Strategic marketing vs. marketing as a service

Marketing is an interesting discipline in today’s world. In some companies, the team ends up relegated to service status, playing a reactive role in supporting sales. I’ve started referring to it as marketing as a service, or MaaS, since everything as a service is all the rage these days. For larger organizations, I’m not a huge fan of this approach since there’s usually significant investment to salaries of qualified individuals who understand the business strategy and build plans that help move it forward.

Relegating those people to reactive roles isn’t the best way to get a return on that investment, though there are times it can make sense. Sadly, this structure means marketing doesn’t have the impact it could if it was given a place at the table to have more strategic influence in the business.

Why should marketing be a driver of strategy?

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This may be an oversimplification to some, but marketing can’t effectively communicate to market what your organization has to offer if it’s always jumping every time sales or a senior executive says jump. When this happens, it’s a possible sign that there’s a lack of understanding or respect for the true impact marketing can have in helping businesses grow.

Instead, broadly speaking, marketing needs to develop messaging, validate it with the appropriate input from other departments and then manage how that message is disseminated so it’s compelling, cohesive and consistent.

But it can’t just be compelling. It has to be compelling to the right audience and meet them where they are. The cohesiveness and consistency should flow through pre- and post-sales touch points, a gargantuan effort that requires working cross-functionally across most of the organization. Marketers have to become adept jugglers of objectives, audience and message to inspire action.

If your marketing is fluff, you’re doing it wrong

Someone once made the argument to me that we should be getting subject matter experts (SMEs) to write content instead of marketing so the content isn’t fluff. My experience with marketers is that the good ones become experts in their particular discipline (content, product marketing, digital marketing) and they work hard to learn as much as humanly possible about the industry as well.

The marketing team that works together well is its own SME. We combine the message we need to communicate with valuable thought leadership to create compelling, useful content. Any team that can’t do this without constant oversight and involvement from SMEs outside of marketing is offloading their job to others. This may sound harsh, but it’s much harder to take something written through a different lens and make it marketable. It’s easier to get SMEs to validate content that was written for marketing purposes.

The marketing team isn’t fluff either

I alluded to the lack of understanding of marketing’s role earlier. We have a reputation of being the fun, social, wine-drinking folks who spend all their time taking selfies and tweeting, but this not-entirely-wrong-but-rather-superficial view doesn’t account for the hard work we’re celebrating on these occasions. It also doesn’t recognize the continuous learning good marketers do to maintain a depth of knowledge about business, marketing trends, best practices, and what’s going on in our industry of focus.

Marketing, despite popular belief, is  not exclusively a lead-gen machine. Generating a high volume of leads isn’t the goal. Generating high-quality leads isn’t even necessarily the goal. After all, there needs to be a robust process in place to leverage leads that come in. If the infrastructure and process aren’t there, that may be the priority over generating leads in the first place. This is why choosing the right marketing approach and activities is a natural extension of knowing what you want to accomplish. Then marketing can and should have a powerful impact on business results.

The challenge? Many marketing orgs are still reporting on leads generated but since that isn’t a metric that shows on the financials (thank goodness), it’s important for the work of marketing to be tied to revenue in reporting to reflect their true importance to the business. Speaking the language of revenue can get us there.

The most important question a marketer can ask

I firmly believe we have to ask why. Always. If there isn’t a clear purpose, especially with out-of-the-blue, one-off requests, the activity doesn’t pass the smell test in my book. Yes, there will be occasional times when you do a thing just because. But if that’s the status quo, there probably isn’t much strategic marketing going on. Here are a few answers to the “why” question that need further exploration:

  • Sales needs it. (Why? What’s the business case for doing it if it’s not in the plan? Is there a critical gap in our existing content/collateral that needs to be addressed?)

  • We’ve always done it. (Why? Do you know it works? What results did you get from it before? Any leads? Sales? Show data that support the decision.)

  • Exec X asked for it. (Why? What’s the impact of doing it and diverting resources from the plan? If something has to be dropped or delayed, is Exec X okay with that?)

I’m not saying the answer is no when marketing is asked to go off plan. But the answer shouldn’t automatically be a resounding yes. We have to be flexible and provide support, but we can’t lose sight of the work we have to do to achieve our goals in support of the business objectives because we’re accountable for the goals we set, even if we spend all our time in a reactive state. And we need to make data-driven decisions rather than relying on instinct whenever possible.

The fun part of marketing

Working in a team that practices strategic marketing is this perfect blend of creativity (coming up with all the ideas), strategy (building plans that lead to results), execution (getting stuff done and delivered), and learning (business, marketing, and industry). It’s a machine that runs so beautifully when you bring the right people together. And we love when a executing a plan generates the results we expect. That’s well worth celebrating. For the business that has a strategically-minded marketing team, they’ll see the benefits of those people and their contributions in the bottom line.

Making a plan to get where you want to go faster

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When I was in university, I decided to take my first solo road trip from my hometown, Tallahassee, to Orlando, Florida. It was a mere four-ish hours away and I had made the trip many times before. I just wasn’t in the driver’s seat. I also didn’t pay any attention to how we got there (or back). Driving down to Orlando, I had my handy printout of MapQuest directions to get me to Disney World where I was meeting a friend for a day spent at the happiest place on earth. After about 12 hours of exploring 3 parks, it was time for me to head back home. (Yes, I planned a day trip to Disney - as you do when you’re that young and energetic.)

This is when my planning failed me: I didn’t print out directions from Orlando to Tallahassee. And, since I had to go find a gas station before I hit the highway, I ended up quite lost in a not-so-lovely part of town back in the days before smartphones and consumer GPS. I don’t remember how I finally found the highway I needed, but I managed to get there eventually. I also made it back home safely and even went to work the next day, though I did go in late.

Planning starts with knowing your destination

I went to Orlando kind of impulsively. I didn’t have any money (poor college student). I was getting free admission from my friend whose uncle worked for Disney. I thought it was a good idea to drive down and return home in a single day, even after my friend sensibly offered me a couch to sleep on. To this day, I have no idea what my reasons were for going other than just wanting to.

Planning starts with establishing your goals so you can break down the steps it takes to accomplish them. But it’s not as straightforward as simply making a list of things you want to do. There are some questions you’ll want to consider so you start with realistic goals:

  • Why do you want to do each of these things?

  • Have you considered whether this is the right plan for your target market?

  • How do these goals fit into the larger business plan and goals?

  • Are the goals you’ve set measurable?

  • Do you have the resources to accomplish these goals?

Good questions, aren’t they? It’s tempting to get a great idea, see the goal and jump into action. But taking a step back and seeing the big picture can keep you from moving ahead with something that isn’t going to serve you well in the long term.

Outline the steps to get to your destination

The entire time I drove around Orlando after the parks closed, I wanted to kick myself for not making a better plan. I knew exactly where I wanted to end up but I had no clue what my exact steps were to get started on my way. That can be a paralyzing feeling when you have a big goal you want to achieve. Or you may end up driving in circles, going in every direction that isn’t the right one.

You can avoid this chaos by mapping out your plan so you know exactly where you are and you can more accurately track your progress. And it’s usually easier to start with the end goal and work your way back to the beginning. This process can help you gain further clarity around the resources you’ll need so you can make tweaks as needed.

Don’t forget to think about how you’re going to measure

You’ve set goals, but you need to know before you start how you’re going to measure the effectiveness of your efforts. If you don’t establish the metrics in advance, it can be challenging to get an accurate picture of how your plan has performed. And in marketing, measurement needs to be considered throughout execution to ensure the chosen tactics are set up properly to provide the data you need.

Expect the unexpected and be ready to react

Wouldn’t it be great if things always went to plan? I’ve heard that half of marketing effort should be spent on planning though I’ve never experienced that and I don’t know if it’s actually realistic. Having a plan is important but we can’t get bogged down by the planning process or get so married to the plan that we can’t adapt when it’s required. No plan should ever be etched in stone. That’s a sure way to frustration.

Enjoy the process of doing great work

Doing a day trip for the purpose of spending the day at Disney open to close wasn’t my smartest idea, but it was an adventure I don’t regret. I learned a lot from the experience, particularly the value of having a comprehensive plan that accounts for every step of the journey. Not having a plan could have robbed me of all the enjoyment of the trip, but I managed to figure it out and things worked out. Knowing that it could have gone very differently has been a good motivator for me to avoid the mistake of winging it on the wrong things.

What are your favourite advantages to making a plan?

Repurposing content starts with rethinking how you view content

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Don’t you love all those Pinterest pictures of people turning trash into treasure? I remember the first time I saw a coffee table made from a pallet. I was convinced I’d never want one. But they really can be made to be lovely and functional without giving you splinters. And repurposing means less trash!

For anyone trying to market their company through evergreen content that demonstrates expertise in their field, the same idea of giving new, and sometimes unexpected, life to older content can make it easier to maintain a flow of content for your business. Because no one likes to throw away hard work - even if it happened years ago.

Building a comprehensive web presence today means being able to answer questions that come up with your clients or customers before they ever talk to you. That’s one of the many ways a good content program for your business can help gain attention and attract the right people to check you out - by showing them you know what you’re talking about.

But the idea of writing regularly is often a barrier for businesses that lack confidence in their writing skills or the funds for staff or outsourcing content creation. And that can make you feel overwhelmed before you ever get started.

There’s good news, though. It doesn’t have to be that complicated and I bet you can start with content you’ve already created and repurpose it to suit your needs. And if you think you have no content, I’d say you probably do. You just might not think of it as content … yet. That’s a good place for us to start.

What is content?

Content can be just about anything spoken, written or drawn that pertains to your business. A lot of your content may not be polished, pretty and ready for the world to see, but a little tender loving care goes a long way. Here are just a few things you probably have in the way of content:

Emails - you communicate about your business to associates, prospects and customers all the time. There’s valuable information and expertise being shared in these pieces of communication.

Conversations - you talk about your business with everyone (I hope). There can be a gold mine of content in the words you use to talk with others about what you do.

Documentation - training manuals for employees, certain aspects of your business and/or product plan, and other internal documentation can be great fodder for external content.

Obviously, in all three of these, it’s important to filter out anything you need to keep confidential. That should never be part of your content program. But thinking about all types of content as possible fodder for marketing is a good way to make sure you aren’t reinventing the wheel. After all, repurposing is all about finding new and sometimes unexpected uses for things that aren’t working for you anymore.

What are the building blocks you need to develop great content?

If you already have regular content you’ve been creating, that means you can use that existing content to build ideas for new content. The trick to saving yourself time is to think about content like building blocks. A single block could be a tweet or other micro content. Multiple tweets that relate to each other can be stitched together to make a blog post. Multiple blog posts that relate to each other can be stitched together to make an ebook.

And the reverse is true as well. If you have an ebook that’s a little older, you can break it up to freshen it up. Piece by piece, refine and update the content and republish as videos or blog posts.

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This is repurposing at its finest here are the advantages for you and your content:

  • Spend less time thinking about and building content by repurposing.

  • Make old things new again with updates to relevant (but out-of-date) content.

  • Present new angles to past ideas and reiterate your message.

There are endless possibilities for content that’s valuable to your audience. It takes some planning and creative thinking to get there. Just don’t try to reinvent the wheel. There’s no reason you have to start every new piece with a blank page.

Now that we’ve build a good foundation for developing content, next week we can talk about the importance of planning and how spending more time planning will save time and reduce the stress of execution.

Marketing requires businesses to be prepared to go the distance

Marketing requires businesses to be prepared to go the distance

One of the most discouraging things I see happen in my work is organizations that want to use all these shiny “new” tools to grow, thinking the results will be immediate.

That has never been true for any form of marketing, though there are occasional exceptions. Most businesses need to ignore the exceptions. Statistically, they're outliers and the results aren’t likely to be replicated. The stories about them should all include disclaimers that say, "results not typical."

Web marketing, web presence, digital marketing, internet marketing, social media, new media, content marketing - they're all phrases that essentially represent the same thing: Using web-based tools to build content that builds relationships, increases brand awareness, sales conversion rates, and has a positive impact on an organization's bottom line.

Whatever word or phrase you use to describe it, the activity is marketing and no matter what medium you're using, it's going to take time, effort, and commitment to see results.

If you set up a social media account or website, it doesn't mean people will immediately come and buy from you - or engage with you. It's important to remember that every person, every business starts out with zero followers.

However, compared to large corporations, small businesses start out at a disadvantage. A well-known brand name company will grow an audience fairly quickly. A new small business has to work to build an audience by consistently reaching out to other social media users, starting compelling conversations, and offering value. 

Evolving to modern marketing practices in 2019 is very different than starting out 5-10 years ago. It can be frustrating and take time to show a return. But for the companies that make the effort to do it well, the pay off will come.

Do you know what you're doing and why?

There are many, many really interesting and innovative ideas for marketing out the world right now. From really clever, to outlandish, to stunt-worthy, there’s a lot to pick through. Ultimately, though, it's all just marketing. And marketing tactics have to be a right fit or they're going to fall flat. 

Kind of like me trying to do ballet. (Splat, for sure.)

It's fun to watch the videos, look at the pictures, and read the stories, but is it right for you as an individual or your organization?

The answer to this question comes down to brand and objectives.

I recently found myself catching shiny object syndrome when I heard about a cool idea someone used to get attention for a particular purpose. Because I had a similar end goal, I thought I could use the tactic in a way that fit me. But something held me back from actually implementing the idea for myself. It wasn't that the tactic wasn't something I could do. It was definitely within my personal skill set. However, the more I tried to dream up how I wanted to go about the implementation, the emptier that giant blank canvas got in my mind. The idea didn't resonate with me. It didn't make me uncomfortable, but I wasn't comfortable with it either.

Eventually, I let the idea go and went in a completely different direction that felt right and good and comfortable. But the experience made me think hard about whether I truly knew what I was doing and why in the first place.

"We should do <insert newfangled tactic>. Wouldn't that be cool?"

I hear this every now and then from people I know: clients, associates, etc. I have a lot of respect for people who are brave enough to jump in and try out things that they may not fully understand. That takes an adventuresome spirit.

Hopefully, these brave souls have someone around who is willing to ask some questions before they agree:

1) What do we want to accomplish by using this tactic?

If there's no purpose, there's no point. Whenever the answer to this question is, "I don't know. Everyone else seems to be doing it. I thought it would be cool," there may not be a need for further discussion. But that's not the worst starting point for hashing out the viability of a tactic. Maybe with some creative and critical thinking a clear purpose can be defined that would make the tactic worth pursuing. 

The important first step is identifying a goal or objective - and it should contribute to achieving the overall organizational goals and objectives. At a bare minimum it should fit the organization's mandate. The second step is that your goal needs to be measurable. 

2)  How will we measure what we're doing?

No measurement, no success. Choosing to implement inherently measurable tactics is the only way to be certain that what you're doing is having an impact. It starts with a measurable objective (see #1). That cool tactic may require you and your team to stretch your creative muscles to find a way to measure its effectiveness, but it's worth it to know whether or not it works. But if you don't measure, you won't know if what you've done is effective. Maybe it was a success, but you don't get to call it a success without proof.

There are a plethora of tools that allow you to track and analyze behaviours on websites, social media, in apps, etc. Use these tools to help you measure where your audience is coming from, going to, whether they're sharing your content, etc. There are even ways to incorporate digital calls to action into non-digital campaigns - QR codes are the first tool that comes to mind, but augmented reality is another tool that's gaining attention.

3) What do you do with this information?

Act on the results in real-time and for the future. When you implement any marketing activity, take time to monitor the results while it's in progress. You should know before you execute what you want to measure. This allows you to make tweaks as needed to give your campaign a boost and maximize the impact. When it's all over, evaluate how it went start to finish.

Factor in any feedback you receive from your audience, and look at the data critically. What questions come to mind when you look at the data? What are the potential answers? Was the overall effort a success based on the data and impressions? Was there success, but not as intended?

The post-mortem of any campaign or project is typically one of the most valuable discussions for future growth and success. I love looking at data and finding the story it tells about the work I've done. Identifying the strengths and opportunities opens the door to apply those lessons learned to the next campaign so it's even better. (Don't forget to add comparison data to your tracking once you have enough instances to compare!)

Hopefully, as you start to see the value of measuring data, you'll be the person in the room asking the critical questions about what everyone hopes to achieve and how to know it works!