A statement finding its way more frequently and annoyingly into the vernacular of business and politics is this: Hope is not a strategy. Yeah. The statement is true. But enough already. Its corollary statement is this: A tactic is not a strategy. Yeah. That’s true, as well. But the difference between a strategy and a tactic is almost universally misunderstood.

As it happens, we bring you this public-service post as a result of an article we read in Inc. Entitled, “Dominate Your Niche With These 7 Killer Strategies“, it presents the following laundry list of figurative band-aids, any one of which is alleged to be the cure for an equally figurative cancer:

  1. Strong branding and high-quality marketing collateral
  2. Video
  3. Virtual event marketing
  4. Mobile
  5. SEO
  6. Press releases
  7. Social media.

That list makes us queasily unsure of precisely to what killer refers because items 1-7 aren’t strategies at all. They’re tactics.

The good news is there’s a simple way to tell a strategy from a tactic. All you have to do is figure out what question a particular activity answers. And there are two questions only. That’s right. Just two. Count ’em:

  • What?
  • How?

If whatever you need to do answers a what question — Increase revenue by $x. Increase brand awareness by x. Attract x new investors. Position the company for acquisition, etc. — you’re talking about a strategy.

If whatever you need to do answers a how question — Increase revenue by adding more salespeople. Increase brand awareness by running an aggressive ad campaign. Attract new investors by conducting an investor-relations program. Position the company for acquisition by publicizing account and revenue growth, etc. — you’re talking about a tactic.

We have to admit we were a tad skeptical about the article when we saw it was written by Visa. But we quickly decided Visa had to be the nom de plume of some famous business expert who’d decided — for reasons that were, frankly, none of our business — to remain anonymous. Given his inability to discern strategies from tactics, we couldn’t say we blamed him.

We are, however, looking forward to equally incisive articles from MasterCard, Discover, CapitalOne, and American Express.

— Jean Appier-Hanzelet [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.