Have you ever asked:

What’s our email strategy?

What’s our content marketing strategy?

What’s our social media strategy?

What’s our digital strategy?

What’s our CRM strategy?

What’s our video strategy?

What’s our mobile strategy?

What’s our web strategy?

What’s our big data strategy?

What’s our SEM strategy?

What’s our programmatic strategy?

I hear these questions a lot and, full disclosure, I’ve also asked these questions. But they reflect a misunderstanding of one of the fundamentals of marketing.

Digital channels – email, social media, web, mobile – are tactics, not strategies.

Think of it in terms of going on a business trip. You need to get from point A to point B. Driving a car might be your overall strategy. Tactics are the different routes along the way which get you there. If you treat a tactic like a strategy, you’re guaranteed to spin your wheels.

Just as you wouldn’t jump in your car and start driving without a destination in mind (unless you’re in a movie), you want to make sure your tactics are tied to a higher level strategy. Figure out what you want to accomplish and then decide how different channels will help you get there.

Now for some bad news. We’re always going to hear people talking about digital strategy or mobile strategy. In fact, thousands of agencies, partners, and technologies companies perpetuate that terminology. After all, one of the ways they acquire new customers is to offer a “strategic channel solution.” It’s ok for someone to offer a “______ strategy”. They just need to connect it back to something bigger.

We clearly need partners to help us, but you need to know how to engage them in terms of asking for tactics connected to existing strategies vs. asking for a generic channel strategy.

So the next time you get excited about a great digital strategy, pump the brakes and consider if it’s taking you away from your real destination. If, for example, that digital strategy requires you to change who you’re targeting, or focus on lower margin products, you’re probably heading in the wrong direction.

Okay, now that I’m finished with my brief rant about the difference between strategy and tactics, let me suggest a better way to ask the questions I outlined at the beginning of the article.

Step 1 – Remind yourself of the marketing objective and ask yourself if the tactic can help you achieve your objective.

Step 2 – If the tactic can’t help you achieve your objective, walk away. If it can, continue to step 3.

Step 3 – Reach out to someone who knows about the channel and ground your question in an existing business or marketing strategy.

Your question now goes something like this:

How can we use email to better retain customers?

How can we use social media to engage prospects?

How can we use digital to create more dynamic brand campaigns?

What’s the best CRM system to better service our customers?

How can we use video to better inspire people to join our company?

How can we use the web to make sure prospects better understand what we do?

Is SEM a cost-effective channel at acquiring new customers?

Can programmatic ad buying help us more efficiently acquire new customers?

What data do we need to make better decisions about clients we want to acquire?

In any competitive industry, you find your advantage in demonstrating that you have something unique to offer. That starts with a strategy that can be achieved through various channels. Both are equally important to accomplishing your overall goals and making the most of your marketing efforts.