media choices

Marketing Strategy vs. Tactics

Dave Wieser

Principal – DW Creative Marketing

Dave Wieser is Principal of DW Creative Marketing, whose mission is to “Help the Doers create their legacy.” His career of 20+ years in the advertising and marketing industry has led to a wide range of experiential roles, including media selling, media buying/planning, marketing strategy, research, business intelligence and data analytics…

Many prospects ask questions about marketing tactics which center around some variation of “Should we do X media or Y media?”  Plug-in the variable the limitless options to spend marketing dollars and we understand why it can be overwhelming.  But there is a fundamental issue when starting with marketing tactics vs. strategy.

Jumping into marketing tactics without a guiding strategy is likely to lead to failure. It is like asking someone to drive “across the country” but not giving any guidance on constraints, destination or the purpose of the trip. It is likely to become a frustrating experience.  By taking the time to develop a solid strategy before diving into specific marketing tactics, you will set yourself up for long-term success and avoid the pitfalls of aimless and ineffective marketing efforts. 

At DW Creative Marketing, we have worked with hundreds of businesses on both strategic planning and tactical implementation.  Here’s our take on the difference between marketing strategy and media buying tactics, and how you can distinguish each to leverage at the appropriate time on your growth journey.

Strategy Vs Tactics

To illustrate my approach to strategy and tactics, I will draw on a military example from WWII.

During the Second World War, the US made a strategic decision to focus on winning the war in Europe and later turn to the Pacific. This strategy shaped tactical questions related to training, supplies, and coordination with allies. If the Allies had no guiding strategy, the war would have taken much longer and may have ended with different results.

The value of strategy goes beyond Generals, Prime Ministers, and Presidents. While strategy is set at the top, those at the ground level have tactical flexibility to use their judgement to achieve the goal. Tactical flexibility also recognizes that those on the ground have the best skills and knowledge to achieve the goal.

Questions to Ask when Formulating Strategy

In my work with clients, I recommend following the following strategy points. Taken together, these questions lay an effective foundation.

What markets are you trying to win and why?

Example: Tesla, Inc.

  • Target Market: Electric Vehicle (EV) and Renewable Energy Market.
  • Why: Tesla aims to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy. The company identified a growing demand for clean and renewable energy solutions and electric vehicles, which are seen as a key solution to reducing carbon emissions and combating climate change.
  • Strategy: Tesla started with high-end luxury electric cars and gradually introduced more affordable models. They also expanded into energy storage solutions and solar products to create a comprehensive ecosystem of sustainable energy products. Notice the shift in product mix and the discovery of alternate revenue streams that fulfill their purpose (why?).  That’s strategy.

What markets will you explicitly avoid?

Example: Apple Inc.

  • Avoided Market: Low-End Smartphone Market.
  • Why: Apple positions itself as a premium brand offering high-quality products with superior design and technology. Entering the low-end smartphone market could potentially dilute its brand value and impact its profit margins.
  • Strategy: Apple maintains its focus on the mid to high-end market segments, offering products with advanced features, innovation, and a premium user experience. They avoid competing in the low-end market where price competition is fierce and profit margins are thin.

Define the customers in your market

Example: Netflix

  • Market Definition: Global Online Streaming Audience.
  • Who: Netflix targets a diverse audience ranging from young adults to families, offering a wide variety of content including movies, TV shows, documentaries, and original programming that caters to different tastes and preferences.
  • What: The online streaming market, where consumers are looking for convenient, on-demand access to a wide variety of content.
  • Strategy: Netflix invests heavily in original content creation and licensing deals to build a vast library of content that appeals to different audience segments. They utilize data analytics to understand viewer preferences and tailor their content offerings accordingly.

In each of these examples, the companies have clearly defined their market strategies, focusing on specific market segments where they can leverage their strengths and create value, while consciously avoiding markets that do not align with their brand positioning or strategic objectives.

What Is Your Point of Differentiation?

Also known as positioning, this part of strategy describes how your offer is unique and valuable in the marketplace. For additional insight on positioning, read the bible, Al Ries and Jack Trout’s “Positioning.”

Think of positioning as a tree.  The trunk is a category, for example, lawn and garden products.  Within the category, as it “branches off,” you can see there are many options:  plants, flowers, gardening tools, fertilizers, outdoor furniture, garden accessories, outdoor lighting solutions, irrigation systems, pest control products, etc.

Some may choose to sell it all, but we work with a wildly successful retailer who chose early in the business to be the “experts” in seed and fertilizers.  The focus helped it expand into multiple stores over three states.

Which Marketing Tactics Are Suited To Your Target Customer?

Now that you have identified your strategy, ideal customer and positioning, you are ready to look at different marketing tactics. This goes back to knowing your customer.

In crafting a marketing strategy, it is imperative to align your marketing tactics with the preferences and behaviors of your target customer. For instance, if your target audience comprises millennials and Gen Z, leveraging social media platforms and influencer marketing can be potent tactics, as these groups are known to be heavily influenced by online reviews and recommendations.

On the other hand, if you are targeting a more mature audience, daytime TV might be more effective.

Selecting marketing tactics that reaches a media where your target customer “hangs out” is a critical step in bridging the gap between marketing strategy and marketing tactics.  

While there are numerous research resources on media consumption (Nielsen, Scarborough, Marshall Marketing, E-Marketer, Pew, etc), try to not overthink this step.  Talk to your customers and you’ll quickly start to unlock patterns of how they spend their daily routine with media.


Further Reading on Business Strategy

To continue your study on business strategy, take a look at these resources.

  • Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters:  In this book, Rumelt delineates the differences between good strategy and bad strategy, emphasizing that a good strategy is more than just a set of goals; it is a cohesive response to critical challenges. A good strategy is coherent, focusing on critical issues and coordinating resources to address them effectively. On the other hand, a bad strategy tends to be a mere wish list of desirable outcomes without a clear plan or focus, often failing to address the core challenges at hand. Rumelt advocates for leaders to eschew fluff and buzzwords, focusing instead on clear, actionable plans that leverage unique advantages to overcome key obstacles and achieve specific objectives.
  • Great by Choice Author Jim Collins meticulously explores the factors that propel some companies to excel in uncertainty, even chaos, and outperform their competition. Drawing upon a rigorous research study, Collins, along with co-author Morten T. Hansen, identifies the principles and behaviors that characterize such high-performing organizations. These companies are noted to be more disciplined, empirically creative, and productively paranoid, always ready to adapt to changing circumstances without deviating from their core values and long-term goals. The book serves as a blueprint for business leaders aiming to steer their organizations towards sustained greatness, emphasizing the role of careful planning, relentless execution, and a willingness to innovate within controlled boundaries, thus making it a vital read for individuals in the marketing and business strategy domains.

Further Reading on Marketing Strategy

To deepen your understanding of marketing strategy, consider delving into these insightful resources:

  1. They Ask, You Answer” by Marcus Sheridan: This transformative approach to marketing encourages businesses to focus on answering the real questions their customers are asking. Sheridan emphasizes the importance of transparency and trust-building in the digital age. The book offers a roadmap to content marketing success by urging businesses to become the go-to authority in their respective industries, thus fostering a stronger connection with customers and driving sales.

  2. Marketing Plans: How to Prepare Them, How to Use ThemA comprehensive guide that serves as an invaluable resource for marketers at all levels. McDonald’s book is a well-rounded resource that covers various facets of marketing strategy, including market segmentation, positioning, and targeting. It offers a detailed approach to crafting marketing plans that align with business objectives, providing tools and techniques for analyzing market trends and customer needs. This book is a great tool for those looking to develop robust marketing strategies that can withstand the dynamic business environment.

These books will provide you with a rich perspective on marketing strategy, offering both innovative approaches and tried-and-tested analytical tools to enhance your marketing efforts and achieve business goals.


Navigating the complex landscape of business and marketing requires a well-thought-out strategy that serves as a compass, guiding your tactical decisions and ensuring alignment with your overarching goals. By distinguishing between strategy and tactics, and understanding the vital role each plays in your business journey, you can craft a roadmap that not only avoids the pitfalls of aimless efforts but also paves the way for sustainable success. Remember, a well-defined strategy will not only help you identify the right markets to target but also assist in carving out a unique position in the marketplace. As you venture further, equip yourself with knowledge from the experts in the field, continually refining your approach to stay ahead in the game. Here’s to building strategies that win and tactics that resonate with your target audience, propelling your business to new heights.

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