What's The Difference Between Digital Marketing Strategy & Tactics?

All too often companies try various different digital marketing activities and become disappointed when they do not achieve the desired results. This leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, as well as the feeling that digital marketing doesn’t work.

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. ...Sun Tzu

Generally, when we examine the reasons why they didn’t get the results, it’s that there wasn’t a joined up, cohesive strategy and they just jumped in with the tactics. So what’s the difference?

Tactics versus strategy

Strategy is the bigger picture, the top level plan that starts with the goals of the business, identifying exactly what the business needs and wants to achieve. Strategy then pins together all the activities required in order to achieve them.

Tactics, on the other hand, are the individual tasks and activities that you perform. Tactics without strategy is just a waste — they’re just random acts.

As an inbound marketing agency, we’re often approached and asked if we do PPC, SEO, email or social media. Well, of course, the answer is yes we do, however they are tactics that form part of the overall digital marketing strategy that we employ for our clients. We firmly believe that if the client wants to work on a tactical level, then they’re not going to achieve their desired and potential outcomes.  

Therefore, it’s important to take a step back, to put aside all the possible things you could do and start looking at your overall strategy.

Start by examining the Why, What and Who:

  1. Why do you want to put a digital marketing plan in place?
  2. What are you looking to achieve?
  3. Who do you want to target and what message are you looking to give them.

It’s only then that you can examine the different tactics and decide which ones are going to be the most appropriate in order to ensure that they fit into your strategy.

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Once I’ve identified the goals of the strategy, the model I have at the forefront of my mind when putting together the tactics as part of the strategy is the Market, Message, Media triangle.  

In order for any marketing to work, there needs to be a strong correlation between who you want to target (the market), what you want to tell them (the message) and how you’re going to tell them (the media). Even the best copy, video or display ad in the world will not work if it’s targeted at the wrong people!

Of course, each tactic, may have a strategy or multiple strategies. For example, when running a Google AdWords campaign, you may have a bid strategy, where the goal is to appear in the first four results at the top of page 1. Your tactics here are your bid management and quality score optimisations.

With Facebook ads, you may have a specific remarketing strategy to drive a cold audience to your website, retarget those that didn’t convert with more focused ads, then retarget those that downloaded an eBook with a sales conversion offer. The ads and targeting are the tactics, and hopefully you wouldn’t just blindly throw up ads and hope for the best.

To recap, before you put together any digital marketing activity, take a step back. Put together a full WRITTEN strategy (‘What gets written, gets done’) and then think through the different tactics that you need to employ to meet the goals.

If you’re wondering what needs to go into your strategy document, we’ve put together this handy guide —6 Keys to Planning a Digital Marketing Strategy

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