Why Tactical Marketing Can Only Do So Much

By David Lazarenko written about 10 months ago

I was recently out jogging — yes, it gets warm enough in Winnipeg for that — and realized that, for the better part of my career, I’ve been swinging at wiffle balls. I also realized that the vast majority of the mid-sized companies I’ve worked with are swinging at wiffle balls too! 

Perhaps I should start with some context:

  1. A wiffle ball is a light, perforated ball used to play baseball in confined spaces.
  2. A wiffle ball has a maximum range of not much more than 100 feet.
  3. Major League Baseball regulations require that the left or right field fence be no less than 325 feet from home plate.

So, why am I talking about wiffle balls? It’s because no matter how hard you swing, how accurately you time your body movement and how perfectly you make contact, you will never hit a major league home run with a wiffle ball. And the same can be said about tactical marketing. 

Over the last few years (namely the past two) I have come to realize that tactical marketing can only achieve so much — that no matter how perfectly the research is done, how succinctly the brief is prepared (and solved) and how meticulously the communications plan is executed, you will never hit a major, company-changing, industry-leading home run through tactical marketing alone.

Why is that? It helps to look at tactical marketing as just one stage of a 5-stage marketing model, which we happen to use at Think Shift:

  1. Strategic Marketing – This is the highest level of marketing and a major driver of a company’s overall strategy. At this stage, success is defined by the creation of a market, not just demand. The economic picture of the world and an understanding of where opportunity lies drive decisions at this level, such as choosing which segments to invest in, grow, enter or exit (i.e. Do we get into wearable technology?). At this level of marketing, brand identity, image and equity are critical, and strategic time horizons generally focus on the next 5-10 years.
  2. Product Marketing – This is the second highest level of marketing and a major driver of a company’s ROI. At this level, products and services are developed to best fit the segment strategies handed down from the strategic marketers. The price sensitivity of the consumer and an understanding of product and service trends drive decisions at this level, such as choosing what features the product should include and determining how it should be priced (i.e. What features should our smart watch have and how much should it cost?). At this level, ROI is critical and strategic time horizons generally focus on the next 2-3 years.
  3. Tactical Marketing – This is the level of marketing where agencies and clients generally connect and focus mainly on driving customer demand (in the segments provided by the strategic marketers and for the products provided by the product marketers). The responsiveness and mindsets of the customer and channel partners and an understanding of communications trends drive decisions at this level, such as determining how to reach and engage a target market (i.e. How do we get our smart watch to get noticed and sell?). Sales quotas are critical and strategic time horizons generally focus on 12-18 months.
  4. Operational Marketing – This is the level of marketing where supply and demand unites to ensure that product is available when, where and in the amounts required. The efficiency of production and flow through of the channel drive decisions at this level, such as establishing how much product is needed at launch and anticipating how quickly inventory will be depleted (i.e. How many smart watches are needed where and when?). Production and inventory management is critical and strategic time horizons generally focus on 3-6 months.
  5. Lifecycle Management Marketing – This is the final level of marketing where products are re-positioned, discontinued or sold-off. While the product marketing team determines the birth of a product, this team determines how to put it to rest. The remaining inventory of old product, new products coming to market and demand levels drive decisions, such as concluding where, how and at what price we can sell the remaining inventory (i.e. How, where and at what price do we sell our last generation smart watches). At this level, inventory and product dilution are critical, and strategic time horizons will vary (can be as short as a few months and as long as a few years).

As you can see, based on this 5-stage model, for a company’s marketing efforts to be successful, it requires much more than tactical marketing. Using an analogy that I once heard at an advertising event in New York, in advertising you can buy the most successful lipstick designer, the highest quality lipstick materials, the greatest lipstick color specialist and most proficient make-up artist to apply the lipstick to a pig, and when that pig is purchased, taken home by someone other than a farmer and shits on the carpet, no one is happy. To make a long story short, marketing starts well before the tactical marketing plan and, unfortunately, with many mid-sized companies, tactical marketing is all they have (or can afford).  

So, going back to the wiffle ball example, starting with tactical marketing is tantamount to starting with a wiffle ball and if you’re happy with singles, doubles and maybe the odd in-field triple (generally caused by an opponent’s error), you can stay the course. But, to get in the real game, to hit that home run or even the elusive grand slam, you need to treat marketing as more than just the creation of awareness and demand. And, if budget means you can’t build a team to do so internally, find an outside partner who can help.

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In his Working Wisdom series, David Lazarenko shares insights and inspiration gathered throughout his 15-year agency career. Through real-life examples and an analysis of industry trends, he offers up practical advice and actionable strategies for marketers.