The difference between marketing strategy and marketing tactics can probably be best summed up by Sun Tzu’s Art of War.

The Art of War is a classic book for a reason: It explains, simply and beautifully, principles that can often be confusing.

The difference between tactics and strategy often confuses new marketers, but, even though he’s discussing war, Sun Tzu’s lesson on the difference between the two is absolutely applicable to the Art of Marketing:

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

What’s the Difference Between Marketing Strategy and Marketing Tactics?

Strategy is your plan to achieve a specific goal. Tactics are how you get there, what you’re doing specifically to achieve subgoals related to that goal. Without a strategy, your tactics often result in you spending way too much money on marketing that’s doing nothing for you (noise before defeat).

Without tactics, your strategy is worse than slow: it’s immobile. It’s just a plan on a sheet of paper. It means nothing because you’re doing nothing.

In marketing, strategy and tactics working together looks a little something like this:


Grow my business by 15% over the next two years.

Marketing strategy and marketing tactics — football strategy outlined with circles and xs


  1. (Sub-goal 1) Increase qualified leads by 35%
  2. (Sub-goal 2) increase upsells by 50%
  3. (Sub-goal 3) increase website sales by 25%.


  1. (Sub-goal 1) Increase cold-calling efforts by 100% and use pixel-retargeting and list-retargeting to bring more prospects to the contact form on your website.
  2. (Sub-goal 2) Create a series of package deals that save customers 10% on both products vs buying the products separately and promote these deals on landing pages on your website, through email marketing, and through Facebook advertising.
  3. (Sub-goal 3) Create a series of landing pages promoting a 15% off discount for your flagship product, then create Facebook and Adwords ads for six months pointing to those landing pages.

(Want to become a marketing strategy guru? Learn more about the Level Up to Awesome marketing strategy course and how it can make you a level 80 marketing warrior).

Tactics Without Strategy Might Achieve a Sub-Goal But Fail the Main Goal

As you can see, the tactics portion gets granular, but the strategy is much more high-level. In war, the main goal is straightforward (win the war), but usually there’s several sub-goals that are necessary to achieve the main goal (defeat the enemy on this particular battlefield, preserve the enemy’s horses so we can survive the journey to the next battlefield).

Defeating the enemy and preserving the horses are two very different sub-goals of the larger goal (win the war).

If all are marketing sub-goals not met, the larger goal falls apart.

The method by which you make those sub-goals (and the ultimate goal) a reality are the tactics you choose to employ, but the tactics depend a great deal on the sub-goals and their relationship to the larger goal. If both sub-goals are critical to completing the larger goal, and you achieve one at the expense of another…

You win the battle and lose the war.

Your Strategy Ties All Goals and Sub-Goals Together, Dictating Tactics

In this scenario (defeat the enemy, save the horses), there are many ways to defeat the enemy without preserving the horses.

If you don’t know why you want those horses in the first place, you might achieve a sub-goal (win this battle), but you’ll lose the war (No horses? Sorry pal, now you die in the desert and don’t make it to the next battle).

Unfortunately, most folks are just employing marketing tactics without any sort of goal in mind (usually because “that’s just what you do”).

They have no idea why they’re making so many cold-calls, why they spend so much on a brochure everyone throws away, why they’re spending hours promoting the company on Instagram when nobody who buys from them is actually on Instagram.

A general who does this fails.

A general who employs a specific tactic, say, targeting the horses directly with archers (ouch) may win the battle, but the sub-goal has not been met (preserve the horses).

So what tactics can this general use to achieve both goals? Maybe the riders are targeted by the archers. Maybe the horses are stolen in the middle of the night. Maybe the camp is attacked at dawn before the riders can get mounted.

Gruesome, I know, but this is critically important—all of these tactics are more difficult to employ than simply having a normal battle of cavalry vs. cavalry or targeting the poor little horses directly.

There are many methods by which this general could eliminate the enemy by directly targeting those horses, methods that might be easier, simpler.

And yet, the general does not employ them, because those horses will win her the war. She must meet the overarching goal, and so our intrepid general chooses a series of tactics that she normally wouldn’t choose.

Because those tactics help her win the war.

Why Does This Matter? Because Most People Flail in the Dark When It Comes to Marketing Strategy

Most people have no idea why they’re doing Facebook ads—they just spend the money and hope for the best.

They don’t have a goal that dictates the reason why they make so many cold calls, or the reason they pour 70% of their marketing budget into a tool that’s supposed to bring them leads…

But only brings them headaches.

They do things because that’s all they know, or that’s what someone recommended to them once over a cocktail at a networking event, or that’s what they inherited when they took over the position, or that’s what’s always been done.

But, if you back up, take your time, and really look at the bigger picture, you may just find out that some things you’re doing make perfect sense and are a good allocation of resources.

And you may find that some things are just plain wasteful.

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