Strategies vs. Tactics

Posted: January 14, 2016

Our integrated marketing approach begins with research to understand our partner institution’s goals, audiences, resources and positioning within the competitive landscape. Working collaboratively with our clients and utilizing our research, we then define goals and identify key performance indicators that will measure the marketing plan’s performance. The next step is to develop high-level marketing strategies that will inform the tactics that are chosen to execute the plan.  

Many marketers will read the paragraph above for the first time and say, “That sounds great. Let’s do it!” However, they’re secretly thinking, “So, what exactly is the difference between a tactic and a high-level strategy?” That’s a great question. We can talk all day about our goals and our vision, but without a solid understanding of strategies and tactics, there’s a good chance that not much will get done. My goal here is to clarify the difference between a strategy and a tactic while demonstrating why you need both in order to create a successful integrated marketing plan.

What is a Marketing Strategy?

We define a marketing strategy as an actionable recommendation for leveraging an institution’s strengths and opportunities to achieve goals while avoiding a threat or weakness. Strategies are meant to provide direction for the execution of the marketing plan throughout the project. In many cases, strategies will also note how finite resources (people, budget, etc.) can be leveraged to accomplish a marketing goal.

For example, a small private college with a dedicated alumni community, is looking to expand enrollment and attract students outside of their immediate geographic region. A strategy to accomplish this goal may look something like this:

“Leverage alumni stories and experiences to prove the return on investment of a degree from the institution while overturning misconceptions about the higher cost of a private school education.”

What is a Marketing Tactic?

We define tactics as the specific channels, timelines, budgets, metrics and resources used to execute the marketing plan. In other words, tactics are practical executions of the marketing strategies. These are the more granular things most marketer’s focus on each day.

Using the example strategy above of, leveraging alumni stories and experiences to prove the return on investment of a degree from the institution while overturning misconceptions about the higher cost of a private school education, here’s list of sample tactics that could be used to execute on this strategy:

  • Publish 3 profile stories each month of alumni successes on the institution’s website.
  • Create a brochure (or other printed collateral) that uses real alumni quotes to address the common misconceptions prospective students face when researching private schools while also informing them of financial aid options to be distributed at recruiting events.
  • Showcase alumni testimonials (quotes) in online advertising campaigns with a wide geographic target.
  • Offer opportunities for prospective students to connect with alumni to discuss their experiences at the college.
  • Promote alumni testimonial videos on social media to raise brand awareness, increase engagement and promote sharing among prospective students.

Bringing It All Together

If there’s one thing we’ve learned throughout our experience in higher education marketing, it’s that every institution has something unique to offer. We also know that it’s a very competitive industry. Unique marketing strategies help institutions focus efforts to capitalize on their strengths and overcome weaknesses to stand out from the competition to accomplish goals. Tactics are specific ways that we bring strategies to life each day. Both are equally important to accomplishing your institution’s overall goals and making the most of your marketing efforts.

If you’ve still got questions about strategies and tactics, we’d love to hear them. Leave a comment below or reach out to our team directly.