Strategy vs. Tactics: What’s the Difference?

Updated Dec 2, 2022.
Strategy vs Tactics

When discussing strategy implementation, strategy and tactics are two common terms in a business environment

Although these terms are widely used across industries (sports, warfare, or business), there is widespread confusion over similarities and differences.

Business owners and executives use tactics and strategies to achieve their goals and objectives. Without proper tactics and strategy planning, your business will struggle to track its progress and succeed.

This article will teach you the relationship and differences between strategy and tactics and the core facets of a good business and marketing strategy. 

What's the Difference Between Strategy and Tactics?

Strategies and tactics originated from the Chinese strategist Sun Tzu who wrote about them as military terminology in his famous book “The Art of War” some 2,500 years ago.

Today, the strategy vs. tactics argument pops up in the daily struggle for the most efficient method to achieve the desired result. 

Both terms are often used interchangeably, but a more comprehensive look at strategy vs. tactics opens up a world of similarities and differences that distinguishes them from one another. 

Despite being two different concepts entirely, the strategic vs. tactics argument has pointed out over the years that they both differ but unite for the same purpose of guaranteeing the planning process's success.

When compared and used in the everyday world, strategy vs. tactics describes the act of achieving success, be it in sports, warfare, or business. 

Tactics and strategies have their individual and collective contribution to aiding the project or industry in question to better track its progress and ensure it delivers desired results. 

As important and alike as these two methods are, they have notable differences. 

Here are some of the notable differences between tactics and strategy:

1. Purpose

The term strategy defines a series of plans and actions designed to ensure the achievement of an organization, community, or country's objectives and goals in the most efficient manner. 

Tactics comprise a series of well-defined specific actions to ensure the success of the plans birthed from the planning process. 

2. Inclination to Changes

Strategy is a long-term vision because it is difficult to tweak or change due to external factors upon implementation. 

At the same time, you can adjust tactics to ensure it conforms to the right direction of the main objective. 

3. Effect on the Plan

Specific tactics are concrete actions defined by the right strategy. This definition implies that a solid strategy more or less can affect changes in a target audience through well-defined tactics, but tactics do not have that same effect on the strategy of a plan.

 4. Long-term Vision vs. Short-term Action

A strategy helps point out key components of an organization's long-term vision and detailed steps to achieve them. Your high-level strategy defines the pathway required to ensure the business goals are met. 

Tactics, unlike strategies, are more like short-term actions as they have a finite timeline that drives their implementation. Tactics ensure the best practices, plans and resources are utilized efficiently to contribute to a business's success actively. 

The Relationship between Strategies and Tactics

Strategy and tactic share a unique relationship. Despite tactics being more solid and visible to observers concerning the ultimate goal of success, you can not rule out the impact an overarching strategy would have on the business goals and objectives. 

Your focus should not be on strategy vs. tactics but on strategy and tactics. It becomes more evident that these two techniques must coexist if any project is worth pursuing. 

Depending solely on a long-term strategy without corresponding tactics is a recipe for failure. Tactics work as actions needed to deliver the desired outcome. 

By only implementing strategies without an overarching plan, the organization is not ticking all the necessary boxes in proper planning. Tactical plans are the actions needed to achieve your organization’s goals.

Similarly, you can not achieve your business goals solely on tactics alone. Tactics without the corresponding tactical plan result in aimless work. The needed guidance to ensure the actions are aligned with the business grand strategy is missing.

As much as strategy and tactics benefit a business if applied individually, they are grossly efficient in delivering success. Strategy and tactics are complementary methods that work best as a team. 

What Makes a Good Strategy?

A good strategy depends on a series of factors that distinguishes it from other strategies.

1. Data-Informed Decisions

The act of developing a good strategy involves coming up with a detailed plan through carrying out extensive research and accounting for external factors. 

A good long-term strategy should include information from previous similar projects as a relevant guide to influence future decision-making processes. 

Consider a business that operates seasonally due to weather constraints. Knowing what and how to do their activities based on historical data is excellent strategic planning. Some of the best strategic planning software include Monday.com, Wrike, and Teamwork.

2. Clearly Defined Goals

Clearly defined goals characterize the most efficient strategies. Having proper knowledge of what you expect to achieve gives room for the thought of a good strategy. 

Clearly defined goals make up an integral part of the overall planning process of a long-term strategic plan. Learning to plan your business and strategic goals simultaneously can help make the project process more efficient. 

Without the presence or sight of an end goal for your business, your strategy would be in the dark. When drawing out your goals, adopt CLEAR goals.

3. Contingency Plan

Every project or business is designed with an expected outcome. This expected outcome acts as the metric to track the progress and level of execution of the implementation plan. Similarly, the success of a strategy is a determinant of these expected outcomes. 

A contingency plan works to assist your strategy in overcoming challenges that intend to derail or impede a successful outcome. 

This plan details the right steps for the team in dealing with these bottlenecks, ensuring they do not interfere with delivering set goals and objectives. 

What Makes Good Tactics?

Tactical planning, unlike strategic planning, is short-term. It involves breaking down the strategic plan into short-term, more easily measurable sets of actions. 

Tactics comprise short-term actions that help achieve specific goals. Here are a series of factors that determine good tactics.

1. The Relationship Between Tactics and Strategy

Strategy and tactics cannot be forced to co-exist despite being so inter-relatable. Note that not all tactics are the best for your strategic plan.

In as much as strategy is solely dependent on work being done, and this work goes a long way in ensuring the goals and objectives of a business are met, choosing the right tactic is equally as important as the work itself. 

OKRs are a good goal-setting strategy to connect short-term goals to long-term visions.

OKRs are a good goal-setting strategy to connect short-term goals to long-term visions
Source: Perdoo

2. Tactics Should Be Actionable and Time-Bound

The best and most efficient way of ensuring the business's tactical planning outlines its goals and objectives is by confining these plans to a specific time frame. 

Tactics are similar in operation to most goal-setting strategies. They must be created and implemented alongside the constraints of a schedule with a set time frame. 

A tactic is given the overall pass and acceptable mark if its actions deliver expected results within the set time frame. Methodologies such as the SMART goal methodology help businesses create actionable and time-bound tactics. 

SMART - Goals
Source: Indeed

3. A Clearly Defined Purpose

Every good tactic has a corresponding clear purpose that guides the implemented strategy. 

For a business or organization to act tactically, it must have a finite time frame for implementing tasks and projects. The organization must make necessary pre-determined measures to determine how these tactics interact in a business context. 

Core Facets of Business Strategy

A business strategy is more or less a method of detailing how to achieve a specific outcome or long-term goals. Strategic planning is an effective guide for key decision-making processes made by individuals or collaboratively as a team. 

Irrespective of the nature of a business and its activities, strategic planning can be utilized up to the highest decision ranking body. 

Although most strategies might seem to have taken the slowest route as regards a business operation, its effect is maximum in assisting the business in making progress. 

Here are some core facets of a business strategy:

1. Competitive Advantage

As a business, your competitive advantage is determined largely by your strategic plan. A strategic business plan highlights the more effective way of distinguishing products or services from a rising number of other businesses.

Your competitive advantage can be as simple as seeking to expand market share or create a monopoly in the market. Maintaining a sustainable competitive advantage requires constant changes to your organization's strategy. 

With an influx of new competitors with a similar product or service delivery specifications or old competitors with new ideas, your organization must perform a SWOT analysis. 

The purpose of the SWOT analysis is to determine the impact these new changes would have on its market viability. 

Purpose of the SWOT analysis is to determine the impact these new changes would have on its market viability
Source: WordStream

2. Top-Level Resource Allocation

Resource allocation is a key component of every organization's structure, and it involves using limited resources such as time, energy, and human resources to deliver the expected Return on Investment (ROI)

Prioritizing the team's task and schedule is part of the resource allocation process. Strategic planning assists organizations in determining the best resource allocation method that is peculiar to their structure. 

Some of the best resource scheduling tools to allocate and optimize your resources effectively include Monday.com, ClickUp, and Wrike.

Here are some of these strategies that help in the better management of scarce resources,

  • Determine Your Project Scope: The project scope defines what it is about, its selected goals and objectives, and a schedule and timeline that guides its implementation. Your strategy must consider the project scope and the estimated completion time.
  • Identify Available Resources: Resources are as crucial as they are limited. Strategic planning helps you factor in the likely resources to expend, how much space, and how many employees you need to prevent scarcity of resources at any point in time. 
  • Devise a Contingency Plan: Placing the focus of a large share of resources in a specific area can harm the project's success. Consider factors beyond your control in your strategic planning and implement mechanisms to curb their effects. 

3. Long-Term Vision and Company Objectives

Gear your strategy towards a specific vision or objective. All strategy segments are designed to actively contribute to a company's long-term vision and objectives. 

Better communication on the direction the team is heading keeps everyone on the same team. Every member better understands the company's aligned vision and objectives. 

4. Markets, Audiences, and Products

Strategic and tactical planning each come with their respective benefits to a project. 

Tactical planning lays out a route for the business to reach the select target audience and sell your idea to them. Strategic planning identifies this select audience. 

Your marketing plan to a large extent is tied to strategic planning, which includes internal reflection and research on trends, competitors, and consumer habits. 

5. Brand Positioning

Brand positioning involves providing your product with a distinct mark from the other similar products in the market. 

The strategy employed in your brand positioning would go a long way in helping the audience recognize and be more familiar with your products or services. 

Your brand positioning largely depends on adequate and well-informed research and very little on tactics.

You can utilize effective messages, social media marketing, and other advertising strategies to drive your brand presence in the market. 

Examples of Business Strategy and Tactics

Business strategies and tactics emanate from various levels of an organization, all geared at bringing the written down objectives into reality. 

Here are some practical business strategies and tactics examples that your organization can incorporate into its structure.

1. Profitability 

Working to increase the profitability of a business is one of the most common objectives of small and large-scale business enterprises. 

Some strategies and tactics examples to improve the profitability of your business are:

  • Reducing costs throughout the business operations
  • Restructuring jobs and workforce to eliminate redundancies and improve overall service delivery of the team
  • Acquiring key project resources from lower-cost suppliers aimed at reducing the direct cost of goods
  • Improving the quality of your goods aimed at increasing the price of goods and profit margins

2. Market Share Growth

At the top of most organizations' strategies is to gain market shares from competitors in the same sphere. 

Some strategies and tactics to employ to gain ground over your competitors include: 

  • Reducing your prices for a brief period in the growth stage to provide room for adequate penetration of the consumer space
  • Reallocating considerable resources in mass advertisement to attract the attention of prospective customers
  • Providing discounts and coupons to loyal customers to further make your products and services more attractive

3. Quality Control

The essence of utilizing quality control in your organization structure is to cut considerable costs due to waste. 

A few examples of tactics and strategies aimed at improving the quality control of your organization include:

  • Devoting considerable resources to providing periodic and regular job training for the employees aimed at improving the quality of skilled hands available
  • Setting the highest attainable standards for the quality of materials being sourced and products produced
  • Providing adequate incentives and benefits to employees to minimize the likelihood of human error on the path of employees

Track Progress of Your Strategy and Tactics with the Right Tools

Strategy and tactics are complementary elements geared toward helping your organization achieve long-term success. Keeping track of the progress made with your strategy and tactics is important. 

Various tools are available to help you track the progress of your employed strategy and tactics. 

1. Tracking the Progress of Your Strategy

Key performance indicators (KPIs) are important parameters for measuring strategy using real-time and measurable data to improve your overall processes. 

KPIs are crucial in setting strategies for your organization. Account for the KPIs you would be working on depending on the chosen strategy and break them down into easy-to-achieve timeframes. You can use project planning software to help you develop your business strategy. 

Consider market conditions and structure to measure the strategy appropriate for your organization. By reviewing your organization's past performance to set targets, you are afforded the needed information to place new targets. 

There would be cases where your KPI performance might be inconsistent with the desired results. In such cases, consider adding a backup to your KPIs to spur much-needed engagement. 

2. Tracking the Progress of Your Tactics

Tactics deal a lot more with effective planning and its means. They are bound by a defined start and end date, allocated resources, and achievable milestones. Keeping track of these components of your tactics is keeping indirect tabs on your tactics. 

Your organization should be structured so that each tactic implemented is tied to a certain member of the accountability organization. 

By tracking the progress of your tactics, your tactics provide the necessary means to measure strategy and its KPIs. 

Keeping tabs on allocated resources and their use plays a huge role in the success of your organization's plans. You can use project management tools and resource management software to track the progress of your tactics. 

When Should I Use Strategy vs. Tactics?

Most organizations fail to see the difference in strategy and tactics and often refer to them as the same thing. Failing to spot their different and individual qualities can negatively affect an organization. 

Strategy and tactics are largely co-dependent and should be used across all areas of the project process. 

Before deciding on an adequate strategy, you must get the necessary backing from key company stakeholders.

At this stage, any hesitation concerning the chosen strategy is addressed and subjected to a series of adaptations until the team generally accepts it.

Circulate the final approved strategy throughout the organizations to provide context to each team's task and obligations to the process. 

All team members must understand your chosen strategy and tactics and the respective impact these strategies and tactics would have on the organization. A thorough review and evaluation of your chosen strategy are required after implementation. It provides room for needed adaptations to changes encountered during implementation as no business has a static procedural environment.

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Martin Luenendonk

Editor at FounderJar

Martin loves entrepreneurship and has helped dozens of entrepreneurs by validating the business idea, finding scalable customer acquisition channels, and building a data-driven organization. During his time working in investment banking, tech startups, and industry-leading companies he gained extensive knowledge in using different software tools to optimize business processes.

This insights and his love for researching SaaS products enables him to provide in-depth, fact-based software reviews to enable software buyers make better decisions.