Marketing Goals vs Strategy vs Tactics

I was gob-smacked the other day when a new client CEO asked us to focus the meeting on strategy. He then proceeded to detail tactics for the next hour.
Marketing Goals

What about Marketing Goals? I didn’t want to embarrass him in front of his team, but it wasn’t just the strategy-tactics confusion; he hadn’t shared the big picture with them but had with us. We knew the end game and the agreed strategies to get there, but they didn’t, and the connection was lost, eyes glazed over and the opportunity to inspire the team with the was missed.

That got me wondering. Why do so many companies talk about ‘marketing strategy’ but few do it? They don’t want to ‘waste time’ with the strategy discussion. They just want marketing ‘stuff’ done: they write white papers, they send emails, they SEO their websites, and they get someone to post, blog, link, Insta, face and tube nonstop. It’s like a marketing shopping list; they buy ingredients with no idea of what they’re creating or for whom, of even if the consumers will like it. It’s no wonder no-one’s happy with the results.

Let’s take a few lessons from good old Rugby!

Then I thought of rugby, a classic team sport. How would it work if the team didn’t understand the big picture: the ‘goal’ of the game? Now, I’m no rugby nut, but I did play for a while in school and will watch a game if it fits in my schedule, but I know this: the idea is to score tries and convert them; each team has a try line; each team wants to get the ball to its try line and stop the other guys doing the same; the top ‘goal’ is a try because it’s worth the most points

Marketing Tactics - Marketing Goals vs Strategy vs Tactics

So you have 2 teams, each of 15 massive blokes, hurtling down a small field trying to prevent the other team from scoring. What if neither team had any idea which try line was theirs? What if they hadn’t worked out a few manoeuvres to get the ball from one end to the other? Wouldn’t it be one long scull-crushing, ear-biting, eye-gouging melee – instead of lots of small brawls interspersed with some play – like it is now? Ah, rugby, you’ve gotta love it.

What about the big picture?

My client’s example was mind-blowing. At no time had he done the big razzamatazz, the big picture presentation – to show his people how vital they are to the company’s goals and achieving them. He hadn’t shown them the prize (the Bledisloe Cup), their role in winning it, or the fabulous riches at the end (fame, bonuses, reality TV shows). More than that, his team was throwing in ideas with no context yet equal weighting- like tossing in new moves mid-game that hadn’t been tested. No wonder no-one was happy.

Setting the big picture has more than strategic value: it’s fun, and fun makes good memories. I remember attending big overseas conferences with big themes, big goals, big strategies, big budgets and big fun. They were fantastic and the effect lasted. Apart from a few hangovers, most of us returned home with shining eyes not shiners, and a strong sense of mateship, purpose and commitment: a bit like rugby without the brawls and injuries. We also had the tools and shared experience to keep everyone else on track. It was fun, it worked, and we achieved our marketing goals, too.

What happened to marketing 101?

So why have goals been forgotten? Why can’t people distinguish strategies from tactics? Where did marketing 101 go? Do marketers understand marketing or just ‘do’ marketing these days?

 How do you tell the different between a goal, a strategy and a tactic?

It’s about 3 key questions:

Goal – what do we want to achieve? The goal is the end game. In rugby, it might be to win the series. In a technology company, it might be to float the company in 2 years. 

Strategy – what if we did this? The strategy is how you’ll achieve the goal. If it’s rugby, one strategy might be to win the ball early to psych out the opposition (I said rugby wasn’t my strongest suit ha ha). If you’re a tech company and your goal is to float, one strategy might be to maximise your off-shore potential by building your profile in new markets like Europe and USA.

Tactics – how will we do it? You’ll have a lot of tactics to support each strategy. Take building your profile: it may involve building strategic alliances, attending industry events, getting opinion pieces in key media, reviews by analysts, active social marketing, hosting webinars and CIO breakfasts and more – and each would be highly specific to the strategy.

Why do strategies matter?

If you want to float in 2 years, you might have reasons not to tell everyone. That shouldn’t stop you sharing the big impact, big influence, big involvement strategies which will unite and inspire your team and do much of the work for you. It’s just like the start of season pep talk by the CEO and coach; they probably each have a longer-term end game they won’t share too.

Marketing Goals - Marketing Goals vs Strategy vs Tactics

Strategies are key: they’re specific and they force you to discard any tactic that doesn’t fit. Without a good strategy in business, random tactics will create confusion and waste money, and that gets the CFO off-side. In rugby it’ll be recriminations, the coach sacked, the CEO red-faced on TV, and money wasted on legal battles, which will really peeve the CFO.

What are good Marketing Strategies like?

Effective strategies are big, uniting and have common elements. They:

  • Are consistent with your brand (or no-one will believe you)
  • Consider your strengths and weaknesses (or you may slip up)
  • Consider your competitors (or they may surprise you and knock you out)
  • Reflect your market (and what they want)
  • Consider the big implications (do you have the people and money to do it?)

So, as in rugby, in marketing be clear on strategy with the team, keep your eye on the ball and the end game, and the score at full time might really surprise you.



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