By Charlie Grinnell.
The marketing world is full of buzzwords: “omnichannel,” “integrated advertising,” “customer journey” … the list goes on and on. I believe “strategy” has become one of those buzzwords. It seems like marketers can’t take a breath without some kind of strategy — for Facebook, influencers, SEO, etc.
Here’s the thing: Strategy is important. However, it’s become a dangerous term to use because different people interpret the word in different ways — and this is a word that should not be open to interpretation. From what I’ve seen, the overuse and misuse of “strategy” has created a web of confusion, which ultimately can be bad for business.
Building a strategy doesn’t have to be an overly complicated concept. In fact, a good strategy (one that’s properly defined and understood) should serve as the foundation for concrete action. With that in mind, here are five tips that can help you move seamlessly from strategy to tactics.
1. Ensure that you have an alignment of language.
Start by making sure that everyone on your team is on the same page when it comes to terminology. Language matters — words have power. If you want your marketing team’s efforts to be unified, then you need to ensure that basic terms like “objective,” “strategy” and “tactics” are used consistently and are associated with clear definitions.
What are the differences between these terms? Let’s break them down:
• An objective is a thing aimed at or sought; in other words, a goal. It’s where you want to go.
• A strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve an overall aim. It’s the plan to get you where you want to go.
• A tactic is a carefully planned action to achieve a specific end. It’s a specific action that moves you closer to your destination.
Think of it this way: On a road trip, you have a destination (your objective). You have a route to get there (your strategy). And you take specific actions along the way, like refuelling your vehicle (your tactics). Easy, right?
Unfortunately, many marketers confuse these definitions; in turn, this confusion of language leads to confusion of efforts. As Sun Tzu once said, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
2. Build contextual links between your objectives, strategy and tactics.
With a clear understanding of these terms, the key is to build contextual linkage between the three concepts, working from the top down. Everything starts with clear business objectives. Make sure that you have SMART objectives in place —goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. (And if you don’t have those SMART objectives, it’s time to crack the whip on your leadership team — this is their job, after all.)
Once you have clear objectives to aim for, you can link those objectives to workable strategies, and finally to specific tactics. So your objectives are contextually linked to your strategies, which in turn are contextually linked to your tactics. The beauty of this process is that it eliminates misaligned strategies and tactics from consideration. In other words, if it’s a great idea in a vacuum but doesn’t fit with your overall objectives, then you don’t have to explore it further.
Here’s a real-world application of these principles in the world of retail:
• Objective: Increase handbag sales to single women in London by 25%.
• Strategy: Use Facebook ads to reach the target audience.
• Tactic: Use video and carousel ads to feature close-up images of the handbags.
Everything is contextually linked together, from the high-level objective down to the specific tactic used by the retailer.
3. Use your strategy to drive the choice of tactic (instead of the other way around).
Put simply, don’t get distracted by shiny objects. There is a plethora of innovative marketing tools available today, ranging from “shoppable” posts to retargeting ads to the newest SEO techniques. However, your choice of tactics should always be determined by your strategy. Allowing your strategy to be directed by your tactics is counterproductive and ultimately self-defeating. Don’t reach for the chainsaw when you need a scalpel. Think carefully about which tool would work best for your plan of action, and then use it.
4. Proactively communicate your strategy to drive alignment within your organization.
If objective-driven marketing is the fuel that keeps your company’s engine going, then proactive communication is the oil that keeps the gears lubricated. The fact is that many marketers struggle to clearly communicate their strategy to the broader organization. However, you need to have everyone in your company (or at the very least, all the key stakeholders) on the same page if you want your strategy to succeed.
I’ve found that the best way to communicate your vision to others is to simply use the framework established above. Lead your audience from your objective to your strategy to the specific tactics you are using to accomplish that objective. By doing so, you’ll show how your efforts are contributing to overall business goals, and you’ll be able to justify your preferences for certain tactics over others.
5. Consistently update your strategy to reflect industry/market shifts.
Many marketers don’t realize (or accept) that strategy is not a static concept — it’s dynamic. Industries change; markets shift. You’ll need to consistently audit your strategy and make adjustments that reflect current realities. A strategy isn’t an end state; it’s a framework within which your company can operate, grow and adapt as needed. Think of it like a plot of land for a garden: The location stays the same, but your actions change depending on the season, the kind of plants you grow, etc.
In summary, the key to smarter marketing is alignment. Whether it’s speaking the same language, communicating with leadership, or linking objectives, strategy and tactics together in their proper context, alignment is your friend. By keeping the above tips in mind while developing a new strategy (or adjusting an existing one), you’ll be more likely to set your brand up for success.
Feature Image Credit: GETTY
CEO at RightMetric, a subscription-based competitive marketing intelligence firm. Read Charlie Grinnell’s full executive profile here.