One of the most exciting things about being on the agency side of the digital marketing world is that we get the opportunity to work with brands and businesses with varying degrees of experience with PPC. This also means what’s needed from us in terms of guidance and execution could take a number of forms – specifically advising on goals, strategy and tactics for the channels under our management.
As the stewards of our client’s digital marketing objectives, we know all planning needs to be outlined with a concise goal, clear strategy and actionable tactics. But for that to happen, it’s important to align an understanding of what it means to be strategic vs. tactical in PPC.
Before we dive into how to decipher strategy from tactics, we should clarify that neither of the former can exist without a definite goal to be achieved.
In the marketing industry, goals should be very measurable and based around a critical or important performance metric. Here’s where this post turns into an analogy of sorts…
Let’s say you’re planning a road trip with a friend. After much discussion, you’ve decided you’re going to make a real journey of it and travel to the oceanside of California from your snow-covered Indiana home (let a girl dream, ok?). The final selection of Malibu as your destination is the goal.
Think of your goal as where you want to go or what you want to accomplish.
Now that you’ve determined and set a goal, it’s time to think about strategy.
A strategy is the plan you design to achieve your goal and becomes a framework that can guide your day-to-day decision-making. It’s easy to jump from goal setting to getting to work, but then you may find yourself questioning why you’re doing some of the work. A strategy allows you to stand back from the “doing” and say “how is this going to help us achieve our goal?”
Getting back to our road trip example, you could compare strategy to your planned route and the major cities you intend to pass through to stay on target. You probably considered a few different ways you could go, but you decide against them because they didn’t all necessarily help you achieve your goal of getting to California. A less direct route is tempting, but would then be a road trip for sightseeing and not getting to the beach. Deciding on the most efficient path from Indiana to Malibu is now your strategy.
Think of strategy as a path, and if you follow it, you should reach your goal or destination.
With a goal set and a strategy determined to guide you there, you can look at the tactical side of things.
A tactic is a tangible step you can take to progress toward your goal, and they are usually able to be considered completed without necessarily achieving your final goal simultaneously. Tactics are things you can do, in a relatively shorter time frame, to gain momentum toward your goals.
Keeping with our Malibu road trip reference, the tactics of your trip would be determining what kind of vehicle to rent for the best gas mileage so you can try to shave off a stop or two, or confirming which exits have gas stations and restaurants you like so you can knock out food and gas with one stop. Anything you can do along the route to save time would be considered a tactic contributing toward your strategy of getting from Indiana to California as quickly as possible, so you can enjoy your final goal of a beach house weekend in Malibu.
Tactics are actionable things you can execute on, generally pretty quickly.
Let’s shake off the road trip example and talk about this in PPC terms.
For our purposes, we’ll assume this is a B2B SaaS account with a few years of experience with Google & Microsoft Ads only. Their industry is becoming more crowded and competitors are getting more aggressive with their advertising. PPC has historically been used as a demand harvesting tool, ready to grab folks who know the kind of platform they’re looking for, but they’d like to be more proactive in filling their entire pipeline and leveraging various educational resources to pull in their target market before they necessarily know the platform they require (or pick a competitor).
So what could a goal → strategy → tactic example look like here?
Drive 20% more net-new leads to our CRM (YoY)
Diversify & expand channel coverage to reach new audiences, using resources tailored to each channel and more top-of-funnel consideration
Upload existing customer lists to LinkedIn and reverse engineer (if we don’t know already) job titles, job function, industry or company size to then build new target lists.
Certainly there would be a few different goals this company would probably be looking to achieve, so this wouldn’t be the only strategy or set of tactics to be implemented to get there by any means. However, if you use some of the thoughts I provided above on how each impacts the others, you can see that we’ve selected tactics that will progress us along the path our strategy outlines, and that strategy directly helps us get to our overarching goal of more net-new leads.
There is one small caveat I’d like to mention before we wrap up. You must stay focused on tactics that stick to your original route (or determined strategy), or else you’ve technically changed your strategy and need to take a moment to recalibrate. This isn’t to say you can’t change your strategy – of course you can! But if you find yourself adjusting the strategy to fit your tactics, and the new strategy is not as well fit to your maximum goal, then don’t change your plan and get back on course with your tactics and original route.
Hopefully, this helps you feel not only more prepared to determine the strategy for yourself or your clients, but also delineate which tactics are most aligned with the ultimate goal you’re trying to achieve with your campaigns.
I’m sure many of you have your own thoughts on the difference between goals, strategies & tactics – comment below and let’s start a discussion!