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Forget The Strategy Vs. Tactics Debate

I’ve been thinking about Shannon Paul’s post, Is Social Media a Strategy or a Tactic? for a while now. I decided it was time to crystallize some of my thoughts. And, of course, share them with you:

FIRST: Forget the debate over whether Social Media is a strategy or a tactic. We (practioners) tend to spend a lot of time arguing this point. Why? If the answer to this question changes the implementation, then it matters. If it doesn’t, well, then it doesn’t.

Where to start, then, if not with the debate over strategy and tactics? How about starting where all good marketing needs to start? With a killer communications plan.

That communications plan must start with a goal – WHAT we are trying to accomplish.
One goal, please, per plan… and it must be measurable. “Increase sales” is not a goal. “Increase sales by 10%” is a goal. Maybe not a very inspiring one, but a concrete goal, nonetheless. Not starting with a true goal is where most plans go awry. All the deep theory, latest tactics, and slick strategies will not accomplish your goal if you don’t know what it is. Not without a truckload of blind luck, anyway.

Let’s tackle this one: “Grow our online business by 25%.”

Then, define the objectives for the goal – WHY we care about WHAT we are trying to accomplish. The objectives should reflect the importance of the goal. If you’re struggling to find clear objectives, perhaps you should rethink the goal. Objectives are the bridges between the concrete-ness of the goal and the qualitativeness of most strategies (think about the strategies you’ve written or seen. Most of them read like, “Increase engagement and positive mentions online among Mom bloggers.”)

One objective for our goal, above, might be, “Reduce our dependence on brick and mortar sales to achieve profitability, and reduce exposure to profit fluctuations because of renegotiated lease rates on store spaces nationwide.”

Now, it’s clear WHY we need to achieve the goal of increasing our online business by 25%.

Next, we look at strategies for achieving the objectives (How are we going to share Why we care about What?). Strategies are, often, less concrete than goals or tactics. It actually makes a lot of sense, when you think about it. Good plans start with the concrete, the measurable. They march through the more nebulous, theory-strewn areas of objectives and strategies, and finish back in the world of the concrete with tactics. There’s a nice symmetry to it.

A strategy might be, “To increase the number of unique visits to our web site.” Yes, I recognize that our hypothetical web site might need some overhauling to convert better, or that we would need additional strategies and possibly objectives to achieve our goal. I’m not trying to write a complete marketing communications plan here, just frame the high points.

Finally, we need tactics that support each strategy (What, specifically, are we going to Do, in what way, and how does it achieve the big What?) One tactic might be: “Use Twitter and Facebook to engage online communities and promote the (presumably great, useful) content on our blog (which resides on our web site…)” Other tactics may not involve social media, or may be a mix of social media and more traditional online and offline marketing. As long as they support the strategy of increasing unique visits to our website, they are appropriate and tactically relevant.

Getting people to the website via checking out our blog fits our strategy and the information there would (presumably) help us reframe ourselves as a top online seller (of whatever it is we’re selling). All this to achieve the overall goal of increasing our online business by 25% so we can minimize overall negative profit impacts by renegotiated leases.

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