Strategy Vs. Tactics
Mutually Exclusive but Collectively Exhaustive
Definition of Strategy: “A plan, usually long-term, for achieving a major or overall aim” (Merriam-Webster).
Tactics: “Plans or method in achieving an end, especially when adhered to.” (Merriam-Webster)
Strategy vs Tactics: What is the Difference?
Strategy and tactics are two terms used in a wide range of contexts. Be it marketing, sports, or military.
Although these terms are used interchangeably, for the most part, they are not particularly the same.
In this article, I will walk you through a brief comparison between strategy and tactics and how to differentiate them.
Let us dive right in!
What Are Strategies?
The definitions of a strategy vary from one perspective to another. However, they all follow the same idea: Develop a plan for the desired outcome.
Strategy is the blueprint of interconnecting decisions to reach a specific goal.
This goal can be anything, including a specific destination or a particular achievement.
In other definitions, a strategy would refer to an all-embracing, comprehensive approach toward a target. It is a framework to achieve an intended objective.
Ideally, a strategy is set for the long haul because the outcome might not be evident in the short term.
For example, in a business context, strategic planning is the art of creating a guideline of a high-level approach to achieve the mission or vision of a company.
What Are Tactics?
Tactics are all the specific and concrete steps or actions outlined within a plan to achieve a goal, whether these goals are long or short-term.
When one lays out a strategy, it is usually a rough plan with a result or a target. To reach that objective, however, some steps need to be specified, and these specific steps represent the tactics.
Despite a strategy’s significance and impact on long-term goals, it may not be as clear to the general public and competitors as tactics.
For example, in “The Art of War” book, Sun Tzu mentioned that while others can see the tactics he uses to conquer, nobody can see the grand strategy which led him to victory.
In short, tactics are actions within an action plan, not the outcomes or measures of a plan’s success.
How to Differentiate a Strategy from a Tactic
The first and most noticeable difference between a tactic and a strategy is a tactic is founded on a strategy.
You can still have a tactic without a strategy. However, having a strategy without a tactic is an ineffective plan that is likely to fail.
The simplest way to describe how each one works is that a strategy will tell you where you are heading, while a tactic will determine how you want to reach that destination.
In a business plan, for instance, a strategy will outline your vision, core values, focus areas, and the objectives you need to complete to reach your goal.
However, a strategy will not show you the definite steps you need to take to achieve your ends.
For that, you need to incorporate your tactics and the measures of your success which are the primary performance indicators commonly known as KPIs.
Tactics are usually much more specific and address defined approaches and goals than the strategy, which makes them more evident and more flexible than a strategy.
What Are the Most Common Examples of Strategy and Tactics in Business?
A strategy will remarkably vary according to its purpose, whether in the military, life, or business.
To make the concept of strategy easier to digest, let us have a quick look at strategy across some fields of business and society.
Example of Strategies
It is about being different. Here the aim is to create a unique product that is above the competition in terms of features, style, or performance.
The goal is to differentiate yourself from the competition by providing value not yet present in the market.
This strategy is one of the most common in business-to-customer (B2C) models.
Customer retention is the capacity to convert your customers into repeat buyers and reduce churn.
To effectively achieve this aim you need a retention marketing strategy.
You can use different channels such as social media, SMS, or video content to communicate with your customer base.
The strategy of cost leadership is to offer your products at prices lower than the prices the majority of the market charges.
It does not mean offering a lower quality product, but rather providing a good value for money while being cheap.
Example of Tactics
As you have noticed, in all the previous examples, the strategy only specified the result or the target of your business model but not the means to reach it.
Creating tactics is usually based on the type of strategy you selects. Let us illustrate with the previous cases.
For example, if you want to adopt the cost leadership strategy, you will need to scout the market, searching for the cheapest suppliers that meet the standard quality for your products.
There are many ways to look for this kind of information based on the industry you operate in. For instance, if you run a bakery, you could leverage the suppliers' data; available online and compare suppliers based on ingredient prices, delivery time, and shipment cost.
Furthermore, if you want your business strategy to be more about product differentiation, you will need to innovate and market new features in your product that nobody else has.
For instance, if you are a software company, you might need to look at what your competitors are doing (or not doing). You could check online what their customers are complaining about on the review site or contact the customers directly, double down on that pain point and remove that friction for the users.
If your focus is on customer retention, your tactics could be to look at the channels that best speak to your customers and use them to broadcast your message.
It might be that you are communicating with the wrong channel or the wrong message to your customers. You should find the reason why your customers are churning first. To achieve this, you should investigate the root causes of the problem.
For instance, If you found out that your customers are more active on Twitter on weekdays than on the weekends as you have initially assumed, then you need to shift your tactics and start broadcasting your campaign during weekdays.
After you pick your ideal strategy and plan your best tactic to achieve it, you will need to measure the success of these tactics using KPIs, which are success metrics that you track to assess the advancement of your plan.
One example of tactics is how you play games, specifically war games. You have guns and equipment, but depending on their capacity you have to use certain ones at certain times.
This example falls under the tactics category because it is how you play the game; it is situational, rather than what guns or equipment you buy throughout the different stages of the game.
Another example of tactics is when football teams choose how they will attack the other team. They might go for tactics like passing the ball downfield, rushing down the field, and directly kicking a ball into the goal.
Notice here that these are tactics they will use to reach the overall strategy of winning the game, rather than say what players the team will use to do so.
Example Of Business A Strategic Plan
This illustration is an example of a strategic plan for a fictional corporation.
You can find the PDF version below 👇
There you have it! A quick guide that walks you through the difference between strategy VS tactics and how to differentiate between them.
As you can see, tactics can be a subset of a strategy, and both are essential to achieving your plans.
Strategy is the grand plan that sets where you want to be, while tactics are the means and methods to take you towards your destination.
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