Make Marketing History

The views of a marketing deviant.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Why Marketing Isn't Strategic (Strategy And Tactics 101).

Strategy is an expensive word and, therefore, one that proliferates on business cards and in presentations. Users of it like it to think it connotes intelligence, high-brow thinking and, most importantly, a distinction from those things called tactics which are grubby, street-level activities and thus far beneath them.

The trouble is that most of them aren't engaging in strategy. That's not to deny the value of what they do, but I don't think it's pedantic to insist that they get their terms right. If we don't understand what strategy really is, we lose sight of what we're doing and can also fall prey to any number of over-blown claims and advice.

The impetus finally to write a post on this subject was provided by a post from a high-profile consultant that featured the following list of examples ostensibly designed to illustrate the difference between strategies and tactics:

To illustrate, here’s some specific examples across different industries of how strategic goals can be communicated with clear tactical elements, in a linear and logical order:
  • Strategy: Be the market share leader in terms of sales in the mid-market in our industry. Tactics: Offer lower cost solutions than enterprise competitors without sacrificing white-glove service for first 3 years of customer contracts.
  • Strategy: Maneuver our brand into top two consideration set of household decision makers. Tactics: Deploy a marketing campaign that leverages existing customer reviews and spurs them to conduct word of mouth with their peers in online and real world events.
  • Strategy: Improve retention of top 10% of company performers. Tactics: Offer best in market compensation plan with benefits as well as sabbaticals to tenured top performers, source ideas from top talent.
  • Strategy: Connect with customers while in our store and increase sales. Tactics: Offer location based mobile apps on top three platforms, and provide top 5 needed use cases based on customer desire and usage patterns.
  • Strategy: Become a social utility that earth uses on an daily basis. Tactics: Offer a free global communication toolset that enables disparate personal interactions with your friends to monitor, share, and interact with.

You see the problem?

That's right, none of those are strategies. They're objectives. Reasonable objectives, objectives that are proxies for and measures of the success of the business's underlying strategy, but definitely objectives and not strategies.

So what is a strategy? It's the declaration of what your business can do better than anybody else, why that's the case and in a way that generates a satisfactory profit. Nothing more, nothing less. Everything else that is done in pursuit of that strategy is tactical and while the co-ordination of all that might be termed marketing planning, I don't think it can be called strategic.

I'd go further and assert that the term strategy should only be applied to corporate-level activity and should be predicated upon a sustainable competitive advantage, be that a cost advantage or some lasting form of differentiation/distinctiveness. 

In doing so, I know I'll be parting company with a number of my advertising planning friends who  are prone to talk of strategy when I think their remarkable uncovering of insights and truths is, in fact, not strategic but rather something that facilitates the creation of new tactical approaches in pursuit of existing client strategies.

And that's where marketing should be. Not in some ivory tower, but in the real world, aligning tactics with business strategy and dealing with that grubby street-level issue of connecting with customers. Marketing isn't strategic. It's more important than that.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Seven Year Marketing Itch.

I noticed that my old pal Hugh reposted his 2006 manifesto on his blog this week. Since he was kind enough back then to credit my post as an impetus, I feel justified in re-posting my old J-train minifesto today. I don't think much has changed (apart from the fact that Robert Scoble doesn't publicise my posts these days).

All Markets Are Up For Grabs.

It's no longer possible to control the conversation. While incumbents spend their time trying to cling to that belief, you have the opportunity to step in, reframe the discussion and win a new argument.

Difference Not Differentiation.

Customers have either too much stuff or not enough time and value current choices over substitutes. Minimise the behavioural change you demand of them, but give them a real reason or reasons to love your product/service.

Don't Disappoint.

Ensuring that everything works and instantly reacting to any problems is a given. Bad news travels much faster and wider than it did before. An informed customer is your best promotion but potentially your worst nightmare.

Make Your Marketing Sociable.

You can't control the conversation, but you can facilitate and, to some extent, host it in a way that allows you to build genuine relationships with potential customers rather than white-noise relationships with anyone you can bombard.

Interaction Requires Iteration.

It's not enough to listen and a single return path does not constitute a dialogue. Meaningful long-term connection with prospective customers can only come from community, co-operation and co-creation.

See The Wood For The Trees.

Don't assume you're like the customers. You're much closer to your business than they are or care to be. Find out what they're like. The shared interest at the heart of your relationship will probably not to be the product itself.

Relate, Renew and Reinvent.

If you want them to keep coming back to you, then you must keep coming back to them. It's not about new campaigns that look different. The new focus is more on product and customer development and less on explicit promotion.

Don't Forget To Sell.

Engagement is great but it doesn't pay the bills, so remember to sell. Selling is responding to the customer's interest when they choose to make the move. It's not about cutting deals, it is about making it easy for them to buy or trial.

Le ROI Est Mort.

Marketing cannot be a measurement-free zone, but increasingly its overall impact is indirect and qualitative. However, as engagement methods are less expensive than advertising, ROI will almost certainly rise and, crucially, with no increase in spending, it will continue to rise as your engagement intensifies.

Marketing Is Not A Department.

Marketing is a combination of elements that creates the environment in which it is possible to meet a customer need (starting right back at product development). It operates online and off and should inform and occupy every aspect and department of an organisation. More than ever before, it is everybody's job.

The J train that I used to ride from lower Manhattan out to JFK is synonomous for me with expanding horizons and (with its echoes of those trains called clue and hugh) it seemed an aptly contrived title for my rough draft minifesto on this evolving thing we call marketing 2.0.