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What Is the Difference Between Strategy and Tactics? (+ Examples)

Strategy and tactics are NOT the same. Yeah, it’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? But the difference between strategy and tactics isn’t always that clear. We’d thought we could change that today.

One of our recent podcast episodes got us thinking about strategy vs tactics. It was with the SaaS pioneer Phil Alves, who is currently the CEO of DevSquad and DevStats. In case you missed that episode, Phil talked about how hiring a chess coach changed how he ran his business. It made him approach it in a more tactical way.

So yes, there’s definitely a big distinction between strategy and tactics. Now, let’s chat about how they differ and overlap, but also walk through some interesting examples together.

Strategy Vs. Tactics: Main Differences

Just think about it: business is really a lot like chess. You don’t blindly go into the game and hope for the best. No, you strategically plan out your moves to gain the upper hand against your opponent. This kind of thinking requires you to understand the difference between strategy and tactics first.

Even though these two are often used interchangeably to describe winning at chess, sports, and business, they’re actually quite two different terms. They are complementary, nevertheless, but if you want to build and execute ambitious goals for your business successfully, you need to be 100% clear about the difference between strategy and tactics. 

In brief, strategy defines your purpose, while tactics outline the methods to achieve it. Strategy sets the overall vision and direction for your business, whereas tactics are the specific steps to realize that vision. It’s evident that strategy and tactics are interdependent. Understanding this difference is crucial. Tactics cannot exist without a strategy, and without a strategy, any significant accomplishments are unlikely.

Here’s how we could define each of these two:

  • Strategy is the overall vision for how you want to accomplish your business goals. To put it simply, it’s your big-picture stuff. It’s typically long-term planning, and it should be adaptable as time goes by, depending on the circumstances of the market.
  • Tactics are much more specific. They are concrete activities or actions that an organization needs to complete in order to fulfill its strategic goals. This means the tactics are used to accomplish your strategy. 

What Makes Good Strategy and Tactics?

You’re probably aware that there’s no room for just winging it or going with the flow in the business world. So, a good strategy is, above all, focused on the desired goal or outcome. It’s also backed by analysis and data and not just some random idea or vision. A solid strategy acts as the foundation for all activities within your organization, and it helps you achieve your goals.

On the other hand, tactics are the individual actions you take to get to your goals. In your business, these are the steps that your team needs to take to implement your strategy. For instance, a tactic could be launching a social media campaign or pricing promotions. They are typically on a short-term basis, which means they can be adjusted based on real-time analytics and feedback. You think strategically but act tactically.

Examples of Difference Between Strategy and Tactics

Picture this: a cozy little coffee shop with big dreams of becoming the neighborhood’s favorite hangout spot. The strategy would involve becoming the most popular coffee shop in the area within one year. Tactically, the coffee shop would source a high-quality coffee bean supplier, launch a marketing campaign highlighting their unique blend, and implement a rewards system for repeat customers. 

Aligning the tactical steps with the strategic goal enables the coffee shop to track progress and adjust the course of action as needed to ensure they are on their path to becoming the neighborhood favorite.

Let’s look at another more specific example of an imaginary company specialized in producing plant-based ready meals, and let’s call it “Vegan Vittles.” Here’s what their strategy and tactics would look like in practice.

  • Strategy: Market Penetration – Our success lies in introducing our plant-based ready meals in communities where veganism is rapidly gaining popularity, focusing on health-conscious individuals who desire convenience and taste in their food choices.
  • Objective: Position ourselves as the top choice in the ready meals market for health-conscious and time-constrained individuals, especially in cities identified with an increasing vegan population.
  • Tactic 1: Develop a line of planet-friendly, gluten-free, plant-based microwave meals focused on popular international cuisines.
  • Tactic 2: Organize taste-testing events in bustling, health-oriented grocery stores and gain indirect promotion from these venues.
  • Tactic 3: Collaborate with popular health and lifestyle influencers to promote the brand on YouTube and Instagram, targeting the ethical consumer market and driving taste and convenience appeal.

You can see that the tactics contribute to the overall objective, which is closely aligned with the core strategy, drawing a clear line between strategy and tactics.

Align Strategy and Tactics for Best Results

Strategy and tactics are definitely not the same thing, but they are closely intertwined. You can’t have one without the other. 

When you’re aiming for a specific goal in your business, it all kicks off with crafting a solid strategy, also known as your strategic vision. Then, you continue with the tactics that need to be aligned with your overarching strategy. So, have these tips in mind when crafting your strategy and preparing tactics to follow:

  • The main difference between strategy and tactics is that strategy is your overall vision and direction, while tactics are the individual steps aimed at realizing that vision.
  • Strategy is geared towards long-term objectives, whereas tactics are all about the day-to-day, tangible steps that help you get there, focusing on the short-term game.
  • Strategy and tactics give the best results when they’re aligned. So, develop your strategic vision first, then break it down into tactical steps.

As we like to say, it’s all about balancing vision with actions. In other words, you can accomplish your vision when you think about it strategically and then act tactically.