Understand the Difference Between Strategy and Tactics to Unlock the Power of Your Social Media Marketing

by garyasanchez

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Strategy is doing the right things. Tactics is doing things right.” ~various attributions, including Peter Drucker and paraphrased from Sun Tzu marketing strategy vs. marketing tactics I recently posted a series of slides from prominent social media thought-leaders as to why social media is not a retail marketing strategy. The point was not to diminish the potential value of social media or inbound marketing, for there are considerable benefits to be realized. Rather, my point was to assert that the use of social media and inbound marketing tactics can benefit tremendously by being used to support general marketing strategies and online content strategies. Starting your marketing efforts with well thought out strategies will help you manage limited resources, help you understand what’s driving success and failure, and accelerate success by unlocking the creativity that exists within your organization.

Goals, strategies and tactics

Before you can speak intelligently about the differences between strategies and tactics, you first need to start with the purpose of having strategies and tactics.  The biggest reason is to help you achieve a goal. goals lead to strategies which lead to tactics A goal is a specific result that your business needs to achieve in order to sustain itself, usually through revenue growth or expense reduction, but also sometimes in terms of market share or cash flow.  A goal is more often than not a financial measure, should be your measure of what success looks like, and it should be S.M.A.R.T.  (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Time-bound).  Often, multiple goals are established to reflect the various ways a business can succeed. For example, let’s say you operate a chain of grocery stores.  The following could be goals for you to achieve:

  • Grow meat department sales by 20% by Fiscal Year End 2011;
  • Increase average purchase value from $75.00 to $85.00 by Fiscal Year End 2011;
  • Increase the purchase frequency of shoppers from every 10 days to every 8 days by Fiscal Year End 2011.

I’ve previously written about how you can frame your thinking around ways to grow revenue. Strategies are statements of how you will achieve your goals. They are high level ideas, usually long term in nature, that set the direction and scope of a business to achieve its goals. In military language, “divide and conquer” is a strategy that is likely to be in place over the course of a military campaign. “Paratroopers secure the airport” is a tactic that is likely to happen once as part of the way a force divides and conquers. Great marketing strategies are focused on delivering benefits or in meeting the needs of its customers, and are often based upon information, research, trends, and insights generated through the analysis of markets, customers, non-customers and competitors. How are you going to get your target customer to spend money with you?  What benefits are you going to deliver to them? Just saying that you will use social media or inbound marketing isn't going to be a sufficient reason for you to persuade and succeed. Philip Kotler from Kellogg Business School has recently said that the role of marketing is to C.C.D.V.T.P (Create, communicate and deliver value to a target market at a profit).   Creating value for a target market requires you to understand what the target market values, so in essence, a strategy is a connection between your goals and delivering a value, or a value proposition, to a customer.  A value proposition is defined as “a powerful emotion evoking statement that validates a customer’s unmet need and instills confidence that this unmet need till be totally satisfied (by you and your company).” I always advocate that businesses craft strategy statements using following the formula as it connects a goal to a value delivered to a target: strategy statement formula Returning to our grocery chain example, the following could be strategies to achieve one of the previously stated goals:

  • Grow meat department sales by creating smaller package sizes to meet the weekly cooking needs of single (unmarried) shoppers [who frequently eat at restaurants]; or
  • Grow meat department sales by creating a line of ready-to-cook entrees to address the time constraints of busy moms; or
  • Grow meat department sales by offering butchering classes to educate “foodie” customers on unusually found cuts of meat;

Presumably these strategies would have evolved from a deep understanding of various buyer personas, but the point is that now you have some overarching themes around which to build your marketing tactics and this is where your marketing creativity can begin to flourish, where you can start dedicating resources to developing online content around these strategies and themes, and gain the benefits of social media such as establishing authority, credibility and trust. So then what are tactics? Simply stated, a tactic is an action you take to execute a strategy. Examples are TV advertising, newspaper advertising, retail promotions, a website page, a banner ad campaign, a sampling program, etc.  Without the context of a strategy, in and of themselves they lack meaning as to how they will benefit your business. Getting back to our grocery store example, some tactical ways you could support the strategy to grow meat department sales by creating smaller package sizes to meet the weekly cooking needs of single (unmarried) shoppers could be:

  • Advertise in weekly advertising circular;
  • Put up shelf talkers or signs in the meat department;
  • Run a retail promotion;
  • Publish a single serve recipe book;
  • Sponsor a speed dating event;
  • Run a co-promotion with a brand of wine;
  • Create an email newsletter;
  • Create online content around the shopping and lifestyle needs of the single customer;

I want to highlight this last idea because I believe it brings me full circle to the point about social media not being a strategy, but it does highlight how social media or inbound marketing could be used to deliver a compelling series of messages to a strategically identified customer segment around a well-researched need. Without the context around who you are talking to, what needs, wants, dreams and desires they have, and how you can address those needs, wants, dreams and desires, social media will be underutilized by you and your business and the limited resources you dedicate to it will likely fail to help you achieve the business goals that will sustain you. As Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman say in their book “Content Rules:

That’s precisely the point of creating killer content – to convert browsers into buyers and customers into regulars or (better yet) rabid fans, ambassadors, and advocates. You do that by deepening your relationship with them, over time, by repeatedly and consistently creating content that they care about and want to share freely with their friends or colleagues, and by encouraging them to engage with you and to sign up for things you publish, (like an email newsletter or a webinar) or to download a whitepaper or ebook.

In order to use social media and inbound marketing to accomplish this, you need to start with customer-centric strategies.

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