Marketing Strategies vs. Tactics – What’s the Difference?

Over the course of my career, I’ve seen a number of people (marketing folks included), struggle in understanding the difference between “marketing tactics” and “marketing strategies.” For me, the difference goes well beyond the understanding that the strategy is the “path” to get you to your goals, and the tactics are the “tools” that get you there.

One core principal that I keep going back to, project after project, is that great marketing strategies are built on a deep understanding of a company’s business model, target audience and the market dynamics in play. This is why great marketing strategies scale, while tactics often do not.

Here is an example that helps illustrate this difference…


Drive a 10% increase in our awareness in the marketplace.


We’re going to create a pinterest board that is interesting to our target audience to get their attention and drive awareness.

VS. Strategy:

Our products are highly customized to a set of individual/specific needs of women; we want to align ourselves with the idea of “individuality” in order to gain a market advantage against our monolithic competitors. We can create value-added content and tools that help women express their individuality by activating influencers online and measuring the impact this has against our awareness goals (vs. other channels such as TV, etc).

Example – Kotex campaign:



As you can see in the example above, while the end-use case was the same (using pinterest to engage with prospects), the strategy created a much more scalable platform from which the brand could pivot in a number of directions. The strategic idea of using “individuality” as a key differentiator came from a combination of the:

  1. Core value of the product
  2. White space created by the competition
  3. Understanding that the target audience was expressive of their lifestyle online

So the next time someone tells you that your brand should be on pinterest, or that you should be tweeting, ask them about the marketing strategy behind that recommendation. Their answer will tell you everything you need to know about their understanding of the difference between marketing strategies vs. marketing tactics.

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Attract & Advance: 2 Key Roles for Content in your Marketing Strategy

Download my free whitepaper to learn about the 2 key roles that your brand’s content should play in your marketing strategy.

Whitepaper Cover


Download Now: Attract & Advance: 2 Key Roles for Content in your Marketing Strategy (PDF)



The same trend that has been happening in advertising over the past several decades has now begun to play out in content marketing: the sheer volume of branded content far exceeds what any prospect can possibly consume in a lifetime. This has created a scarcity in consumer attention, which has forced brands to try to make content that is ever more relevant and engaging to their target audiences.

Turning to content marketing as a primary battleground for their prospect’s attention, CMO’s have started to ask some fundamental questions about their brand’s content strategy, such as:

• How does content tie in with our overall marketing objectives?

• How do we know what types of content we should be producing?

• How should we measure our success?

A good content strategy can answer these and other questions by helping you:

1. Design your brand’s content model

2. Prioritize and set goals at each step of the way

3. Identify business-driven content KPI’s

Download Now: Attract & Advance: 2 Key Roles for Content in your Marketing Strategy (PDF)

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Marketers should study cognitive neuroscience…

Due to advancements in imaging and experimental technologies, cognitive neuroscience is currently undergoing a renaissance in which our understanding of the way the mind works is growing very rapidly on a yearly basis. That same understanding can vastly enhance our effectiveness as marketers, granted that we pay attention to it, connect the dots, and then run some of our own experiments 🙂

Understanding how the mind works can, in the best case, help us make extraordinary campaigns, and in the worst case, help us avoid common pitfalls that run against the grain of cognitive behavior.

Over the past few months, I have been on a bit of a cognitive neuroscience binge, reading books about how our minds work, while sneaking off to lectures at MIT in between my MBA classes at Babson. Here are some of the things I have learned.

Marketing lessons from cognitive neuroscience:

*  Reinforce message through dimensional repetition, leaving a subtle puzzle to be solved

*  Emotion drives decision, so weave in emotional appeals, even in B2B marketing

*  Randomness doesn’t build attribution (Pay attention, Skittles). Be surprising and interesting, but not random

*  Get behind one “teams of rivals”

Eagleman [referenced below] posits that when we argue with ourselves about a particular decision, teams of rival understanding in our minds battle for control of a particular decision. The simplest but also somewhat wrong understanding of this is the commonly-stated argument between the left (rational) brain and the right (emotional) brain. Of course, nothing organic is binary and our brains are much more dimensional than that, so there may actually be dozens of rival “mental models” competing for a particular decision. The strongest teams (mental models) are those that have been reinforced the most over time through patternicity. Thus, it would make sense that good marketing should appeal to common buried understandings of situations in people’s mind, taking them in new directions with emotional appeals.

Some of the science behind it:

Probability Matching

Nature, or evolution as it turns out, favors probability-matching behavior in organisms. This means that whether you are a chicken or a human being, you have a propensity to match your behavior to the probability of a desired outcome. The simplest test, as Professor Andrew Lo of MIT puts it, is if you sit a person down and ask her/him to predict the outcome of a coin toss, they will likely guess a 50/50 probability between heads and tails. In other words, something like HTHTHTHTHTHTHTHT (with variations of course). Now if that coin was rigged to deliver Heads 75% of the time and tails 25% of the time, that person would begin to adjust their guessing patterns to 75% heads and 25% tails after a while, without even consciously knowing it. Even though the optimal guessing pattern (one which yields the highest chances of guessing correctly) might be to guess heads all of the time, humans will always throw in a few “tails” guesses proportionally to the pattern they notice. This tendency has the brilliant outcome of optimizing results for the survival of a population, but not necessarily the survival of any one individual.

Our Brains as Pattern Recognition Machines

Michael Shermer, in a book I recently read (and highly recommend) called “The Believing Brain,” coins this term as patternicity. All living creatures, to varying degrees, operate by recognizing patterns in life and reacting to those patterns to optimize outcomes. Shermer gives a fun example of an experiment where chickens were rewarded with grain at random intervals; the scientists noticed that the chickens developed very weird behaviors like walking sideways or doing weird turns. As it turned out, those actions were precisely the same ones the chickens were doing at the moment they were being rewarded. Thus the chickens were trying to recognize a pattern and [falsely] attribute it to the behavior they were doing when they got what they wanted. They were under the [biologically-programmed) illusion that their behavior always influenced the world around them.

Patternicity Creates Zombie Routines, Consciousness is a Small Part of Who We Are

Taking this understanding to another level, David Eagleman writes in his newest book, Incognito, that patternicity encodes patterns over time into our subconscious, making learning experiences such as driving a car or playing tennis, a part of automatic “zombie” routines. He posits that our personalities, our behaviors and even our futures are in large part determined the zombie routines that make up our minds, which are themselves influenced by both biology (nature) and our environment (nurture). Consciousness represents our daily calibration device, which directs our brains toward problem-solving goals. This is the reason that you might start thinking about a problem before you go to sleep at night, and wake up the next morning with the solution. It is also the same reason that you have wacky dreams that make no sense but often represent subconscious patterns of understanding buried deep within our brains (kudos to Sigmund Freud for intuiting this).

There are a lot of interesting existential questions that arise from all of this, extending well beyond the realm of marketing, to questions such as who we are and the meaning of our lives:

What is consciousness?

Is there such a thing as free will, or are we just a bunch of zombie routines?

Can everything we are, truly be reduced to the biology of our brain as it interacts with the environment?

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MBA Reflection

It’s been difficult to find time to blog lately, as my full attention has been shifted to my full-time MBA studies at Babson, but I wrote a reflection paper on the MBA experience thus far, and thought I might as well post it here. It’s a quick run-through of where I was coming from, where I am now, and where I am going in the future.

The past: a Frankenstein of Predictive Models

Recently in the course of study here at Babson, I have come to realize that the practice of helping organizations navigate change, is one of the true marks of leadership.  In the course of my own career I have found myself ceaselessly deconstructing both my successes and failures in order to try to boil out salient lessons about leadership.

I quickly realized that while I could intuit a series of mental constructs about organizational behavior, assembling a Frankenstein of predictive models from a synthesis of lectures, books and personal experiences, I could never quite wrap them into holistic behavioral models. Even in terms of personality types, I found that while I intuitively knew some characteristics of certain personalities, I could not articulate those distinct types as clairvoyantly as Robert and Dorothy Bolton did in People Styles. In the course of my exposure to People Styles, I experienced two distinct moments of wide-eyed amazement: first, when I read about my own personality type and found the characterization to be profoundly accurate, and second when we engaged in class discussion on the matter. Knowing a number of individuals on a personal level by that time, something clicked in my own mind and I was able to understand these individuals more clearly. Meanwhile, I found myself fighting the human condition of categorization, repeatedly telling myself that the four personality types were merely predictive models (albeit good ones) and that there was much more nuance in people than these models allowed for.

The present: MBA, the Power of Nuance and the Beginnings of a Personal Transformation

Indeed, while I had been consistently aware of the power of nuance in a number of situations which I had encountered, never have I had as unique an opportunity to explore the depth and power of nuance, as I have here at Babson. One great example of such nuance can be found in the fearless leadership of Jack Welch at GE, as he managed the company through a necessary series of organizational changes which made the firm into a shining image of organizational behavior. Conversely, while this leadership style may have set the company on a path to hyper-efficiency and profitability, it may have created the distinct barriers to innovation which have, in recent years, stifled progress for the firm. Beyond this simple nuance, perhaps Welch’s management style may still have been what the company needed at the time – an organizational conundrum which I could personally relate to as I have watched a number of management teams and CEO’s being purposefully brought in to exact much-needed organizational change on a temporary time horizon. Conversely, it seems at times almost impossible to know exactly when one “era of need” ends and another begins. So how can one extract actionable learnings from the study of such amorphous, real-life situations?

In examining case after case, one can be tempted to get mired in the individual lessons of team dynamics from the likes of MediSys, (wherein siloed internal teams couldn’t outgrow their departmental loyalties and true leadership was nowhere to be found) or be tempted to observe the personal myopia that can grow from being so wholly vested in an idea that one becomes aggressively exclusionary to those around them (Deborah DiSanzo). Salient as these lessons may be, they can be drastically altered by new developments, throwing simplified predictive models out the window with every new permutation. To me, the value of the educational experience thus emerges from the nuances around a particular situation, and the method of reasoning behind the analysis.

In short, this implies that the MBA experience is more about transforming and developing my own unique way of thinking, rather than the assembly of some series of lessons or tools into some global mind-map of leadership and management. While individual lessons are important to remember for the simple reason that they codify organizational insights in the form of stories, I strongly feel that each of us must look deep within ourselves and understand what each lesson means to us on a personal level.

In wading through the sea of interconnected insights and organizational patterns gleaned from Mod 1, I found solace in the affirmation of certain personal truths, while being awakened to new insights which changed the way I look at leadership and organizational behavior altogether. As an example, the module reaffirmed my strong conviction in the power of nuance, while challenging me to grow beyond a simplistic level of analysis such as is the case when a student tells a teacher what theoretically ought to be true (ie John should use a compliment sandwich when talking to Fred), but what often has little or no connection with reality. Additionally, stories like that of Rick Drumm reaffirmed my belief in being genuine and passionate about what you do, while being relentlessly opportunistic in our pursuit of our dreams (sometimes at the cost of clearly seeing your eventual goals). Even more importantly, the program has begun to instill in me an imperative for action toward my personal goals of starting my own venture.

In a few short weeks, I have started to observe the beginnings of a personal transformation which I believe would have taken much longer to complete in the corporate world. While I have already been empowered with a number of organizational mental models, guided through a series of ideation exercises, and challenged to predict the ripple effects of my personal actions on others within an organization, I realize that these insights are merely foundational. Moreover, as I have now fully traded the “corporate classroom” for a an academic one, I no longer feel in any way constrained in my exploration of any ideas.

The future: More than an Infatuation with Entrepreneurial Thought and Action…

As I continue on the MBA journey, I seek to consistently build upon my foundational knowledge, while being mindful to curate my personal way of thinking in a manner which shapes me into the leader that I want to become. Now that I have begun to see the world through fresh eyes, I am anxious, yet excited, to see how much deeper and richer my perspective can grow. More importantly, I am inspired to take personal action in order to affect the change that I want to see in the world around me.

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Monsters, One-Uppers and Recruiting 2.0

In the course of my summer studies at Babson, I have conducted a network analysis of the online recruiting website ecosystem, which essentially entailed the analysis and mapping of the strategic alliances of Monster, Careerbuilder, Indeed, SimplyHired and LinkedIn.

You can download the full report here or by clicking the image below.


This study looks at the online career website ecosystem and how the players therein enter and bring value to the market. In analyzing the strategic alliance networks of the major players in the online recruiting space, we must be mindful to never confuse correlation with causation – the network structure may either be the cause or the emergent outcome of one player beating out another in the marketplace. We should also be mindful of the fact that “strategic alliances” are the proxy used in this analysis, and that this is by far not an exhaustive list of each player’s networks. Nonetheless, based upon the inter-connections between players, and upon their position in the online recruiting ecosystem, we can observe three distinct business models which give us clues as to which players are best adapted to the rapidly-changing landscape.

In this study, we learn:
• Monster is fighting a losing battle with Careerbuilder and it is focusing on developing the wrong parts of its network.
• Careerbuilder is experimenting with emerging web platforms, but is not in a position to dominate Recruiting 2.0.
• SimplyHired and Indeed are fighting it out in the vertical search space; Indeed is winning in traffic but SimplyHired is better positioned (from a network perspective) for future growth.
• LinkedIn is in a network position to dominate Recruiting 2.0.

Download: Shakarian Monsters One-Uppers & Recruiting 2.0

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9 Things All Great Leaders Do

I just finished listening to an ETL (Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar) lecture by Bob Sutton of Stanford, wherein he talked about leadership and what characterizes great leaders from average or even bad ones. It echoed a lot of my thinking and experience to date, as well as giving me a few new things to think about. If you have 45 minutes to kill, take a listen – you will not be disappointed.

Here are a handful of the tenets which I particularly enjoyed:

1) Work hard to be in tune with how others are responding to you.

2) Manage by getting out of the way.

3) Obey the 5 – 1 rule – have 5 good interactions for every 1 bad interaction. This equation/balance is substantiated by a lot of social research.

4) “Fight as if you’re right, listen as if you’re wrong, and surrender even if you think your idea is really good [but no one else does]”…in other words, have the courage and the wisdom to act on what you know right now, but have the humility to update when new information comes along… Nobody wants to work for pig-headed bastards who don’t want you input.

5) Create a culture of disagreement – Organizational behavior is structured such that it promotes sycophancy. On top of that, research on flattery shows that when someone flatters us [even falsely], we still like them more and when someone delivers us bad news, we like them less. This has the dangerous potential of creating a culture of sycophancy… as a great leader once said, “when two people in business agree, one of them is unnecessary.”

6) Disagree but then commit. If you don’t agree with an idea or direction, give it your absolute best effort – that way when it fails, you know that it was a bad idea, not a bad implementation.

7) True rock-stars help others succeed. Get rid of rotten apples [even if they are rock-stars] – they stifle everyone else’s performance by 30%-40%.

8 ) Have your people’s back. Good bosses protect their people, even from “idiocy from on high.”

9) Know when to push and when to back off. “Managing is like holding a dove in your hand, if you hold it too tightly you’ll kill it and if you hold it too loosely, you lose it.”

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A World In Flux

After grudgingly finishing my reading of “How We Decide” by Jonah Lehrer, I was frustrated to have only taken a baby step forward in my understanding of human social behavior. Without going into laborious detail, the one takeaway I had from the book was that it has been proven that it is emotion, rather than cold hard logic, that actually drives us to make a decision.

My disappointment, however, lead to a deep dive into Dan Pink’s “A Whole New Mind,” “Drive,” and Maxwell Maltz’s “New Psycho-Cybernetics” books. I’m finding it fascinating to read a number of books within the same category, simultaneously, as interesting patterns emerge.

While “A Whole New Mind” was a bit self-gratifying in that it stroked my ego by affirming that right-brain thinkers were going to own the modern age, I found his comparisons of the generations of “work” fascinating. In the industrial age, workers chipped away at assembly line jobs, happily churning out work in micro-chunks of physical labor. Next came the information age, wherein humans applied the same approach to knowledge work and did essentially the equivalent of assembly-line work in front of computers. This type of work quickly became outsourced overseas and now we have dawned upon a new era of the creative age: a renaissance in which people seek deeper meaning in their lives and their careers, and wherein creativity, beauty and elegance are valued over all else.

What motivates and drives us has changed as well (“Drive”). While in the industrial and information ages, we were driven by the carrot (money), and wary of the stick (unemployment, chastisement, etc), we are now driven by something else: a more intrinsic desire to find deeper meaning and fulfillment in our lives and in our careers. The problem is that the current “operating system” of career structure (as Dan Pink puts it), is grossly out-of-sync with our new reality. Thus, we have social media, social business design, blogs, wikis, etc, etc, as outlets that help alleviate some of the pressure and frustration with the system.

But if our minds are indeed as powerful as Maltz suggests they are (Psycho-Cybernetics), we will undoubtedly design a new operating system for business and indeed society as a whole. We will shed our mental frameworks of what has been, and de-hypnotize ourselves from our ingrained understanding of career and work (read: humans were not meant to live their lives in grey cubicles, attending meetings upon meetings while navigating a sea of corporate politics)… we will find that the system is merely a convenient mental construct which is a nothing more than a relic of an industrial age past.

This is what is so exciting about our times. We see things happening in a number of places, but often find it difficult to make sense of the patterns in the sea of change. Jobs and careers are becoming crowd-sourced; salaries are starting to move toward project-based fee structures; open/participatory systems are winning over closed ones; leadership is becoming more about influence, than about control; and artificial constructs such as “management” are either drastically changing or quickly proving to be false Gods.

Indeed, these are wonderful, scary, beautiful, dark, inspiring and unpredictable times… I urge you to close your eyes, clear your mind, and take a fresh look at what is happening everywhere around you. Evolution has shifted its attention to social behavior, and we are its primary agents of change.

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