The unhealthy mind-set of marketing tactics without a strategy

March 2017

I’ve been fortunate to work with clients in an exceptionally broad field of sectors and industries since becoming a consultant more than 15 years ago, and that’s very much a theme which continues today. Such is this level of diversity – and working in both B2B and B2C markets further adds to it – there isn’t too much that has linked all the clients together. However, a fairly recurring theme is a naive desire to put marketing tactics ahead of any sort of strategy, though the motivations for doing so are often rather different.

The first such motivation is one I can, in part, forgive, because it comes from the passionate sales person. Here the sales person (not all of them of course) sees marketing as a list of press ads, branded pens and Facebook posts, with the word ‘strategy’ normally used to headline their eclectic mix of tactics. Of course any suggestion that, actually, a strategy proceeds and determines a list of tactics – and that a strategy is anyway there to deliver one or more business objectives – gets the sort of blank stare you get from religious people when you challenge their bizarre beliefs with scientific facts. But hey, sales folk are there to do something I’m not that good at – close a sale. So let’s not be too harsh, and instead tread the never-ending staircase of education with them.

The second of the motivations I have rather less sympathy for, because it comes from people who are supposedly marketers. We can further split this group between young digital natives employed by the client in a marketing role, and specialist suppliers to that client – e.g. social media experts and PR agencies (often one and the same). The former, having grown-up in a digital age and knowing no different, see one or more digital tactics – normally delivered on their favourite social media platform – as being the answer for every marketing challenge, be it brand saliency or targeting a specific segment (assuming they’re even familiar with such terms). The latter – so our specialist suppliers of marketing services – will, not surprisingly, determine that what they have to offer and make their money from, is also the answer to every marketing challenge. Both these groups call their little plans a ‘strategy’, but what they actually are is simply tactics with no strategy behind them.

As an example of a specialist supplier who sees their offer as a solution to everything from climate change to hunger in the third world, last year I visited a company on behalf of a client which are truly expert at producing animated videos. Indeed, they’d even carried out contracted work for Disney. However, the business owner – and no doubt fuelled by a life-long passion for Donald Duck and other legendary animated screen characters – actually suggested that I should drop the services of a communication agency I was using and, instead, plough my client’s limited marketing budget into animated videos. I did no such thing of course, with the essential reason being that the raft of tactics the communication agency were using (e.g. editorial, bloggers, experiential, events) was delivering on the strategy I’d put in place and the business objective behind that strategy.

The issue of poor marketing planning and the simple basis of what approach is needed is a subject I’ve covered before, but anyway here again is a very top-line summary:

1. Set your business objective or objectives. So as an example, let’s say you want to increase sales of a range of products you sell online, and your market research has shown that there’s a particular market segment – we’ll say young men into health and fitness – which you’re missing out on.

2. Your strategy then becomes one of targeting that market segment with a compelling message to buy your products, and because you’ve got a limited budget you need tactics which are low cost but effective.

3. Your plan of tactics is then solely focused on that strategy, and in this particular case is likely to include SEO (so to improve your organic position for online searches by your target segment for your type of products), PPC (in particular for super-competitive phrases which you may struggle to get in the top three for with organic), plus a Facebook campaign where you pay to boost your posts having carefully set out the profile of the people you’re targeting on the platform’s excellent advertising tool.

Of course there’s lots more detail to consider and including carrying out key phrase research and analysis to determine what phrases your market segment are typing into Google and which you’ll then use on landing pages for the PPC campaign, but you’ll get the idea anyway.

So if you’re a business owner or in a management position for a company and ultimately responsible for marketing spend, the next time a sales person, inexperienced marketer or specialist supplier of services comes to you with their great tactical idea, ask them what the strategy is behind it and what business objective that strategy is there to deliver.

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