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The Difference Between Strategy and Tactics

Do you consider marketing to be a practical, tactical tool or a more strategic transformational process to drive your organisation forward?

The truth is, it can be both. But in my experience, some like me, a “marketing expert” is normally drafted into an organisation to solve a “tactical” problem.

  • Need more sales? No problem, get a marketing pro in.
  • Need more traffic to your website? No problem, get a marketing pro in.
  • Need to develop content for the website? No problem, get a marketing pro in.
  • Need better SEO? No problem, get a marketing pro in.

Are you getting my drift?

All organisations suffer from a lack of strategic planning. I would go a step further and say MOST SME’s have very little or no strategic planning.

If you get the strategy right, the tactics are interchangeable. All too often I see organisations trying to fix a “strategic” problem by throwing tactical solutions at it.

Let’s take a step back, if you are in a commercial entity (i.e. you want to make a profit) there are only a few strategic decisions you need to think about.

  1. Do you want to grow?
  2. Do you want to maintain the same level?
  3. Do you want to shrink?

(*HINT: Not many people go for option 3)

How you can achieve option 1 or option 2 have several solutions. This is where marketing strategy can come in.

But before we get carried away with fancy diagrams, hiked up hourly rates and workshops, let’s break down the difference between “strategy and tactics.”

You may not realise it but you make strategic decisions all the time. 

Do I want to live a healthy life? There you go, there is a strategic decision, right there.

The flow diagram would look something like this – 

Healthy Life – Yes – eat well, rest, exercise, everything in moderation.

Healthy Life – No – eat poorly, no exercise, drink to excess.

Strategy is like taking control of the boat and deciding where you want to go. The tactics are implemented to get you there.

  • Strategy.
    • Sail to the Maldives.
  • Tactics.
    • When do I want to get there?
    • What size boat do I need?
    • Do I have any sailing skills?
    • When should I leave?
    • Do I have a map?
    • How do I know if I’m going in the right direction?
    • What happens if I get lost?

I mean, it’s a cliche isn’t it, but if like me you have been torturing yourself watching the Euro’s 24 football tournament, you may be questioning Gareth Southgates strategy and tactics at times!

In both business and sports, the terms “strategy” and “tactics” are often used interchangeably, but they hold distinct meanings. To better understand the difference, let’s use football as an analogy. This comparison will help demonstrate how strategy and tactics play unique roles, both on the pitch and in the boardroom.

1. Defining Strategy and Tactics

*Strategy* refers to the overarching plan or long-term goals set to achieve success. In football, this might be the club’s ambition to win the league, build a youth academy, or develop a particular style of play. Similarly, in business, strategy involves setting long-term objectives such as market expansion, brand positioning, or product innovation.

*Tactics*, on the other hand, are the specific actions or short-term decisions made to implement the strategy. In a football match, tactics involve formations, player positions, and specific plays designed to exploit the opponent’s weaknesses. In business, tactics might include marketing campaigns, pricing adjustments, or sales techniques aimed at achieving strategic goals.

2. Football Strategy: The Big Picture

In football, a team’s strategy is shaped by its manager and encompasses the club’s philosophy and long-term goals. For example, Man City’s strategy under managers like Pep Guardiola focused on possession-based football, nurturing home-grown talent, and playing an attacking style. This strategic vision influences every aspect of the club, from training methods to player recruitment.

Similarly, a company’s strategy involves high-level decisions made by executives to steer the organisation towards its goals. For instance, Apple’s strategy of innovation and premium branding shapes its product development, marketing, and customer experience.

3. Football Tactics: The Execution

Tactics in football are the practical implementations of the strategy. They can vary from game to game, depending on the opponent. For instance, a team might adopt a defensive tactic with a 5-4-1 formation against a stronger opponent or use an attacking 4-3-3 formation to dominate possession and create scoring opportunities against a weaker team.

In business, tactics are the actionable steps taken to achieve strategic objectives. If a company’s strategy is to increase market share, its tactics might include aggressive advertising, promotional discounts, or strategic partnerships. These tactical decisions are adaptable and responsive to market conditions and competitor actions.

4. The Synergy Between Strategy and Tactics

For a football team to be successful, strategy and tactics must work in harmony. A brilliant strategy without effective tactics can lead to poor performance, just as clever tactics without a solid strategy can result in short-term gains but long-term failure. The same principle applies to business. A well-crafted strategy provides direction, while smart tactics ensure that the strategy is executed effectively.

5. Examples of Strategy and Tactics in Football

Example 1: Manchester City under Pep Guardiola

Strategy:Build a team that dominates possession and controls the game’s tempo.

Tactics:Use a high-pressing style, maintain a compact midfield, and employ versatile players who can adapt to various roles on the pitch.

Example 2: Leicester City under Claudio Ranieri (2015-16 Season)

Strategy:Compete effectively with a limited budget by focusing on defensive solidity and quick counter-attacks.

Tactics:Deploy a 4-4-2 formation, emphasise strong defensive organisation, and utilise the pace of players like Jamie Vardy for counter-attacks.

6. Applying the Analogy to Business

In business, understanding the difference between strategy and tactics can lead to more effective decision-making and resource allocation. For example:

Strategy:A company aims to become the market leader in eco-friendly products.

Tactics: Launch a series of green marketing campaigns, reduce packaging waste, and partner with environmental organisations.

By aligning tactical actions with strategic goals, businesses can achieve sustainable growth and competitive advantage.

The distinction between strategy and tactics is crucial in both football and business. Strategy provides the vision and direction, while tactics involve the specific actions taken to achieve that vision. Using football as an analogy helps clarify these concepts, illustrating how effective planning and execution can lead to success on the pitch and in the marketplace. Understanding and applying this synergy is key to achieving long-term objectives and outperforming competitors.

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