Marketing 101: Goals, Objectives, Strategy and Tactics

“We help develop strategy!” … “Tell me your objective?” … “What are your advertising goals?” … “Here’s a list of tactics you can pick.” I can’t help but wince when people—especially people in the marketing communications business—indiscriminately throw around the terms goals, objectives, strategies and tactics without considering their true meaning. Each of these words means something specific to a company that is selling goods or services. With very little effort anyone can understand the differences between these concepts and how they build on each other—and with this understanding will instantly become a savvier marketer.

In the busy day-to-day of operating a company in our fast-paced world, it’s easy to jump right to focusing on a marketing communications tactic—such as a website, brochure, media release or an ad—without considering the goals and strategies that said tactic is supposed to help fulfill. So, while it may seem elementary, let’s take a moment to define these terms:

Goals are broad statements about what a company or organization hopes to achieve. Goals can be short-term or long-term, but each goal should be clear and supported by measurable objectives. (If we compare marketing planning to taking a trip, I like to think of goals as your destination—the end result of the journey.)

Objectives are the quantifiable elements of a thoughtful strategic plan. Goals, strategies and tactics describe how things get done or how we want things to be in the end. Objectives, on the other hand, are a measuring device; every objective should begin with the word “increase” or “decrease.” (Returning to our trip analogy, objectives are increasing speed, decreasing the number of rest stops or deciding how many miles per day you will travel.)

Strategies describe a major approach or method for realizing objectives and, as a result, meeting goals. Strategies answer the question, “How will we accomplish our objectives?” Strategies don’t describe specific activities—those are tactics. In a retail environment a strategy may be to increase foot traffic in your store or to convince existing customers to buy additional items. (Using our travel example, a strategy is the route you will map out and follow to reach your destination.)

Tactics are action or the specific ways you do things in order to execute the strategies. They are concrete actions you’ll undertake, the physical pieces you’ll create or the connections you’ll make. (Back to our trip example, tactics are the car you’ll drive, the ferry you’ll ride or the shoes you’ll buy in order to walk to your destination.)

Goals, objectives, strategies and tactics—all very specific things that build on each other and work together to help propel an enterprise forward. Now, take some time to get back to basics and consider just one of your organization’s goals, set some measurable objectives, work on at least one strategy and list some possible applicable tactics. Consider it your first step on your journey to smarter marketing!