Is it a goal, strategy or a tactic?

In the world of marketing there are clear distinctions between these three concepts.

This is not a trick question nor is it a matter of semantics. In the world of marketing there are clear distinctions between these three concepts. This can also be clearly seen by referring to the basic definition of these words. So I will start there.

Definition of goal: An observable and measurable end result having one or more objectives to be achieved within a fixed timeframe.

Definition of strategy: A plan designed to bring about a desired outcome, such as achievement of a goal or solution to a problem.

Definition of tactic. A skillful way of doing something or making something happen. Actions carried out as part of a strategy in the pursuit of an overall goal.

The natural order of how these terms are applied to marketing is simple. First establish a goal, then develop a strategy and finally take the necessary steps or utilize the right tactics to achieve the goal.

Perhaps one of the best ways that I have seen used to explain these terms in plain language was comparing them to a war. After all, as it was pointed out, the words strategy and tactic have their roots in military jargon.

Here’s how it was basically presented …

Goal: Win the war.

Strategy: Divide and conquer.

Tactics: Spies gather information. Resistance members knock out communications. Paratroopers secure airports. Armored divisions break through borders at numerous points of entry and divide opposing forces. Smart missiles take out enemy headquarters. Overwhelming numbers of infantry invade.

When we analyse what has happened, we see that the strategy, divide and conquer, is an idea or a concept of how the goal can be achieved. A tactic, there can be more than one as the example illustrates, is an action taken to fulfill the strategy.

In business the goal might be to increase sales opportunities and the strategy would be to expand market penetration by focusing on untapped demographic groups.

The tactics to be employed might include print and radio advertising, special offers, website updates, a special app that potential customers can download and sponsorship of events that cater to the selected target group.

Remember a strategy is driven by the goal you want to accomplish. In a previous column the focus was on the importance of setting clear goals using the SMART method which bears repeating. Your goals should be Specific, Measurable, Action oriented, Realistic and Time sensitive. If your goal does not meet these criteria then you need to rethink your goal.

The next challenge is not to get hung up on which tactics to use. If you know who you want to reach and understand their characteristics, for example where they like to go, what they like to do and where they live then you will be able to choose the right communications tool.

As a business you will have a number of goals that you want to achieve. It is important to have strategies and utilize tactics to reach your objective. But there is one more thing you have to remember and that is to ensure that whatever strategies and tactics you use should reflect who you are as a business and fit within an overall marketing and communications plan and not be a ‘one off’ effort.

Joe Smith is a communications consultant and an accomplished fine artist. He can be reached via email at