tactics difference is really that easy.

Properly employing strategy and tactics in marketing is a bit more nuanced.  Depending on the size of the business there can be 3 levels of strategy:

  1. Corporate.  Do we want to grow business volume, maintain the status quo or manage a declining business for profit
  2. Business unit.  How are we going to compete in the competitive environment?
  3. Market level.  Do we seek market share, development of new market segments, diversification, etc.

Here is an easier way to think about it for smaller businesses:

Strategy is long term and changes infrequently.  Strategy development requires research, market/competitive analysis and critical evaluation.

Tactics are short term and to be successful must change frequently to adapt to market conditions.  Development requires experience, knowledge of best practices and evaluation of budget and timing to select proper tools.

Regardless of your particular situation it can be seen from these descriptions that strategic development takes more effort and time than developing tactics.  If you want your business to succeed this effort is absolutely required for long term success.  Tactics alone will never get you to where you want to go simply because the final destination is never clearly defined.

At R&A Marketing we have created a planning process that carefully plots the strategic path then develop a tactical approach designed to implement the strategy on time and within the defined budget.  We have put this process in place for independent retailers across the country since 1984.  Call us today and we’ll share some case histories and discuss how they apply to your specific marketing needs.

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