This post was written in collaboration with Tom Niesen, Sales Made Easy.
“Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” – Sun Tzu
I had an epiphany about marketing strategy recently – and I’d like to credit it to this quote from the great Sun Tzu, but instead, it happened thanks to a large tin of popcorn.
Let me explain: I was working with a client that, shall we say, was not focused on strategy, and the head of marketing, shall we also say, was, instead, keenly focused on doing stuff to show their worth. In this “Marketing of Things” mindset, this marketing leader (who shall remain nameless) felt the best marketing ploy du jour was a large tin of popcorn. Across the country, clients received multiple varieties of popcorn, along with a note asking for more business. I’m sure plenty of people enjoyed sharing the kernels of this marketing leader’s labors – but few, if any, made the connection to the company’s services – and even fewer picked up the phone.
Lest you think this is a one-off situation. I, and my fellow fractional Chief Marketers here at Chief Outsiders, see it all the time—a Marketing of Things (MoT) mentality. Sometimes known as “random acts of marketing,” MoT refers to the actions and tactics that have no thoughtful tie-in to the organizations’ brand, strategic positioning and messaging.
If your organization has cool shirts, pens, mugs and other tchotchkes and maybe even you execute great events, but have an inconsistent marketplace message and very few if any marketing qualified leads, you might have a great MoT organization. But, a truckload of popcorn, frankly, is no substitute for a thimble-ful of solid marketing strategy. If you’re organization is too caught up in the “Marketing of Things,” and not marketing with a purpose, read on, and learn how to get your organization thinking strategically, and focused on growth:
Own Your Strategy: How do you want to be known to the marketplace? This is not a question to be addressed in a vacuum, or even by your company’s marketing management. Instead, your marketing and senior leadership teams must jointly determine what your brand stands for, how it is positioned, and whether customers and prospects agree, before developing and honing your message. Understanding WHY a prospect should do business with you is the key to resonating and connecting with your audience. Look at your offering through the eyes of the prospect, distill it to the most salient, high-level value that you deliver – and only then should your marketing team take the next step. One critically important key – enlist the right strategic marketing leadership with this make-it-or-break-it process. A sales leader often isn’t best positioned to think broadly and long-term, due to monthly and quarterly quota goals, but the marketing team must think strategically before any tactics should be considered
Build Your Marketing Plan: Once your brand persona, positioning and messaging are fleshed out, now it’s time to develop the marketing plan. Resist the temptation to start thinking about the cool coffee mug you so badly want to send to your prospects, and instead, make sure the plan is focused around the organizational goals around things like revenue and customer growth, retention rates, customer experience and gross margin. Your completed marketing plan will be the tool that will drive your budget, and in turn, the thoughtful allocation of funds on tactics that will address one or more of the organizational goals. If that means buying pens -- as long as they can be tied to the achievement of one or more of the goals -- by all means go for it.
Drive Growth: Your marketing team will ultimately be held in account for moving the company’s revenue engine, so it’s imperative to ensure your marketing team is being strategic, thoughtful and focused. However, execution can’t just be the domain of the marketing minds – it has to be an organization-wide mindset, starting with a leadership team that is totally aligned around the plan. A great gauge of whether you have successfully culturally assimilated everyone behind this strategy is to ask three people from different departments to answer the question, “Why should someone do business with us?” If the answers are all substantially similar, you have the foundations for success. Walking the walk, before talking the talk.
Drive Sales: A good marketing program works hand in hand with the sales department. In fact, as a sales consultant, I believe I can attest that a good sales force works for a great marketing department, not the other way around. Though sales managers and sales people hate it when I say that, in reality, a marketing department needs to be strategic to drive the sales force to the correct customers. If you are running a MOT marketing department, then the marketing department is working for the sales department and will often be in conflict – taking the brunt of the blame for not hitting numbers.
As stated earlier, a marketing strategy is far-reaching over all departments, and can be a gauge for whether your other departments are going in the right direction. But, if you have a sales department that subscribes to a “Sales of Things” mentality – meaning, they just shoot to hit their numbers even if the customer is not a fit -- then the marketing strategy will never be as effective as it should be.
Test For Signs of Life: Finally, make sure your marketing strategy is alive. Go to each salesperson and ask them if they know why a consumer should buy from them. If you don’t hear the value proposition that the senior leadership team and the marketing department agree painstakingly developed, then its time to lather, rinse – and repeat until the whole organization is aligned.
So, ready to drill deeper into the specifics of morphing from a MoT to an MoS organization? Stay tuned for the next blog in the series. Can’t wait that long? Please feel free to reach out – I’d be honored to bring what I’ve learned on the subject to your organization.