Strategy vs. Tactics

I’d like to thank Paul Sherman, Principal at Sherman Group User Experience for the following analogy.  It came up in a recent session at Online Marketing Summit ’09 and presented a glaringly simple way of looking at how strategy and tactics relate to one another. Here goes:

Go from the San Diego Airport to the Westin in the Gaslamp Quarter.

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1. Starting at the airport, head west 387 ft
2. Take a slight left toward N Harbor Dr. Go 0.2 miles.
3. Take a slight left toward N Harbor Dr. Go 0.2 miles.
4. Turn left at N Harbor Dr. Go 2.0 miles.
5. Turn left at W Broadway. Go 0.6 miles.
6. Turn right at Broadway Circle. The destination will be on the right

Is this too simple? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

In my field of work in marketing, a strategy will usually show the path between where the company currently is and where they want to go. The tactics required to get there will be numerous, some more detailed than others – things like increasing web page conversion rate, developing the right messaging, finding the right events and publications for your market, and hitting the targeted audience with effective ads.

It is normal that tactics change frequently, especially in online marketing. This is because technology changes so rapidly. The tactics you used five years ago were good then, and won’t be nearly as effective today.

But when you do embrace a new tactic such as the latest, world-changing, high-octane social networking tool, try to put it in perspective of your overall marketing strategy. Does it fit into the big picture? Does it lead to the end goal? Tactics are very important and must be carried out well. But if your strategy is off you have a bigger problem. To quote Seth Godin, “The right strategy makes any tactic work better. The right strategy puts less pressure on executing your tactics perfectly.”

Let’s have a bit of fun with the original map analogy to demonstrate how tactics can change over time, given the same strategy.

Getting from the airport to the Westin in the year 2049:

1. Starting at the airport, get on your rented hover board
2. Head southeast across the water 2.5 mi.
3. Enter W Broadway and proceed down the street 348 ft
4. The destination will be on the left

How about 2109? Assuming we’d still even use airports for long range travel, it might be:

1. Proceed to the short-range transporter beaming station at the airport
2. Enter the destination code for the Westin Gaslamp Quarter: WGQ42
3. Five seconds later, proceed from the arrival station straight ahead to the check-in desk (40 ft)