Strategic planning: what are the differences between strategy, tactics and techniques?

When we talk about strategic marketing planning, often – even among the experts –, there is confusion about some basic concepts. It may seem trivial, but knowing how to distinguish between a strategy, a tactic or a technique is essential to avoid falling into cheap errors that can compromise the quality of your advice and the possibility of achieving the desired results.

I often hear people say “My strategy is to use social media” or “My strategy is to invest in Google Ads”. This type of sentence denotes a lack of knowledge about what strategy really means.

These general aspects are part of what is called strategic planning, one of the most delicate aspects that a marketing and communication expert must face to start outlining the path of a company.

What is good about planning

Before understanding the differences between strategy, tactics and technique it is necessary to clarify what is meant by strategic planning and to understand why it is useful for companies.

As reported by Wikipedia:

Strategic planning is an organization’s process of defining its strategy, or direction, and making decisions on allocating its resources to pursue this strategy.

Therefore, planning means setting up a business process aimed at:

1. Outlining the scenario within which the company operates
2. Defining specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-related objectives (in a word, S.M.A.R.T.)
3. Determining the company’s strengths and weaknesses
4. Identifying possible external threats and possible internal opportunities
5. Evaluating possible social externalities linked to the company’s activity

Once the marketing objectives have been defined, it becomes essential to understand which strategies can be used to reach them.

Without a correct analysis of the company and an in-depth knowledge of the market in which it operates and of the target audience it is impossible to think of being able to establish an adequate strategy.

So what is a strategy?

What is strategy

A strategy is nothing but an overview that the company uses to achieve the goals it has set.

As reported by Wikipedia:

 Strategy […] is a high-level plan to achieve one or more goals under conditions of uncertainty.

Strategy is important because the resources available to achieve these goals are usually limited. Strategy generally involves setting goals, determining actions to achieve the goals, and mobilizing resources to execute the actions. A strategy describes how the ends (goals) will be achieved by the means (resources). Strategy can be intended or can emerge as a pattern of activity as the organization adapts to its environment or competes.

As is clear, it is the scenario that determines the strategy to be followed. A scenario that is strongly influenced also by the actions and the position of the competitors.

But not only that.

The scenario is also determined by the political and social contingencies that can represent a quagmire or a viaticum for strategic action. In fact, when an external event (a new political / institutional arrangement, a changed international balance, new duties, national or supranational regulations, etc.) intervenes to modify the context in which the company operates, its ability to forecast future scenarios becomes important, as well as its ability to absorb the impact to which these changes can give rise.

For this reason it becomes necessary to establish adequate strategies, even before choosing the tactics and techniques.

But what, then, is a tactic?

What are tactics

I believe that, having reached this point in the article, you will have already understood the difference between strategy and tactics.

While strategy is a broad long-term vision that guides the company’s action based on specific objectives, tactic is represented by an operating method that declines the strategy in specific actions aimed at achieving the set objectives.

I consider very interesting the point of view of Michel de Certeau, who argues that tactics are not simply a subset of the strategy, but rather represents an adaptation to the changing conditions of the surrounding environment.

In particular – moving the issue back into the business and marketing environment – on the one hand we have a solid structure, made up of general objectives and visions to achieve them, while on the other we find ourselves with a collection of liquid actions that aim operationally to achieve these goals. The liquid nature of tactics gives them the ability to adapt much faster to change, but – on the other hand – makes them extremely perishable.

We have seen what a strategy is and we have discovered what is meant by tactics, so what is a technique?

What is technique

As you will have understood, we are proceeding by Chinese boxes. Or so.

In fact, at the top of our marketing reasoning we put strategy and goals; only then, once these things have been clarified, we will begin to establish tactics necessary to put our strategic vision into practice and thus achieve the business objectives.

When strategy and techniques are established, then and only then, you can start discussing the technique.

Technique is represented by the set of rules on which the practice of an art, a profession or any activity is founded, not only manual but also strictly intellectual, as they are applied and followed. The technique involves the adoption of a method (tactics) and a strategy in the precise identification of the objectives and the most appropriate means to achieve them.

Technique is configured as a heritage of increasingly specialized knowledge and it is subject to continuous innovation. This prerogative of the technique requires specific training in a structured system, so that the set of technical procedures themselves in a given sector often becomes the subject of systematic investigation.

At this point the distinction between strategy, tactics and technique in marketing, but not exclusively, should be clear.

From here on, it is worthwhile to start a little reflection on this topic.

Strategic vision and tactical ability

What value does all this article have for a business?

Simple! It is of vital importance.

These elements are at the base of every strategic planning and the latter is the first step towards the success of every business activity. It is not possible to determine any marketing action, without first establishing objectives and strategies to obtain them.

It would be like deciding to face up an ocean crossing without having the slightest knowledge of what a nautical map is and how to trace a route.

Practically madness!

For this reason many marketing “strategies” fail or become obsolete. Precisely because in reality many “professionals” offer tactics for strategies and confuse techniques with tools.

Confusing these elements means **significantly lowering the success rates of your business** and can mean throwing away tens of thousands of euros.

Unfortunately we must beware of scoundrels who do not have the slightest idea of what they are doing. The only way to defend yourself is to increase your knowledge and constantly train yourself to get to know business model, markets, strategies and marketing techniques.

Above all, we must begin to understand that strategy and tools are not the same thing.

Tools are just passing through

Why don’t your marketing strategies work the expected results?

Your marketing strategies fail because, probably, these are not real strategies, but only a series of techniques and tools set up without having taken into account the real needs of your business, or your marketing needs.

In my professional career, the thing I most often heard from my clients was: “I don’t have much confidence in digital marketing, because in the past I threw a lot of money without getting any results”. Investigating a little more deeply, it always emerged that my predecessors had given these unfortunates a series of actions without any care of their real needs, without a real strategic planning. In other words, someone had sold them services they didn’t need, just to secure a contract.

I don’t want to assume that there was any malice. I believe, rather, that certain errors are made out of ignorance, and this is because in the world of digital marketing there are many adventurers who improvise in the hope of easy profit.

Selling a tool (for example a website or a Facebook Ads campaign or a direct marketing service etc.) without knowing the client’s objectives and without having prepared an adequate strategy, means not having understood anything of what marketing means.

The tools are destined to disappear over time; media is transforming, markets change, laws and international assets change, our society is changeable and unstable, and targets are extremely liquid. Planning is the only way to be able to counteract this unstable scenario and provide real added value for companies.

Everything else is pure rubbish.