We love it when a client calls us and wants a new Web site. We drool over a client who says they need e-mail marketing or PR. We rush to embrace clients who want a brochure. But very often, when we probe these clients and ask the all-important “Why?” their response is muddled and based on a hunch – an idea that the current state of affairs is not all it’s cracked up to be. Or they say, “Our competitor did something which looks great!” or “We are not winning enough business.”
We call this an acute case of marketing tactics: a condition when the sufferer feels something is wrong and is certain he or she knows what the medicine is – so certain that the condition will be completely cured by the application of a bit of tactical marketing. Reader, beware! Do not confuse your tactics with your strategy. Tactics can lead to long-term decline unless you are treated by a proper bit of strategy.
Let’s make it clear: Your marketing strategy is a long-term plan for how you are going to increase sales and achieve a sustainable competitive advantage. It will be grounded in your overall business plan and vision for the organization. The strategy will be focused on big aims – becoming brand leader in your market for example – and factual targets such as 20 percent year-on-year growth. What you do to achieve those targets will be a series of marketing tactics, some of which might include a new Web site, e-mail marketing or PR. Sustaining competitive advantage means identifying what the differences are between you and your competitors and articulating that clearly and consistently. Once you have this, you can use different marketing tactics to communicate to your audiences. Different tactics need to be evaluated and measured alongside each other in order to assess their contribution to the overall strategy. One tactical intervention is almost never the solution.
In addition, approaching marketing from a tactical perspective causes huge problems in terms of developing appropriate and relevant content. If you don’t know what your overall strategic aims are and what your message should be to deliver your proposition and growth, then how on earth do you know what your Web site should look like or say? We have lost count of the number of generic sites we see daily, which, particularly within market research, seem to have a cookie-cutter approach to design and content. Linguabrand, a London-based brand language analytics firm, reviewed the content and language on MR Web sites in the U.K. and the sites were vastly more generic than its B2B Web site benchmark. Without a clear strategy, many research agencies are struggling to pinpoint or articulate their differences. The word cloud below shows the messages of the top 30 global research agencies.
It’s funny that this is such a common problem within the marketing research and insights community where we advise clients on strategy on a daily basis but so often fail to turn the spotlight on ourselves. Physician, heal thyself!
Next time you are struggling to hit your sales targets don’t reach for the button that sends a gazillion e-mails without thinking hard about what your strategy is to reach those targets, which elements in your activities are failing to land the sales and what messages resonate. It might not be an awareness problem but a messaging problem. Or it might be a problem of inconsistency between what your sales team is saying and what your communications are promising. Only by stepping back and reviewing your tactics in the context of strategy will you get a vision and understanding of how to fix the problem.
One client we worked with over many years consisted of a team of senior and experienced researchers with broad business knowledge and extensive consultancy experience. They were bored by clients that wanted research to deliver simple “go, don’t go” and “blue pack not pink pack” results. They wanted to work on high-level strategic projects and charge high fees for their added value.
This client had to articulate the team’s strategic and challenging message to the market – rebranding and creating a new Web site, PR and e-mail marketing. For the first 18 months the results were not great. A lot of their existing clients didn’t have the right projects for them; they needed to refocus on a new audience and move up the food chain to reach a more senior and strategic client base. Through that time, the senior management wobbled. Sales were falling and they’d just spent all that money on marketing! But they stuck to their guns and played a long game. After 18 months, they started to get more RFPs and pitches for the really big, strategic and global studies they were so great at – and really wanted to do. They started winning a lot of these pitches, doing great work on them and getting repeat business. They were able to charge a premium for their work as it had significant impact with clients. They are still a highly differentiated and successful brand (although they have since sold the business).
Please don’t ever convince yourself your tactics are a strategy. Only by stepping back and reviewing your tactics in the context of strategy – and then sticking to your guns – will you be able to fix the problem. Don’t even think about that new Web site or PR campaign without articulating exactly how it will help deliver your strategy.