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Strategy vs. tactics: Why most businesses mix them up and make mistakes

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What’s the difference between strategy and tactics, and why is it important to differentiate the two? This is an issue we all struggle with, and often costs us a lot.

One of the words we all hear (and say) with increasing frequency is “strategy.” It often comes as part of a multi-word phrase like “marketing strategy” or “content strategy.” In most cases, however, it’s an empty word. Some actually have a strategy but don’t enforce it; others never even consider strategy at all. In both cases, businesses talk about strategy but actually engage in tactics.

Why is this important? Because the difference between them is what stands behind the essence of your professional behavior, looking for results here and how or long-term success.

What’s the difference between strategy and tactics?

Strategy is your master plan and should include everything, from your business goals to market conditions and competitors, the audience and of course, ways to break into the market and reach your targets.

Tactics are the actions you take – actions which, in principle, are supposed to be the realization of the strategy you decided upon. The reality however, is that businesses sometimes tend to look only at the near future and make decisions from one moment to the next, which is the furthest possible thing from strategy. Where does this manifest itself? Here are a few examples:

1. Sales vs. awareness

You can always generate more income in the short term. You can invest more in sales campaigns, word your content in an assertive way that will result in more clicks and add calls to action everyone. But alongside the desire to generate profits in the here and now, you also want to build relationships with your audience to create a brand with long-term strength, and relationships are built by providing value, not just offering to sell a product. This tradeoff between sales and awareness differs from brand to brand but the most important thing is to constantly remind yourself of this dynamic and look for the balance. Brands who can’t do this are likely to wear down their audience and sometimes find themselves in a situation where people don’t want to hear from them anymore.

By the way, it can be seen as a strategy to invest as little as possible, profit as much as possible and move on. We personally believe in investing more, doing things right and gaining more in the long term, but each to his own. What can be said for sure is if you plan on keeping your company for years to come, it’s in your interests to form a strategy and stick to it, which basically means marketing yourselves in the right way to the right people, providing value for them and selling only to those who want to buy. This also means investing part of your budget in building a strong brand and increasing awareness overtime rather than focusing only on sales campaigns.

2. Prestigious vs. cheap

Another example of a tactic that doesn’t match up with the strategy is that of prestigious vs. cheap – one of the most important factors in establishing the identity of your brand. Think of a company that set a high price for its products and also built a prestigious brand to match, but then has a new sale every morning to increase profits.

3. Content strategy vs. marketing content

The last and best example we’ll give you is that of content strategy, perhaps the hardest of all strategies. It relies on investing many hours of work on research, writing, editing, design, promotion and countless other things. Thousands of dollars get spent for essentially very little result. And that’s just written content. There’s also video content, podcasts and the sky is the limit. Like many brands that invest in their content, we’ve discovered that it starts slowly, continues slowly and only after a few months do you begin to see things bloom and get moving. You need a lot of patience before you start to see significant results.

How you know you’re headed in the right direction (or not)

Strategy is supposed to be the light that guides you and remove the distractions in your path so you can reach your goals. But sometimes it’s easy to get confused between the strategy and the distractions, leading you into costly detours. So here are some warning lights to help you make sure you’re going the right way:

  •  If you said the words “marketing strategy” but you were actually talking about a specific post, this is already a good reason to be suspicious.
  • If the word “urgent” is used too much throughout the day. If you are working with an organized strategy, you ought to know ahead of time what’s supposed to happen and when, allowing you to plan at least a few weeks ahead of time.
  • If a large portion of your everyday is dedicated to putting out fires. This can be a good indication if you’ve strayed off the path or if it’s just not a good path and should be rethought.
  • Following the same principle, if you make a lot of decisions from one moment to the next, this might be evidence that you’re too spontaneous and that you aren’t sticking to what’s good for you in the long term.
  •  If you create a lot of content quickly instead of one good piece.

    And perhaps the most important question of all is one that every brand needs to ask itself: do the messages you send out across platforms (both online and off) connect and line up with your brand identity?

    Conclusion: How to stick to your strategy

    Strategy sometimes means having the ability to make decisions based not only on what will happen tomorrow, but first and foremost what will happen in the long term. Sometimes it means having blind faith and trusting yourself and the path you’ve forged, even if you don’t know what may be waiting for you on the other side of the mountain. This means thinking about where you want to be in another two or three years, not just tomorrow morning. In most cases, 500 people won’t be banging on your door tomorrow, but you will slowly start to see something stable and sturdy being built that will last for years.

    At times when things aren’t working, you can sit down in an organized fashion and update the tactics you’ve chosen put your strategy in practice. In any case, it’s best to sit down periodically to review the results you’ve seen and consider whether or not you’re satisfied with them.

    One way or the other, making a decision in a moment of stress is a deviation from your strategy and that will never serve you in the long run. That’s why, before hurrying to change anything, ask yourself if you’ve waited long enough. If you have any doubts, don’t make a decision. Wait a few more days and see which way the wind is blowing. Sometimes things work out better the calmer and more patient you are.

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