Digital Marketing Tactics or Strategy – Which is Best for Promoting Clinical Trials?

Most digital marketing campaigns will be based on some form of strategy – in that there will be an overall goal in mind that is being worked towards through the implementation of some form of plan. However, what I’ve often found when I’m brought in to improve the returns from a company’s advertising spend is that what is being called ‘strategy’ is actually just a collection of ‘tactics’. Here’s an overview of the difference and which approach makes most sense when advertising to attract patients for clinical trials.

Definitions of Tactics and Strategy

The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘tactic’ as:

An action or strategy carefully planned to achieve a specific end.


It defines ‘strategy’ as:

A plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim.

Here’s how I would relate these 2 elements to digital marketing:

Digital Marketing Tactics

Tactics can be defined as the day to day operational activities and tools that are used in the management of an advertising and marketing campaign. These would include, for example, Facebook Advertising Management, Google Advertising Management, Content Development for SEO, Remarketing Ads etc.

Digital Marketing Strategy

Strategy, on the other hand, is a more overarching foundational approach that underpins everything you do – in the clinical trials world this would be focused on trying to recruit patients to sign up for the trials.

So, even though they appear in reverse order in this article, it’s clear that Strategy should actually come before Tactics when developing your digital marketing project.

Focusing on Tactics Without Strategy

What I most often see when I review an organisation’s current marketing activity, is that they’ve picked up on the latest ‘shiny new object’ – a ‘tactic’ – and focused their efforts on getting it to work. With no real thought going into whether it fits within their overall ‘strategy’. (Indeed, it’s rare for an organisation to actually have a strategy that is expressed in a more comprehensive manner than simply ‘getting more leads’).

A prime example of this sort of ‘tactical focus’ is the rush to adopt social media as a marketing activity once it became clear that Facebook and Twitter were popular and getting a lot of media coverage.

Every business at that point decided they ‘needed’ a social media presence as it appeared as though social media was going to be the ‘magic bullet’ they were looking for to reach their target audience.

The reality, of course, is somewhat more nuanced than that. Certainly the use of social media (such as through Facebook advertising) can be a very successful and cost-effective means of generating interest in clinical trials.

But fundamentally, the use of eg Facebook without a more thorough understanding of how it fits within your overall aims and goals, is simply a ‘tactic’ that may or may not pay off for you. (In my experience, this approach of focusing on the tactic without slotting it into a pre-determined strategy, is one of the main reasons people tell me that “we tried Facebook advertising and it didn’t work for us”).

A Practical Approach to Strategy and Tactics

My recommendation is to view the tactical elements as simply ‘tools’ that you utilise in order to implement your strategy.

An example of this would be to define your aim as:

‘Increasing awareness of a particular clinical trial among the desired target audience, incorporating a message that is sufficiently compelling to generate multiple enquiries and sign-ups for the trial.’

With this definition in place of a long-term or overall aim, you can now devise your plan of action – the strategy.

Strategy is About What You’ll Do – Tactics Are How You’ll Do It

One of the key elements in any strategic plan of action is to define what you won’t do, as much as what you will do. For example, you may decide one of the elements of your strategy will be to ‘reach your target audience where they currently hang out’. This could result in some tactical activities such as targeting them on Facebook, using radio advertising in a geographical area, having press ads aimed at readers in your target demographic, having flyers in doctors’ surgeries etc. (See my earlier post on 4 Effective Methods to Attract Patients for Clinical Trials for more on this).

In this case, what you should also decide within your strategy, then, is to ignore a more blanket approach to disseminating your message – such as national radio, national broadcast TV, mass market magazines, national sporting event sponsorship etc.

Another example would be to define your messaging – which is an element of strategy – then incorporate this within all of your tactical approaches to promotion. So rather than, for instance, developing a press or Facebook ad ‘on the fly’, you’ll have a pre-defined set of messages you can use that will form the core of the copy in your ads.

Similarly for imagery and branding, which again are strategic considerations – as in ‘what type of images are most likely to appeal to our target audience?’ – which will inform the make-up of your tactical activity.

Conclusion – Use Tactics to Implement Strategy

The conclusion has to be that tactics and strategy go hand in hand for using digital marketing successfully – with a well-thought out strategy being the foundation on which you implement your tactics, for maximum returns.

Digital Marketing for Clinical Trials

If you’re having issues trying to develop your digital marketing strategy, or if you can’t get your Facebook Ads to work for patient recruitment, get in touch for a quick chat to see if I might be able to help.