Strategy vs tactics is a debate as old as business – which is more important? The dichotomy is not a distinction without a difference. Business strategy and tactics are clearly different concepts. At the same time, it’s hard to say that one is more important than the other.
Categorizing particular action items in your business as “strategy” or “tactics” is not a high priority item. With that being said, it is important to have an overarching business strategy that is supported by a variety of underlying tactics. In this article, we’ll provide a definition for strategy vs tactics and explore specific examples. This is all with the goal of helping leaders and managers improve the performance of the companies they work for, advise, or operate!
Strategy Vs Tactics Definition
As we mentioned above, business strategy vs tactics are different concepts. So, what is business strategy? One very simple definition of business strategy is, “the collection of choices your business makes around what it will or won’t do.” It’s as simple as that.
Getting slightly more complicated, business strategy often has a “long term” element to it. One might define business strategy as the long-term goals of a business and the priorities established to achieve them. The difference in strategy vs tactics often comes down to timeframe and concreteness. Tactics generally involve specific actions that are shorter term in nature (the “how”), while strategy looks further down the road (the “what”).
Strategy Vs Tactics Examples
A full understanding of business strategy vs. tactics is best achieved by exploring strategy vs. tactics examples. In the sections below, we’ll define a series of what should be best understood as elements of business strategy. But after providing these business strategy examples, we’ll look at business tactics examples that seem similar, yet are different. The difference often comes down to timeframe (shorter), scope (less expansive), and specificity (more concrete).
Business Strategy Examples
A good business strategy provides clear direction to your organization and supports your mission or vision, which may be an even higher-level notion. A business strategy starts with defining overall goals and objectives, often in financial terms. It should cover the markets (i.e., products, services, geographies) in which a business will compete. And a good business strategy will define how the company will win vs. its key competitors. It provides a roadmap to each function in the organization, from marketing to sales to HR and R&D.
A business strategy example: your vision is to build and grow an education company that improves outcomes for students across the world. Your business strategy is to participate in the broadly defined online graduate school test prep market by providing high quality tutoring products and services. Another element of your business strategy is to invest significantly in digital marketing and advertising to drive traffic, but also to develop useful free content that drives online users to your site.
Notice how the strategy defines the long-term vision without going deep into the details of how to execute on it. That’s what business strategy is.
Business Tactics Examples
Good business tactics have a clear purpose that supports a strategy. In the above example, the business strategy was to provide high quality tutoring services. To do this, it’s important to have experienced, effective tutors. But there are different business tactics to employ to ensure your team is filled with excellent tutors. You could create an extensive training program. That would allow the company to hire bright but less experienced tutors. Or, you could have almost no training at all, but pay high wages for more experienced tutors.
Another element of the strategy was to gain traffic through investments in digital advertising and marketing. There are many different tactics that could support this strategy. Advertisements could be run on a pay per click basis on social media sites like Facebook or Google. But a digital advertising budget can also be spent on banner advertisements or on developing free content that gets distributed and shared. To determine which of these business tactics are optimal requires expertise and a lot of testing. But the key point is that these are all shorter term, specific actions that support the broader strategy.
Of course, we could have provided many other strategy vs tactics examples. McDonald’s strategy is to be the global leader in providing low-cost fast food that meets a minimum standard of quality. While it may seem that having a dollar menu or considering a plant-based burger or offering spicy chicken nuggets are strategic choices, these are better examples of business tactics than they are business strategy.
Now, consider when McDonald’s moved into the “premium” coffee segment and started offering lattes and cappuccinos. This change necessitated investing in new equipment for their stores. Now, the company is selling coffee products that cost $4 instead of $1, competing against Starbucks. These are longer term decisions. Entering the market for premium coffee is a good example of business strategy.
Distinguishing between strategy vs tactics is often less important than it might seem. If the decision or action being taken helps you profitably meet customer needs, it’s likely a good one for your business. But over time, a business that lacks a clear strategy can spread its resources too thin. On the other hand, a business that focuses too much time on business strategy may never get anything done. Success in the marketplace depends on sound business strategy married with effective tactics. This combo provides a killer 1-2 punch that is sure to elevate your business!