Innovation. Ideas. Insight.

Tactics v. Strategy

In Insight on September 28, 2008 at 12:09 pm

The terms tactics and strategy get thrown around a lot. We heard them in the first McCain-Obama debate on Friday, and I hear them at work as we discuss what and how we are going to help our clients. Putting aside personal political feelings for a moment, I think Senator Obama was correct purely from a rhetorical standpoint when he described the surge as a tactic rather than a strategy. Let’s break this down for moment.

Just like in a marketing campaing, you have to begin with an objective:

Increase sales or eliminate hostile miliatry threat.

From that objective you develop a strategy:

Generate greater brand awareness or invade enemy country.

That strategy is supported by tactics:

Hire a high profile spokesperson or increase troop levels (the surge).


What I saw in the presidential debate is something I see in the marketing world all the time, a confusion over what is a tactic and what is a strategy.  Can a flawed strategy, supported by solid tactics produce results? Yes, but only in the short term. Can flawed tactics generate positive results for a superior stategy? No, but a strong strategy allows for course correction. Events on the ground, whether they be in battle or the marketplace will inevitably lead to changes in tactics. The key is to have a clearly defined objective and a strategy (or strategies) that directly support achieving your objective. The more precise you are about your objective and the more clearly thought out your strategies, the easier it will be to identify tactics that will lead to success.

But it bears repeating: In your tactics, your on-the-ground executions, you need to be flexible enough to read the situation as it unfolds and make decisions to adjust when and where necessary. That goes for your brand as much as it does for our country.


Update: See more on this here and here at Huffington Post.

Update 2: The strategy – tactics debate gets more play here and here from James Fallows.


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