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Strategy vs. Tactics: What’s the Difference & Why It Matters

Strategy vs. tactics—what’s the difference? Many people might roll their eyes and wonder, “Does it even matter?”

Yes, yes it does.

Strategies and tactics play an important part in business goal-setting and getting things done. Use them correctly to create a bullet-proof business plan that guides your team to success rather than getting smooshed in a drawer.

Imagine you were a soldier that got lost in battle and was marked as AWOL (absence without official leave) instead of MIA (missing in action). Two similar terms with very different meanings and repercussions.

Or consider you’re on a marketing team charged with scanning an important document but skim it instead. Scanning means looking over all the parts carefully, while skimming is the act of reading something quickly—2 separate verbs that impact the final product quite differently.

Whether you’re leading troops into battle or guiding a marketing team to unprecedented growth, words matter.

Below, we’ll pick apart the differences between strategy and tactics, highlight why it matters, cover a few examples, and help you crush your goals with better strategies and tactics.

What’s the Difference Between Strategy vs. Tactics?

Strategies and tactics are two techniques for achieving your goals. Many modern-day businesses use these terms interchangeably, but they’re not the same.

You may be thinking: Well, if everyone’s on board with using “strategy” and “tactics” conversely, does it matter? It’s just semantics.

Touche.

However, we’d counter that with this point.

If you use these terms interchangeably, you can no longer distinguish the core parts of how you plan to achieve your goals.

We’re getting ahead of ourselves, though. Let’s start with the definitions of strategies and tactics—you’ll see what we mean.

What’s a Strategy?

A strategy is a plan you create to achieve a goal. Your goals come first, and the strategies come second.

For example, let’s say your business set a goal to “Boost traffic to the website by 100,000.” As the head of a content marketing team, you might create a supporting strategy to “Increase organic visitors to the website by 50% using search engine optimization (SEO).” Or, as the leader of a demand generation team, you might create a strategy to “Use social media ads to drive 25,000 unique visitors to the website.

OK, now you have your goal and strategies—it’s time to create the tactics.

What’s a Tactic?

A tactic is the individual steps and actions you need to take to execute the strategy. Building off the example above, tactics to support your SEO strategy might include:

  • Write 15 new SEO-optimized pieces for the blog
  • Optimize 15 existing high-potential posts that are underperforming
  • Perform a website audit to find SEO errors that might be hindering progress
  • Gain 10 new high-quality backlinks

And tactics to support your social media ads strategy could include:

  • Invest 25% of the budget into new ad creative
  • Use Facebook Ads for retargeting previous website visitors
  • Create weekly sponsored posts on Instagram Stories
  • Send 250 LinkedIn InMails per week

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Why Does It Matter?

Hopefully, you see the difference between goals, strategies, and tactics. If not, we have more examples below. However, we first want to help you understand why it matters.

Goal-setting is the first part of business planning. Your goal explains what you want to achieve.

Strategy is the second part of the equation used to support how you will accomplish your goals. These are the high-level methods you plan to use.

Tactics are the third part of business planning. These explain the step-by-step actions you need to take to execute your strategy.

Goals without strategies are just hopes and dreams. Strategies without tactics lack the meat and potatoes to meet your goals. Tactics without strategy are just time-consuming filler tasks.

In the end, it’s not about strategies vs. tactics—it’s about strategies and tactics. Neither is more important, and each can’t be complete without the other.

It sounds kind of romantic, right?

These components must work together to create a holistic business plan that gets you from “Point A” to “Point B.”

Examples of Strategy vs. Tactics

Let’s look at a few more examples of strategies, tactics, and goals to see how they all work together. We’ll use different teams to illustrate how a business can collaborate to work towards a common objective.

Business Goal: Achieve a 30% year-over-year (YOY) growth rate by December 31, 2022.

Content Marketing Team

Strategy: Drive 50% more traffic to the website’s pricing page without increasing the marketing budget.
Tactics:

  • Improve internal linking structure throughout existing posts to point to the pricing page more often.
  • Add compelling calls-to-action (CTAs) to the end of high-performing blog posts to visit the pricing page.
  • Write 5 new blog posts that help break down jargon and elements on the pricing page.

Human Resources (HR) Team

Strategy: Fill all open job openings for sales and marketing teams before the holiday season.
Tactics:

  • Post all job openings on LinkedIn, Indeed.com, and ZipRecruiter.
  • Engage a third-party recruiting agency to assist with any positions that are left unfilled for more than 120 days.
  • Implement an employee referral program with modest incentives.

Research and Development (R&D) Team

Strategy: Differentiate our product from core competitors by finding a valuable unique selling proposition (USP) before September 1, 2022.
Tactics:

  • Launch a survey to current customers asking for feedback.
  • Host a focus group with your target market to learn about their wants and needs.
  • Create an updated competitor analysis report to learn more about the market’s key players.

Crush Your Goals By Setting Better Strategies and Tactics

Understanding the differences between strategies and tactics is just the beginning. Now, it’s time to set better strategies and tactics to help your business reach its goals.

5 Tips for Setting Better Strategies

Not every strategy is created equally. You need to follow a few best practices to ensure your strategy supports your goals and that your tactics can support your strategy.

It’s easier said than done. We’ll give you a hand by walking through a few strategy-setting tips:

1. Tie It Back to Your Goal

It’s easy to get lost in the goal-setting and planning process. When you make it to the strategy phase, ensure your strategies support your goals.

Ask yourself a few questions:

  • How does this strategy help us achieve our goals?
  • Is it realistic?
  • Why should we use this strategy instead of another one?
  • Would this strategy be easier to execute if we split it into 2?
  • Can we set actionable tactics to achieve the strategy?

These questions will help focus your strategy and ensure it’s still aligned with what you want to accomplish.

If you’re struggling to create strategies to support your goals, the problem may be with your goals. Try using the OKR (Objectives and Key Results) goal-setting framework to get yourself on the right page from the get-go.

2. Make It Measurable

Set strategies that you can measure. Goals should be measurable, strategies should be measurable, and tactics should be measurable. If you can’t measure it, you won’t know whether you succeeded or failed.

Think about numbers, dates, and dollar signs when making your strategy measurable. Attaching a number to any strategy lets you track progress and gauge success.

3. Think Long-Term

Strategies are plans, and tactics are actions. Your plan should outline how you’re going to achieve a goal.

If a strategy isn’t long-term, it probably doesn’t require all the time and energy you’re putting into it. If you can execute the plan without long-term thinking, drop what you’re doing now, go finish it, and come back to start planning more long-term objectives.

4. Back It Up With Data

Use data to back up your strategies and tactics. What have revenue numbers looked like in the past? What’s the industry benchmark? What’s our trajectory, and what could we achieve if we really stretched ourselves?

Data like this helps you create realistic strategies.

For example, a well-known tech company set a goal to grow organic search traffic to the website year-over-year. However, a time came when there just wasn’t enough search traffic for relevant keywords to support the growth targets. No strategy or tactic could change the consumer search volume, regardless of the team’s budget, energy, or time commitment.

5. Think About Your Resources

Don’t create strategies without evaluating your resources and bandwidth first. Here are a few questions you’ll need to consider:

  • How many goals are you trying to support?
  • Do you have enough bandwidth to execute the strategy?
  • Do you have enough budget to implement the strategy?
  • Do you have enough time to complete the strategy?
  • Do you have the headcount (and expertise) to accomplish the strategy?

Depending on your answers to these questions, you may need to rework your strategy. You can’t do everything—set clear priorities for what you need to focus on.

5 Tips for Setting Better Tactics

Strategies without tactics are just wishful thinking. Your tactics define the steps necessary to execute your strategies and achieve your goals. Here’s how to set them the right way:

1. Tie It Back to Your Strategy

Tactics that don’t support strategies are time-wasters. You should clearly define how each of your tactics ties to your overall strategy. If you can’t, then nix the tactic and find a new one.

Some teams think that the more tactics you have, the better your strategy is—not true. Your strategy might need 3 supporting tactics, or it might need 10. The number doesn’t matter—focus on quality, instead.

2. Make It Actionable

Each tactic should be an executable action. A quick fix to ensure your tactics are actionable is by starting each tactic with a verb:

  • Add
  • Use
  • Perform
  • Execute
  • Invest
  • Write
  • Improve
  • Create

All of these verbs indicate doing something. Tactics without action aren’t tactics—they’re just ideas.

3. Think Short-Term

Short-term tactics support long-term strategies. Think of your tactics as checkboxes to achieving your strategy. They might take an hour or a day or a week to execute—regardless, each tactic should be a smaller component of a bigger strategy.

If your tactic will take longer to execute than the overall strategy, it needs to be revised. For example, if you set a strategy to “Hire 20 new additions to the sales team by the end of the year,” a tactic to “interview 250 candidates per month” would likely be overkill.

4. Remember Your Budget

It’s easy to get overambitious with your tactics, but a good reality check is your budget.

Can you afford to execute this tactic? What do you need to change to make it work with what you have? Where should you allocate money to get the most bang for your buck?

Keep these questions in the back of your mind when creating tactics. Put an estimated cost next to each tactic and evaluate the estimated return on investment (ROI). Focus on the tasks that deliver the most value for your money.

5. Create a Deadline

Tactics need deadlines, and these deadlines should usually be separate from the overall strategy or goal’s deadline. Set a deadline for each tactic to ensure you have the bandwidth to get everything done on schedule.

Be realistic with your estimates. It’s better to over-budget time rather than compel your team to work long hours into the holiday season to finish a strategy.

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