How to fix marketing’s biggest problem
The abundance of marketing 'strategies' is something we see too often when we start working with an organisation, and this is often exacerbated in marketing departments.
Typically, the following teams all have a strategy: Brand, acquisition, retention, X-sell, B2B, personalisation, segmentation, SEO, SEM, social, content, digital, PR….and the list goes on.
In most cases, the work these teams are doing is excellent.
But what’s often missing is an overarching plan that synthesises these – often disparate – pieces of work into one cohesive, interconnected approach. And one that then reflects the overarching business strategy. That’d make sense, right?
Complexity is marketing's number one enemy
One for the sharpest marketers I know, Andrew Smith, has often lamented the fact that we try and overcomplicate marketing.
To paraphrase, he advocates that all marketers really need to do is: “Identify the customer problem or create a problem customers didn’t realise they had. Then identify the assets and capabilities your business has, how you are or could provide a solution in terms of a product or service. And then make it easy for them to buy it."
I love this insight and Smith’s unequivocally right.
When you simplify the complex and prioritise accordingly, you’re able to deliver outstanding results – both for the business, and your customers.
And while the execution is far more complicated, this insight provides a blueprint into how simplicity – and the customer! – should power your thinking.
The other critical element is that you must secure as much internal alignment as possible upfront, or it will make the execution even more convoluted.
How to create utopia: A singular marketing plan
I want to share with you an overview of the methodology we take organisations through: The Three C’s.
We’ve touched on this at a high-level before. But I’ve realised it’s worth sharing as we’ve seen firsthand the transformative cultural and commercial results it can deliver.
Our suggestion if you’re considering implementing it is to get everyone with skin in the marketing game into a room to thrash it out.
Will there be challenging conversations? Yes. But collective strategising and building a shared vision is the fastest way to break silos and build internal alignment.
Commercial outcomes are king
This is my favourite part of every workshop. We ask the group what the commercial outcomes the broader marketing function is charged with delivering for the business.
Typically, the answers are around acquisition, retention, x-sell and salience etc. Cool, that makes sense.
Next, we ask people to weight and prioritise the importance of each outcome.
This is where the fun begins, and I’m yet to work with an organisation that can answer this question straight off the bat.
Typically, we also have someone in each group explain that the organisation hasn’t developed a plan with such granularity.
Our response: That’s fine, because we have the right subject matter experts in the room for that reason, and we can collectively develop a working hypothesis that we replay to the business for validation, or to be further refined.
We are also typically challenged that you can’t weight each of the outcomes. But for me, this is the most critical thing you can do.
It is vital that you know the marketing objectives you’re trying to achieve before you start work; otherwise, you're simply doing stuff for the sake of it.
Often, we use the example if you only have the money to do one execution – whether it be a TV ad, landing page, or a piece of content – for the year, what is the most important outcome it’s driving?
Typically, acquisition gets the bulk of the weighting. And that often make senses, as long as you’ve gone through an outcome-focussed decision process to land on that response.
For instance, if you make more revenue from existing customers, but they’re leaving the organisation in droves, it may well be more profitable and efficient to focus on retention, rather than acquisition as the default.
You only deliver commercial outcomes by being customer-centric
Next, it’s time to deep-dive on which specific customers will deliver the outcomes we’ve identified above.
The typical response I hear from a B2C marketing team is that women aged 25 – 55 are the primary customer or target market. This is the next robust conversation.
A single woman aged 25 – most probably renting or living with her mum and dad, and out partying most weekends – is at a completely different stage of her life to a 45-year-old, who may be married with three kids, a dog and a mortgage.
So we have a choice. If we continue to play out the example above that we only have enough money for one TV ad for the year, do we do a mostly generic acquisition ad aimed at all women?
Or do we target it at the segment that's most profitable, whether that be through lifetime value or short-term revenue?
You must develop a laser-beam focus on the various tribes and the action we want them to take.
Data-led customer decisions
Another core component is to stop guessing and instead understand the customer mindset – and their journey – through data.
We help organisations diagnose a mix of data to unlock what your customers like, want and need, including customer (first party), intent (search), interest data (social), existing insights and in some instances qualitative research.
From there, you’re able to synthesise all data points to create executional brand narratives that connect back to customer interests, intent and business objectives.
This approach should be designed to extend across all paid, owned and earned channels, and to ultimately fast-track your acquisition and retention priorities.
Diagnose all of your competitors
The final piece of the puzzle is to understand your competitors. And it’s important to note that this is your direct category competitors, as well as those that command audience attention.
For instance, I would suggest that a lot of brands selling lingerie are competing head-to-head for audience attention with Dove via their Real Beauty campaigns.
Does Dove sell lingerie? No. But do they have a significant amount of influence and a deep community – as well as data – for your target market? Yes.
And they own body image confidence and self-esteem from a corporate perspective.
So I’d suggest you probably don't want to go head-to-head with them in this space unless you have a huge marketing budget.
It’s also important to understand what you can and can’t own from an organic perspective.
This doesn’t preclude you from targeting opportunities you can’t rank for. Instead, it lets you make informed decisions around the media spend required given you won’t generate free, qualified leads via search.
Equally, it enables you to understand better where to target programmatic spend and to consider partnership opportunities.
Or, you could get smarter and find another related entry point to the same audience and outcome - but that's another yarn in itself.
Pulling it all together
Finally, you need to distil all of this information into a cohesive, overarching marketing plan – not a strategy! – to determine how best to target and monetise a specific, high-value audience.
You need to map dependencies and opportunities so that you can flight synchronised campaigns and executions that cross-pollinate.
But most importantly, this approach will help you determine exactly who you’re going after, the competitive space, and what outcomes you’re trying to achieve – in both the long and short-term.
Now that’s a strategy.