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?

strategic-marketing.jpg

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.

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.

The shoes and handbags theory of building an audience

shoes-handbags-theory.png

I like good quality items.

I remember growing up and, when my dad told me that he spent $300 on his dress shoes, I thought that was a fortune! We weren't a rich family - how could we afford so much money for shoes? (Especially when me and my brothers always got ours from the discount stores.)

Dad explained that he spent that much and then wears them for many more years than he could ever wear less expensive shoes. (And since my brothers and me were all still growing, there wasn't the option of wearing shoes for more than a year.) For Dad, the fit and comfort were better and they would more than make up for the cost given how long they'd last.

Sometimes you choose quantity, sometimes you choose quality

I've never personally gotten to the point of paying premium prices for shoes because I like shoes. A lot. I like rotating them often. However, several years ago, I took the plunge and bought my first very expensive premium brand handbag. (Ahem...well, it was on clearance during a massive store sale, so I didn't pay nearly what I would have at full price, which made it easier to do.)

Months after the purchase, my premium brand handbag - unlike most I've previously purchased (and I always thought I was paying a pretty decent amount before) - was still in immaculate condition. There were no frayed edges. The leather wasn’t cracked even a little bit. It barely showed any wear at all. There were no seams pulling apart in the lining. Previously, at least one (sometimes all) of these things happened within a few months and that lovely bag I thought was so cute was not nearly as appealing anymore. That first purse has been joined by some other friends in the four years or so since. And the quality is unquestionable - even that very first bag.

What's the best kind of audience?

If a business focuses solely on quantity in building an audience - Twitter followers, Facebook likes, blog subscribers, and others - you end up always wanting more. The ten new followers you just got may not be quite right for your product/services, but seeing that jump in numbers feels so good!

Growing a large audience shouldn't be the primary goal, though growth is certainly important. Growing an audience that fits your target market and is engaging with you is a worthy goal.

Which would you rather have?

  • 10,000 followers, with 20 people who buy from you.

  • 200 followers, with 50 people who buy from you.

Personally, I'd always go with the second option.

Small and engaged wins in social media

I really enjoy my shoe collection, but it's a lot like having 10,000 followers that aren't great quality. Shoes get added and taken away, but they don't stick around long because they aren't right for long-term use.

On the other hand, that good quality handbag I got is going to be around for years and years, with fewer competitors for my attention. The more I think about it, though, the more I’m considering a shoe evolution.

So, before you ever think I "only have ## followers", first look at whether those followers fit your target market. If they do, then congratulate yourself for generating good leads and get to work engaging with them! 

What are some steps you take to grow a quality, targeted audience?

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!

The dating game of web content

build-content-people-love.png

Do you remember what it’s like to be mutually “in like” for the first time? You click with the person so well that you want to see and talk to each other all the time. The connection is so strong that you feel like you’ve found a kindred spirit, or maybe even THE ONE!

Fast forward a few months and things are still somewhat rosy, but you’re starting to see the not-so-perfect side of this human being, but it’s okay because they have so many positives you can overlook it. Besides, humans are imperfect.

Time moves on and things change. The tarnish really starts to show. Maybe they change. Maybe you change. Maybe you just get to know them better. Either way, you hit that stage where staying together becomes a conscious decision you have to make.

Content marketing tools evoke similar emotions in marketers and business owners who use them to grow their business. We’ve fallen for what they can do for us and somehow expect that the tools will never change. Then they do and we scream and cry and fight for things to go back to the way they were in the good ol’ days.

Raise your hand if this story sounds familiar: Facebook actually invited us to move in, gave us free room and board, and then cut us off when we they didn’t have the money to pay the rent and utilities. How dare they make us pay for the milk!? And after they gave it to us for free for so long – now what do we do?

This is where too many are getting it wrong. If your content isn’t reaching people anymore, there’s a good reason and it’s highly likely you won’t like the answer. (Your audience possibly just isn’t that into it.) Knowing this is the best possible thing that will happen to you, though. Because it will give you the freedom to experiment with new, different and better content thatwill reach your audience.

Break the co-dependency

Tools will come and go, but over-reliance on them is simply not healthy for your reach or your content. Focus on your content first and use the right tools for promotion and building relationships. The tools are where you make the pick-up. Now that your audience is interested, take them somewhere nice that has the right vibe they’re looking for - like your website.

Be realistic with your expectations

Not everyone’s going to see your “come hither” looks from across "The Twitter". Facebook probably feels like a meat market where no one is paying attention anymore. But if you don’t show up, you might miss your perfect match. Of course, you have to look your best once you’re there. Looking good online is about creating great content. When people see it and check you out even further, they’re going to be attracted to how useful your content is to them.

Content needs to be better than ever

If your content isn’t written for your audience, you won’t attract them. If the content isn’t valuable to your audience, you won’t engage them. Yes, they need to be able to see you, but first they have to want to. You’re competing with over a billion other people and many, many millions of pages on Facebook alone. The numbers across the social web are staggering. Why should anyone give their time and attention to you?

There are plenty of other networks in the sea

Some people like being in a crowded, noisy room filled with potential. Others like to go to a quiet café to find someone who likes obscure everything. It’s nice to be where everyone is, but sometimes you just want to go where everybody knows your name. That’s where smaller networks like Instagram or Pinterest may be more valuable. But don't let the bigness of Facebook and Twitter stop you from building a small, engaged community there. (Even big cities like Toronto have lovely small, tight-knit communities.)

Focus on quality, not quantity

Dating a bunch of different people at once is hard work. Eventually, it gets so overwhelming, you have to just break it off with most of them. Getting to know someone as friends makes it easier to know if you want to take that next step. By the same token, getting to know a network’s value through research first can keep you from getting spread too thin. That means you’ll have more time to create stellar content!

It’s time to let go of all the ways the tools are letting you down and focus on trying new ways to communicate and build content that will make the tools work for you.

Don’t be a complainer. Be creative. Be courageous. Be compelling. You can create brilliantly awesome content!

A version of this post originally appeared on Feedblitz.