Email Marketing Strategy: The Critical Difference Between Strategies and Tactics

What’s the main goal of your email marketing efforts?

For that matter, what’s the main goal of any of your marketing efforts?

To build brand awareness, generate leads, and make sales, of course!

Okay, great. But what kind of brand are you trying to create? What kind of future vision do you have for your business? Most importantly, what metrics will inform you of whether you’re heading in the right direction or not?

Then, how are you going to use email marketing to accomplish those goals? Are you going to improve your open rate or your deliverability, your click-through rate or your bounce rate? Are you going to test and improve the quality of what you send? Or are you going to try and grow your email list?

All of the above?

There are a lot of different things you could do to accomplish your vision, and there are a lot of different visions you could craft.

It’s easy to get lost.

How often have you focussed entirely on increasing the open rate of your emails without really knowing why you wanted to increase the open rate? How often have you tried to decrease your unsubscribe rate just to, well… stop losing subscribers?

Conversely, how often have you lost sight of your long-term vision while still using various tactics, unsure of if those activities were taking you where you want to go?

There lies the difference between tactics and strategies.

Strategies Vs. Tactics: The Critical Difference

Sun Tzu once famously said, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

What did he mean?

Two things…

First, having a high-level strategy without knowing the exact how-to for accomplishing that strategy might lead to victory, but it will be slow and painful. Most of your time will be spent trying tactics that may or may not work.

Second, a strong sense of day-to-day tactics and granular activities without strategy is just the noise before defeat… because there’s no vision guiding those tactics. In other words, you’ll be doing a lot of stuff, all of it directionless.

How does this apply to email marketing?

To be successful, you need a strong sense of both strategy and tactics — that’s as true for your email marketing efforts as it is for your business growth or your personal development, whenever you’re trying to accomplish something.

The end goal of your email marketing efforts is to build a successful business. Like all your other marketing strategies, email is one leg that supports your business’ growth and revenue.

And as an entrepreneur, business person, or aspiring email marketer, it’s important to keep that mission in mind.

Everything you do — increasing open rates, using abandoned cart emails, or trying to decrease unsubscribe rates — the tactics, should support your macro-level strategy, your vision.

So what is your vision? Also, what tactics will you use to accomplish that vision?

Start with “Why?”.

It’s tempting when you spot a struggling metric (like low open rates or high unsubscribe rates) to pull out your marketing bag of tricks and do whatever it takes to improve that metric.

And for a little while, that might even help business.

The problem is, if you’re entirely focussed on improving the tactical metrics, then those tactics might prove unsustainable for your business.

If, for example, you are trying to build an authoritative and trustworthy business, but you start using click-bait subject lines to increase open rates, that’s going to sabotage your long-term vision.

That’s one example of why you should always start with high-level strategy (Where am I taking my business?) and then widdle that down into granular tactics (How are we going to accomplish that with email marketing?).

If you must react to a struggling tactical metric, then do so by first asking, “Why is that metric struggling?” and then “How can we improve that metric in a way that’s consistent with our business’ vision?”

That way, you’ll improve mission-critical metrics without compromising your long-term vision.

How To Create an Effective Email Marketing Strategy With Measurable Tactics

Email marketers love metrics.

Some of those email metrics inform STRATEGY – whether your business is heading in the right direction or not.

Other metrics inform your TACTICS – whether the day-to-day activities you’re doing are making a difference.

Tactical metrics include:

  • Delivery rate
  • Bounce rate
  • Open rate
  • Click-through rate
  • Unsubscribe rate
  • Complaint rate

Strategic metrics include:

  • Revenue via Email
  • Traffic via Email
  • Conversions
  • Audience Growth and Size
  • Open Reach Rate
  • IPR (Inbox Placement Report) by Domain

Said another way, strategic metrics are your high-level email marketing data-points and tactical metrics are your granular data-points.

Consider this graphic from Ness Labs, which illustrates the critical difference between strategy and tactics.

The purpose of a strategy is to identify a broader decision, the duration is long-term, and the output is having clear goals.

Conversely, the purpose of tactics is to use specific actions, the duration is short-term, and the output is having clear deliverables.

If, for example, you want to increase revenue with your email marketing, then you’ll probably want to try and increase delivery rate, open rate, and click-through rate.

But — and here’s the kicker — those tactics have a purpose and a mission (a strategy). They aren’t aimless do-whatever-it-takes tactics. Instead, the strategy informs the tactical methods — how you go about improving those metrics.

To illustrate this concept, here’s an example of how most email marketers operate:

  1. We need to increase the open rate because it seems too low.
  2. We’ll do whatever it takes to increase the open rate.

That’s problematic for obvious reasons — whenever you are willing to “do whatever it takes” to improve an email metric, you’ve lost sight of your vision.

But here’s how email marketers should operate:

  1. We need to drive more revenue with our email marketing efforts (STRATEGY).
  2. In order to drive more revenue, we should try to increase the average open rate and click-through rate.
  3. We will increase the average open rate and click-through rate by crafting more engaging emails, personalizing subject lines, and by segmenting our email list (TACTIC).

Notice how the strategy guides the tactics rather than the tactics guiding themselves? That’s how you build an effective long-term email marketing strategy.

Ultimately, you should measure tactical metrics, but you should make decisions based on high-level strategies.

  • You should track click-through rates, but you should make decisions based on business revenue.
  • You should track open rates, but you should make decisions based on your desired brand image.
  • You should track unsubscribe rates, but you should make decisions based on your desire to have the right audience and great content.

Tactical metrics can indicate that your strategy has gone askew (which is why you should track them), but they can also indicate that you are doing something right — a high unsubscribe rate during an intentional re-branding might be expected (even desired if you’re trying to change who your audience is).

Tactics are important, but the long term strategy should be the north star of your marketing efforts.

But enough from us — what do you think? Have you found that strategy is a far better guiding light than tactics? What tactical metrics have you found to be the most insightful for the effectiveness of your email marketing?

Follow us on Twitter and let us know…

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