Strategy vs. Tactics

I was in an elevator recently, heading up to meet with colleagues from our agency Wunderkind, and next to me were two young women who were intensely discussing the boo boo that a colleague had made. “She sent the email to everyone – I think she hit ‘reply all’.” “Wow, that was a mistake. She needs to be more strategic with her emails, you know?”  This prompted to think about the common use of the word “strategy”, or “strategic”.

Although there are many points of view on this, we at Wunderkind like to think of Strategy as the macro approach that a major initiative (campaign or brand or corporation, for example) employs, whereas Tactics are the smaller moves and decisions that implement the Strategy in the battlefield. Indeed, modern corporate Strategy has much of its origins in military strategy, starting thousands of years ago with folks like the Greeks, the Chinese and even prior. In marketing terms, your positioning, for example, is Strategy and would never be seen explicitly by the public. Imagine if Starbucks printed “We are your Third Place/Coffee Oasis!” on their cups and sleeves! Laughable and unfortunate. But they’d never do that. Everything in their store and in an ad – the pictures, words and design – are Tactics. As consumers we experience Tactics.

The DNA sequence of ideas at the heart of your brand, is the anatomy of your Strategy. It is what a biologist would call your Genotype, your genetic code. It’s invisible on the surface, and a stranger would never know your real genotype unless you showed them your DNA tests. Your surface traits are your Phenotype. (You could have brown eyes on the surface, your Phenotype, but have a hidden recessive gene for blue eyes in your Genotype, and no one but your local geneticist would know!) In marketing that would be your packaging and advertising and any other “touch points”.

So, perhaps what the young woman in the elevator meant to say was “She needs to be more ‘selective’ with her emails.” “Strategic” is a whole other beast, much bigger and less visible to the naked eye.