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‘Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.’
— Peter Drucker, author, management consultant
A marketing strategy encompasses dozens, if not hundreds, of tactics and activities. So, what do you do, now? How can you make the next decision that gets high value results, rather than expending time, energy and money in the wrong places?
Today, we’re exploring failure modes; meaning, ways in which companies screw up their marketing strategy. The pitfalls. The landmines. And, in doing so, we’ll showcase both how to do things right and how to do the right things.
This article is based on one of our popular webinars. View the video and download the slides.
1. Zero strategy
There’s a reason why people have no marketing strategy. The cost of doing nothing is not obvious.
However, developing a strategy is quite expensive. It's time-consuming. You need help. Executing that strategy takes resources. Cost, in other words.
Back to where we started. Not doing anything = missed opportunities.
How on earth do you measure the cost of that? The people that didn't ring you up, connect with you or book a meeting? The growth that didn't happen? The traffic that didn't arrive to your website? The conversions that didn't come through?
You can’t measure what doesn’t happen. Yet, without a great strategy, you’re missing out on what could have been.
2. Missing puzzle pieces
Assume somewhere off this chart are things like good products, good people, well-run business, some sales and so on. The above chart is about marketing. For a strategy to work, you want all this stuff embedded on a deeply considered, validated level within your organisation.
You must understand your target customers and how you want to speak to them. You need to know your own brand, what that means, what your goals are, who you work with, how you go about things.
Watch this talk by Sonia Marciano on how the elements of marketing fit together into an effective strategy. It’s dead good.
3. Grand Designs
Yes, the TV show. It's ostensibly about building, but, in reality, it's about relationships under pressure. And it often includes the fatal words, “We're going to be our own project manager”.
There's a reason architects charge a lot of money and spend years learning their craft. There's a reason why you need buildings managers. Without good people at the helm, you’re going to end up delivering behind schedule and over budget. And your building might fall down.
Best intentions coupled with short-term cost-efficiency is not a strategy. It’s a failure mode.
HiPPO. The Highest Paid Person’s Opinion. The boss of “my way or the highway.” The vice president of no.
Senior leaders obviously have an important role in the marketing strategy, but their business acumen doesn't necessarily make them marketing experts. You need those strategists who are capable of speaking truth to power, too, and who specialise in marketing. They will collaborate with your Founders and your CEOs to forge the best path forward.
‘If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.’
— Jim Barksdale, Netscape
5. The Person in the Mirror problem
The person in the mirror isn't necessarily your customer. The things your customers are interested in are not always the things that you are interested in. Customers don't buy your products and services for the same reason you created them.
There's a temptation to see the world through your own lens and to assume that the customer is like you. Often, this is not the case. So, don’t build a strategy around you, build it around your target audience.
6. Confusing activity with strategy
This is very common. And the underpants gnomes from South Park sum it up nicely. They have a plan. They are going to make a huge amount of money by collecting underpants. That’s the activity. But there's a missing phase two that turns the underpants into money. Nobody wants to buy the underpants, so they just pile up.
In business, we see a lot of underpants gnoming. That is, trying to solve a marketing problem by just doing more stuff without connecting the activity to the outcome.
7. Magic bullets
If we do this one thing, it's going to fix everything. PPC, SEO, podcasting, hiring a consultant. These tactics worked for someone else, or for my last business, or my pal said she thought it was a great idea, yada yada.
It’s not to say they don’t work, but the reality is everything's joined to everything else, and you have to get it all right. You need to cast a wide net to get a pipeline of traffic, leads, and customers.
People who have a sales background, or who have generated sales through referral networks or vendors, fall into this way of thinking. That sales magic bullet is not a marketing strategy. One does not translate to the other. It isn’t scalable or diverse in the way that marketing strategies need to be to actually be bullet-proof over the long term.
8. The smooth pebble
Nobody wants to offend anyone. We want everyone in the world to be able to buy our product. “We could sell IT services to everyone in the country, so we don't want anything on our website that says we only do it for this industry sector or in this region.”
Businesses fear alienating a paying audience, but in so doing, they fail to target. And all marketing is targeting. Therefore, be the pebble with a bit of a rough edge, some interesting crevices, colourful spots and pockmarks. The smooth pebble is nice, but boring.
9. “What got us here…” (won't get you there)
The things that got you to a million pounds turnover, the things that got you your first one hundred customers — they aren't the thing that get you the next stage of evolution.
A lot of smaller companies get started because they can sell their passion and expertise and grow by reputation and referral. But if you feel like you’re now bouncing off a barrier, then you may need to radically change your marketing strategy to enable a new phase of growth.
This diagram is from ‘The Five Stages of Small Business Growth’ and though it describes business growth more generally, it maps nicely to marketing strategy as well. As your company matures and gets bigger, the gateways to growth change, too.
10. The Dunning-Kruger effect
The Dunning-Kruger effect is the theory that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. You think you know something about marketing and therefore you don't know what you don't know, and you don't know how limited your knowledge and expertise actually is.
This is compounded in smaller businesses where people have been successful in one area. Technology specialists. Direct sales whizz-kids. Entrepreneurial geniuses.
Expertise, sadly, is not fungible. It’s worth bringing in a marketing specialist even if it’s just to test the depth of your own knowledge. Can they tell you something new in just one conversation?
11. All ‘what’ and no ‘why’
Check out the TED Talk ‘Start With Why’ by Simon Sinek. It’s all about figuring out the ‘why you exist as a business’ and communicating that. It’s very hard to do. It’s a big, complex question and it requires a lot of self-discovery and challenging discussions and thought.
Many prospective clients that we speak to want to and are very good at talking about ‘what’ they do. SAP migrations to the cloud. IT support. Data transformation. But that doesn’t inspire people to buy. The ‘why’ should be at the heart of your marketing strategy, not the ‘what’.
12. Lazy assumptions
If you just worked off demographic data to make your audience personas, then you’ve missed a great deal about who those people are. As demonstrated here:
(Note, the graphic was made before Charles became king!)
Based on demographics, these are the same people. However, rather obviously, they’re worlds apart.
You need to talk to people. Find out their goals, their pain points, what they need to make their working life better. Then you can build a more strategic idea of what your marketing needs to do to reach those people. Don’t be lazy. Do your research. And research the right stuff.
13. Resisting change
All strategy means change and change is hard. It’s hard because it touches on human psychology and behaviour. Marketing is ever-changing.
Change is even harder for business decision-makers because they're very invested in their expertise and their success. They identify, personally, with their business. So, if someone turns up and says, “That's all crap; don't do that, do something else.”, your first reaction is going to be, “Shut up. Who are you? What do you know?”.
When sharing your marketing strategy, bear this “death valley” of change in mind. Otherwise, your strategy may never get off the ground. You may get pushback. You may lose momentum. The most difficult part of change is carrying it through to the end.
14. Giving up too soon
Strategy is the roadmap, not the journey. It points you in the right direction. Ideally, it anticipates some of the concerns, problems and falling off points that may come up during implementation. But not all of them.
As such, it’s important not to give up too soon. Think of your marketing as an engine. You must give it the fuel it needs to actually work, whether that’s talented people or budget (around 10 percent of revenue is about average) or whatever.
Most of all, give your marketing time. You’ll find yourself putting in more effort than you get return — at first — however, the gains are exponential. It can be worth letting a strategy play out, even if you don’t see instant results.
‘Patience is waiting. Not passively waiting. That is laziness. But to keep going when the going is hard and slow.’
— Leo Tolstoy