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Tactical vs strategic in marketing and growth

Irina Ianculescu
7 min read

There’s a tactical and a strategic side of marketing and, similarly, there are tactical, pure executional founders and marketers and there are strategic thinkers.

Being strategic comes down to asking the right questions

From my experience, you want to be playing in the strategic field. And the difference lies in asking the right questions.

In marketing, some examples of purely tactical questions might be “How do I do keyword research?”, “How do I set up my AdWords campaign?”, “How do I set up my email campaign?”, “How do I run my Facebook ads?”. These are tactical questions that you can quickly google to find answers.

There’s a ton of content covering answers to all these questions and providing step-by-step instructions on how to do all that.

Tactical founders and marketers are the implementers who need instructions on setting a Facebook ads account or writing email subject lines.

Conversely, there are also more difficult and strategic marketing questions that Google can’t answer for you.

Questions like:

  • How do I tailor these marketing tactics to work for my type of business?
  • What are the most effective customer acquisition channels I should go after based on my business model?
  • What is the most affordable and efficient way to reach my target audience?
  • How do I position myself in comparison to my competitors?

Google and the plethora of best practices you find on the internet can’t answer these questions for you.

These are fundamental questions whose answers are specific to your industry, product type, business model, audience & their problems and needs, offering, etc.

You can’t find tactical and actionable content on the internet that gives you the answers to your specific situation.

Step-by-step instructions vs frameworks and models of thinking

You’ll find these answers by being a strategic thinker and learning how to use different frameworks, models, and principles to guide your thinking.

These strategic thinkers, be it founders, marketers, or managers who are controlling budgets don't need step-by-step instructions and directions to do their jobs.

They need to be proficient in their market specifics, business model, and target audience and learn how to use different frameworks and models to guide their thinking.

When it comes to startup founders or marketers, they usually need to come with a marketing plan, so they find other companies in their field doing similar stuff and copy what they’re doing. “It looks like everybody is running Facebook ads, I’ll run some ads, as well!” “Hey, it looks like they use blue on their website, I’ll use blue, too!”

The issue with replicating what others are doing is you’re picking random things that you don’t even know if they work for the other company.

The truth is you never really know what works for everybody else because they’re in a completely different situation than you, with a different set of problems,  resources, audience, and so on.

So, all in all, this is a flawed way of thinking about marketing.

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail

Now, another thing I see all the time is that if you don’t know your stuff, you’re easily influenced by all these folks who are specialized in different areas of marketing, telling you that their area is what you should be focusing on.

The paid ads folks will tell you that you’ll solve all your marketing problems through ads, the social media people will tell you that social media is the best strategy for you. That’s why it’s crucial to know your strategy and to understand what works for you, so you’re not easily nudged in different directions by all these people that are biased towards their area of expertise.

I see the following questions as being among the most crucial when determining your marketing approach

(Q1) Who's my ideal customer and what's essential to know about them?

In a startup, or when you’re just starting out and have limited resources, you want to make sure you sell to people who are the easiest to sell to, those who understand the value of your product, people that make fast purchase decisions, and who are so excited about your product that they’re willing to tell others about it.

(Q2) What does the customer journey look like?

You also need to understand your prospects' journey from when they acknowledge they have a need or a problem, until they make the purchase:

  • What are the pain points, needs, anxieties, motivations of my ideal customer?
  • What language do they use when they talk about or search for my type of product
  • What do they complain about?
  • What they like/don't like
  • How do they buy products like mine?
  • Who influences their purchase decision?
  • Where do they spend time online?

You need to research and know all the steps they take from when they start the process and what exactly causes them to advance towards purchasing your type of product.

There will be stages in their journey where they’ll be more focused on information and learning more about their problems, needs, and the available solutions out there.

There will also be stages where they’ll compare providers and prices, watch product demos, read reviews and recommendations to make a decision.

Each stage in their customer journey will be defined by different behaviors, actions, channels, and friction points.

This is why it’s very important to map your customer journey from start to finish.

This will open your eyes to so many details and touchpoints you haven’t thought about and will inform you on how you’ll communicate with them based on each stage.

For example, if you find out that your ideal customer doesn’t actively search for your type of product or they don't know the benefits, your marketing should revolve around educating them about the risks of not solving the problem and how your type of product is the perfect solution for them.

This is different than the majority of your prospects being in the decision phase when they’re evaluating pricing and offers to make the purchase. At this point, they don’t need much education because they're already aware of the benefits, available solutions on the market, how they compare, and their offers. Your marketing approach would be very different when marketing to these people.

(Q3) What’s my UVP and how am I different from my competitors?

In short, a unique value proposition is a straightforward statement that describes what you do, how you solve your customers' needs, the benefits of your offer, and what distinguishes you from the competition.

Your value proposition needs to be the first thing your visitors see in the header of your homepage, and should also be visible throughout other pages of your website, on your sales page, on your blog, etc.

Now, aside from the UVP statement, it’s really important to stand out in your market.

The questions that pop into your prospects’ minds are: Why should I choose you? Do you have something different to offer? Can I trust you?

That’s what clients are really buying into - a better answer to their questions.

Now, features and functionalities most certainly can be replicated by all your competitors, but what’s not replicable is who you are and your unique way of finding solutions to your customers’ problems.

(Q4) How do I pick the right acquisition channels considering my type of product and business model?  

I'll start by saying that not every marketing channel is a fit for your type of product.

There are 3 main aspects here:

  1. There are certain characteristics of your product that lend themselves to certain channels:
  • The math has to work - your average order value or the average revenue per user needs to surpass the amount you spend on that channel to acquire a customer to make it a profitable channel for your business.
  • Your audience needs to be present on that particular channel to reach them with your product.
  • Your audience’s behavior with your type of product: Do they search using keywords? Does your product or service require research and consideration before purchasing it? Or is it an impulse buy?
  • For certain channels to work, you need to have huge amounts of high-quality content that gets indexed; or stage-specific content to satisfy all sorts of needs happening at different stages in the buyer's journey (top, mid, bottom).
  • Are you B2B or B2C? You might find that for a B2B product, there’s a lot of friction to make a channel like ads work.

2. Each channel is governed by its own set of rules

You just can't shape a channel after your product, nor can you define the rules of the channel. The channel defines its own rules and controls the results you’ll get.

So, you can only control how you can adapt your product to match certain channels and their rules.

3. Your level of expertise with the channel will limit the types of channels you can use

Take into consideration your areas of expertise, your strengths, passions, and interests, and also your resources and constraints because all these things will limit the types of channels you can use.

(Q5) Once my prospects get on my website, how’s their experience?

Now that I brought them to my website, what do I want them to do?  What are the most important steps they need to take once they get to my site?

Count to 3—this is the amount of time someone takes to decide whether they want to spend more time on your site and give you a chance to tell your story.

It’s that quick and you need to do your best to capture your visitor’s attention the second they “enter the door” of your website.

Nowadays, given the variety of websites and pages that show up in Google for every search, it’s a matter of seconds and choice, as there are so many options out there from which they can choose.

You need to ask yourself:

  • Are my homepage and website organized in such a way that it’s easy and enjoyable for my potential customers to go through this experience?
  • Do they find what they’re searching for? Am I answering all their questions and concerns throughout my website copy?

Your homepage acts as a doorway for your website - where your visitors pass through to find out more details about what you have to offer.

Your user will base their decision to stay or go on the answer to these 3 questions:

  • What do you offer?
  • How will it make their life better?
  • What do they need to do next?

And your homepage needs to reflect the answer to these questions.

For me, these are 5 of the most pivotal questions marketers and entrepreneurs should have in mind if they want to get results with their marketing.

And you most certainly won’t find the answers to these questions on Google.

All this stems from the work you put into understanding your market, ideal customer, their behavior, how you stand out from the crowd, which channels you should go after, and how you create a seamless experience for them once they get on your turf.

early-stage marketing