Don’t mistake a tactic for your strategy: Why a tactic is not a strategy

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It is not uncommon for firms to describe their strategy in ways such as:

  • Our strategy is the target young adults
  • Our strategy is to use guerrilla marketing
  • Our strategy is lean manufacturing
  • Our strategy is this new feature

While each of these may be valuable components of a strategy, they are not an overarching strategy for a firm in themselves. Alone, they do not set the overarching direction for a company, nor guide other decision-making. This article explores some reasons why individual tactics are not a strategy in themselves. 

Reason 1: Strategies set the direction for multiple decisions

Possibly the key difference between a strategy and a tactic is that strategies set the direction of multiple decisions within an organization. They are the long-term decisions that help align other actions below them. No matter which part of the firm that you are in, strategies should help guide actions – providing a basis for determining whether a particular decision is in keeping with the overarching approach that the firm is taking.

In comparison, tactics are the more individual decisions – potentially confined to individual departments. While they are important parts of competing, they are less likely to transcend individual areas, nor provide the basis for how to compete beyond a narrow set of issues.

Reason 2: Individual tactics are easy to imitate

Another reason why tactics are not the same as an organizational strategy is that individual tactics are often easy to imitate. The reason is that copying a tactic requires only imitating one thing. Strategies on the other hand, which integrate together multiple actions, all reinforcing each other,  would require imitation of multiple parts. Indeed, it may not be possible to get any benefit from copying any one part. The real advantage comes from the whole approach – and copying all elements is very difficult. 

Reason 3: Tactics have a relatively short-term orientation, and may be reversed

Another reason why an individual tactic shouldn’t be equated with a strategy is the time horizon. Gaining a true competitive advantage requires multiple actions that each reinforce one another over time. This requires a long-term orientation – with decisions across time periods that are each consistent. If the timeframe of your tactic is relatively short-term orientated (i.e., what we are doing now), or it is easy to change, then it is is driving the multiple reinforcing decisions over time. 

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