Strategy is doing the right things. Tactics is doing things right.

In our experience at the Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing (CEPSM)  one of the biggest and costliest mistakes many public sector organizations make is to start rolling out individual marketing tactics without a strong strategic marketing strategy in place. Social media, blogging, website design, email marketing, advertising, proactive public relations, face-to-face marketing … if you don’t combine these individual tactics into a cohesive marketing strategy, you won’t get the results that you hope to obtain.marketingstrategyThe first step in realigning your marketing approach and establishing a strategic marketing plan for your public sector organization is taking the time to understand your audience.

Once you have identified the audience you’re ready to start uncovering the key issues you face – the pains and problems your audience has when purchasing your products, programs or services. If you understand what “pains” people have and offer a “remarkable solution”, it becomes a lot easier to “make the sale”. They feel connected to you and trust that you understand their specific challenges.

Most organizations think marketing and immediately think tactics. Hate to say it but most marketers think that way too!

I’ve been working for and with public sector organizations for over thirty years and I can tell you that none of the tactics matter until you are crystal clear about which direction you are going. Strategy before tactics is the simple road to success.

This does not mean that I am opposed to systematically and consistently rolling out tactics, because there is an expectation that when you work in marketing that you need to “do stuff” but you need to select only those tactics that support a marketing strategy that you can commit to.

Strategy and tactics are so intertwined; perhaps it is no wonder that people so often confuse them. Still, it is a big mistake when strategies and tactics are interchangeably used.

 “Great tactics will win you a battle, but great strategy is what wins you the war.”

Goals and objectives are the basis of any marketing initiative. But most practitioners do not know the difference between a goal and an objective. Marketing goals communicate a broad direction for your organization. Marketing objectives identify specific actions that include a measurement capability to succeed at meeting objectives.

The more specific you define the objectives, the better off you will be. This level of detail sets expectations and creates a commonality that everyone works towards. Establishing measurable objectives sets expectations, and it enables you to begin to work on a marketing strategy.

A marketing strategy offers a high-level plan to achieve your overall goals and measurable objectives.  It is a methodology and a train of thought that guides all future actions. The strategy is a platform upon which the tactics will rest or, to throw the analogy, the umbrella under which the tactics will lie.

Part of setting measurable objectives is developing key performance indicators. These indicators are yardsticks to measure progress.  Next, the marketing communications component of the strategy outlines what type of tactics to utilize and to what degree. It defines how much to invest in each tactic. The strategy further defines the markets. The strategy supports the goals and objectives, organizes the approach, and advances a plan to achieve those measures.

Strategy is as much about deciding what to do as what NOT to do.

In essence, the marketing strategy establishes the topological map. Once the topography has been defined, the tactics will create a more particular road map.  The strategy sets the campaign direction and the tactics translate those ideas into reality. For this reason, strategy does not change very often, but tactics can (and do!). The strategy represents principles that will guide the tactical execution.

In a nutshell, strategy is about picking the right goals and objectives and tactics is about how you go about achieving those goals or objectives. The role of a tactician is much simpler once you have a strategy, because the objective and the direction are already defined.

The biggest way this applies to marketing is “segmentation” and “positioning”. While marketing tactics are focused on how to interact with your potential audience, marketing strategy is more about picking the right audiences to go after. There may be many organizations out there doing what you do, and picking the right “niche” to call your own is the most important thing you can do to ensure success or guarantee failure.

Without a strategy, it’s easy for organizations to get caught up in chasing the latest marketing trends or switching tactics every week or month. Not only is that an exhausting way to do things, it also means you could be wasting time and money on tactics that will produce few results.ecommerce-marketing-strategies

What happens when you develop and implement marketing tactics without a strategy?

  • Lack of clear and consistent messaging. For marketing to be effective, you must create a consistent brand message that communicates what makes you different and why someone should buy your products, programs and services. Without a strategy in place, it makes it much harder to determine compelling messages that will speak to your audience.
  • Difficulty achieving goals and objectives. In our experience at CEPSM we find that many public sector organizations don’t have well-defined goals and objectives. But, even if you do have specific goals and objectives, it will be difficult to accomplish them without a marketing strategy. What we find in our work is that organizations often see where they want to go, but have trouble connecting the dots on how to get there. It takes research, creativity and strategic thinking to build an effective strategy. But once you do your likelihood of success is that much greater.
  • Wasted budget. If you don’t take time to build a strategy, you could be wasting time and money on the wrong tactics because you’re just guessing about what will work. Taking the time to build a marketing strategy and tactical implementation plan on the front end will ensure your budget is being spent most effectively.
  • Unfocused efforts. All your marketing tactics should flow out of a marketing strategy. It helps guide your decisions and makes it easier to determine where to spend your time and money. Without it, your efforts will be weak and unfocused. And, it’s a whole lot easier to get caught up in the marketing “tactic du jour”.

 Organizations don’t plan to fail … they fail to plan

So, how do you formulate a marketing strategy? Answer these three questions and get everyone on your team aligned around the answers. If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you’re not ready to start implementing tactics. Doing so can cause all sorts of problems:

1) Why do we do what we do?

This is the age-old mission question. Until you can get very clear about the one overarching purpose for your organization, things will always seem a bit muddy. When you can grab onto your “why” you have the basis for every decision you make and a thread that can define your branding and positioning, which leads to marketing success.

2) Who do we do it for?

The tricky part about this one is that the answer should be as narrow as possible. If you nailed the first question, your job as a marketer is to go even narrower and start really understanding who you want to reach and who gets the most value from your unique approach.

Look to your best clients. Find the commonality in this group and you should be able to develop a very narrow, ideal client profile that entails both a physical description and an ideal behaviour.

3) What do we do that’s both unique and remarkable?

The last piece of the puzzle is about what you do. But, it’s not simply about defining what products, programs and services you offer. That’s important to understand, but more important is to find and communicate how what you do is unique in a way that your ideal client finds remarkable. In a way, that allows you to stand apart from everyone else that say they do the same things as you do. i.e your unique selling proposition (USP).

This isn’t as simple as it might sound. Most organizations don’t fully understand what their audience truly values. It’s not necessarily a better product or program or good service. Those fall under the category of expectation and everyone can and usually claims them. The difference is in the details, the little things you do, the way you do it, how you treat your clients, how you make them feel. It’s in the surprises, the things that exceed their expectations.

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. Sun Tzu

One of the things we note in our work at CEPSM is many government programs hire communications/advertising companies to help them implement their campaigns. That makes sense if you have a marketing strategy in place. But if you don’t then you are leaving yourself wide open for wasting money and not achieving your goals and objectives.

Here’s why. Most (but not all) communications/advertising firms are tactics-focused. They are in the business of trying to convince you that their tactical approach will be successful in attracting clients or “‘increasing awareness.” That’s fine, but only if you already feel like your marketing strategy is in the right place, and just needs more fuel. However, if you experience that “sinking feeling,” that maybe you are not on the right track, then you need something more than a tactical approach. What you need is a marketing strategy which becomes your road-map for your advertising or communications supplier.

What do you do if you and your colleagues have no experience developing a marketing strategy?

The Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing (CEPSM) offers public sector organizations an easy and affordable way to acquire expertise from marketing strategists to help develop a successful marketing strategy. The entire process can be completed in a very short time.

Business team discussing project with man pointing at the laptop




Two workbooks ideal for marketers and communicators working for government departments/agencies, non-profit/volunteer organizations, associations and social enterprises who are responsible for:

  • Marketing programs, products, programs and/or services
  • Social marketing, community outreach and public education programs

1. Social Marketing Planning to Change Attitudes and Behaviours Workbook

This workbook provides users with an end-to-end planning tool that lays the groundwork for a successful social marketing program to change attitudes and behaviours. The content is the result of more than 30 years of direct experience in the social marketing arena.  It will assist public sector, non-profit organizations and associations involved in marketing, communications, public awareness/education and outreach.

To purchase workbook, go to

Order Now and You’ll receive a PDF download immediately!

Alternatively, you can register on our MARCOM Conference site to attend an upcoming Introduction to Social Marketing Planning for Behaviour Change Workshop where we offer the workbook as part of 1-day interactive workshop

2.  Marketing 101 for Marketers and Non-Marketers Workbook

This workbook provides users with an end-to-end planning tool that lays the groundwork for developing a successful public sector or non-profit marketing program.

It also will provide you with an overview of public sector and non-profit marketing and highlight the importance of market research to support a decision-making framework.

To purchase workbook, go to

Order Now and you will receive a PDF download immediately!




Does Inaccurate Political Polling Have Implications for Marketers and Communicators?

Many public sector marketers and communicators are very reliant on POR (public opinion research). Many marketing and communication decisions are based on this type of research. But what happens when POR become unreliable? What alternatives do marketers and communicators have to POR? Have we become too addicted to POR?

Now we recently witnessed polling inaccuracies in elections in BC. Alberta, and most recently in Ontario, also we have seen some significant inaccurate polls in the USA.

IAN McGUGAN points out in the Globe that the most notable losers in Ontario’s election were the legions of researchers who failed to foresee the Liberal romp. There is no question that mistakes were made e.g. Ipsos Reid and CTV  polling indicated that the 3 parties were in a neck and neck race. Well the results show that they could not be more wrong.  The final results show that the Liberals took 38.6 per cent of the popular vote to 31.3 per cent for the PCs and 23.8 per cent for the NDP.  Hardly a neck and neck race!

The Canadian prognosticators have company in their embarrassment. American political leader Eric Cantor’s pollster is reported to have told him only days before the recent Virginia Republican primary that he had a 34-percentage-point lead. In fact, the House majority leader wound up losing by 11 points. Yikes!!!

Clearly something is awry in the state of research. I know that this is political polling but is this part of a slippery slope that may have implications for all public opinion research. Will this not have impact on how trustworthy POR is for marketers and communicators?

Clearly the surveying techniques that worked so well in the past are stumbling, and there’s no shortage of explanations as to why.

Frank Lutz, a Republican pollster, writes in a New York Times op-ed that Mr. Cantor’s pollster was guilty of “quantitative malpractice”. Mr. Lutz’s unusual modesty about polls is actually a bridge to his larger point – that polling is both art and science.

As the article in the Globe points out public opinion is too subtle and nuanced to be gauged by simple “yes” or “no” questions. That is no doubt true, but it sidesteps the question of why so much public opinion polling have had so many high-profile pratfalls recently.

Public opinion has been sophisticated and subtle for decades. It’s only recently, though, that pollsters seem to be messing up with regularity.

Ian Mcgugan points out that one possibility is that polling itself has become more difficult. As more and more people become cell phone-only users, it is harder for pollsters to get a representative sample of the population through the time-honoured practice of calling up people’s homes. Add in call-blocking technology and caller-display options, and the number of people who are willing to offer up their opinions to a survey taker shrinks even further. This is worrying!

Stuart Soroka, a professor of political science at McGill University, says the cost of traditional phone polling is now too expensive for many purposes. “Four out of five phone calls don’t work” in a typical survey, he estimates, “but each one of those non-responders involves a cost” to the polling company in the form of staff time and salary.

Pollsters are responding by turning to online surveys. The polling company recruits people by promising money or points if they agree to be part of a continuing panel of respondents. It can then conduct endless online surveys among those panel members at next to no incremental cost. The potential problem with this approach is that the pollster still has to take the results from the panel and adjust them, using sophisticated statistical techniques, to reflect trends in a wider population. That is no simple matter.

There are other challenges to researching public opinion  especially when it comes to political polling but I think that public sector  marketers and communicators need to start relying less on POR. It has become too convenient to make decisions on public opinion research but obviously we need to find alternatives.

I certainly hope the research industry in Canada and the USA come up with solutions to the challenges of inaccurate polling but in the interim “buyer beware”.




It’s time to run campaigns that go beyond awareness!

Back by popular demand, Stephen Thomas Ltd and the Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing (CEPSM) return with an exclusive one-day workshop in Toronto and Ottawa: Beyond Awareness: Creating Social Marketing Campaigns that Change Attitudes and Behaviour.


October 23rd, 2013
Intercontinental Hotel, Yorkville


November 12, 2013
RA Centre, Outaouais Room, 2451 Riverside Drive, Ottawa

Awareness, awareness, awareness are you getting tired of hearing that word, don’t you want to move to something more substantial like changing people’s attitudes and behaviours. Surely it is time for public sector and non-profit organizations to move from public education campaigns to social marketing campaigns. It’s time to move beyond awareness and getting people to take action. If you work in the government or non-profit sector you’ll have heard a bubbling frustration with traditional public awareness campaigns.

When it comes to many areas like health, the environment and other social issues, people are “awareness’ed out.” It’s time those in the public and not-for-profit sectors take a page from private sector marketers and start running campaigns that are results driven and have as the ultimate result attitude and behaviour change.

So many times in our experience working with organizations, we find that they think people’s “awareness” of their programs and products will spur them to take action. If only that were true! But it’s not.

The brutal fact is awareness alone does not always lead people to change their attitudes or behaviours. If you want a target audience to adopt a specific lifestyle, buy a product or service, or support your program or cause, you have to go beyond simply making people aware. You need to start using components of behavioural psychology and strategic social marketing to stimulate attitude and behaviour change.

And what better time than now. In this tough economy it’s important to ensure maximum impact for your marketing and communication dollars.

This workshop has been designed not only for marketing and communications professionals who specialize in social marketing, but for anyone involved in the planning of marketing, outreach and public education strategies aimed at changing attitudes and behaviours.

You will learn:

  • How to use a step-by-step structured approach to prepare a social marketing plan: that is actionable; has maximum impact and leads to successful implementation;
  • How to present and “sell” your social marketing strategy to management;
  • How to implement a social marketing program on a very tight budget and still have maximum impact on changing attitudes and behaviours;
  • How to monitor and evaluate your inputs/outputs, outcomes and impacts;
  • How social marketing gives you a single approach: for mobilizing communities; influencing the media; activating key stakeholders; and building strategic alliances with business.

The “Beyond Awareness” Workbook you will receive will guide you through the process for creating your own Customized Social Marketing Action Plan.

Come join us on October 23rd, 2013 at the Intercontinental Hotel, Yorkville in Toronto or the RA Centre in Ottawa on November 12, 2013

For more information on all of our marketing and communication training go to

To learn more about are Professional Certificate in Public Sector and Non-profit Marketing at the Sprott School of Business at Carleton

Go to