Our #1 Rule for Marketing Success: Don't Start With Tactics

May 15, 2017

Let’s start with a scenario we see all too often in our industry:

Your company is launching a new offering and your c-suite has tasked marketing with developing a plan to help support the sales team’s goals. You ramp up product knowledge, interview the sales team to gain an understanding of their needs and huddle with your team to determine the best possible ways to communicate the offering. The consensus is to start by building out a campaign-specific landing page, updating collateral and leveraging these materials at your upcoming trade show. With a game plan intact, you schedule a kick-off meeting with your trusted agency partner.

Are you handing your agency a strategy to execute? Or tactics?

The answer is tactics. And many organizations fall victim to mistaking tactics for a strategy. This leaves marketers scratching their heads when results are unfavorable or, even worse, they realize they don’t have any measurable results to share with leadership.

Our #1 rule for marketing success is to start with an agreed upon, well-researched strategy before jumping into tactics. It’s not earth-shattering, but it’s so essential and frequently forgotten.

Strategy vs. Tactics

A strategy is the plan to help you achieve your goals. This plan cannot exist without defining these foundational elements first: your business objective(s), your target audience(s) and how success will be measured. You wouldn’t start construction on a building without knowing what the building will be used for and who will be using it, and advertising isn’t any different.

Once you have buy-off on these foundational elements and your strategy (i.e. plan), you can begin to explore tactics. Tactics are the actions you take to execute your strategy, such as a paid search, TV or print ads. In summation, you can think of strategy as your “what” and tactics as your “how.”

While it might seem harmless to jump ahead, without a strategy you can’t be confident that your tactics are achieving your business goals. Your tactics should support your strategy, which is your plan for achieving your goals.

Resisting Temptation

It’s easy to be tempted to talk tactics early on, especially when you’re excited and brainstorming, trying to appease a specific request from a key stakeholder or asked to deliver on an impossible deadline. If your team hasn’t talked strategy yet, have your radar up for some of these common pitfalls:

  • Assuming you need to be doing the same things as your competitors
  • Placing more emphasis on the desirability of a tactic than its ability to reach your target
  • Assuming digital is the only viable solution
  • Getting caught up on an idea or plan that isn’t measurable
  • Doing something just because it’s trendy

If you’re catching yourself or your team putting the cart before the horse, here are some tried and true questions to get back on track:

  • What business problem am I trying to solve?
  • What do I hope to accomplish?
  • Who is my target and what is important to them?
  • What is my strategy for achieving my business objectives?

As your partner, your agency should be spending your money like it’s their own—which means never gambling your dollars on tactics that may or may not be effective. A good agency partner will demand—and deliver—good strategy before diving into tactics.

Early Engagement = Better Results

When you dictate specific tactics for your agency to execute, you’re missing out on the real value your agency can bring to your partnership: strategy. Agencies are experts at helping businesses identify and creatively solve their problems. By bringing your agency to the table earlier, you gain a fresh, objective point of view and marketing solutions that are more integrated with your business agenda. You’ll also have a more invested partner with a clear vision and understanding of why they’re doing what they’re doing. This results in more strategic work and ultimately, better results.

Could your organization benefit from an outside perspective and disciplined approach to building a strategy? Send us an email at to get the conversation started.


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