It happens quite often–we get a call or email from a company searching for marketing support. “How much for a new website?” the caller will ask. “We need social media.” “We need SEO.”
People want projects and pricing. Our first question is always, “Why? What are you trying to accomplish? What is your strategy for getting there? How does this project fit into the strategy?
A 2015 survey of 55 startup companies found that 58 percent plan to spend 75 percent or more of their marketing budget on digital marketing, yet 71 percent have no documented digital marketing strategy.
Strategy is the most important part of marketing. As John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing writes, “Marketing Without Strategy is the Noise Before the Failure.” He’s actually quoting, or paraphrasing, Chinese general Sun Tzu, whose “Art of War” has been used as a business guide for generations. “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
Mark Ritson writes in Marketing Week, “In the last few years marketing seems to be devolving into a base tactical pursuit devoid of strategic thinking.” Part of the problem, he says, is that the proliferation of technology built to facilitate digital marketing tactics leads to a “surfeit of digital tactics” without any “real targeting, positioning or objectives.”
Errol van Engelen of Bizzmax agrees. “When I’m visiting companies using digital marketing and social media, I come across many of them who started in digital without a formal plan,” he says. “My response to that is “Without a digital marketing plan, you don’t know where you’re going.”
The strategy gap can be especially true when it comes to inbound marketing. Mike Lieberman of Square 2 Marketing says, “Over the course of 13 years, we’ve had conversation after conversation with CEOs who are resistant to the idea of marketing strategy before inbound marketing tactics,” he says. “Inbound requires a collection of so many tactics all executed in an orchestrated way. If one tactical input is wrong, the entire program suffers.”
Jumping into marketing projects and tactics without strategy is a good way to waste money. Goals are not strategies. Goals are the outcomes your strategy is meant to achieve. Strategy involves identifying your ideal customers, clearly stating the value that your company or product offers these customers, the defining where they are on and offline, finding the best ways to reach them, defining the deliverables needed to attract, engage and convert them to customers. Certainly, there is learning and adjustment along the way, but if you don’t know who you are trying to reach, how you can reach them, and what you want them to do, you won’t know if you have succeeded or failed,
A startup, for example, may be starting with zero contacts and little web traffic. If it is looking for immediate results, SEO, and organic search are not going to get the right results because it takes time to start ranking in search results and attracting web visits. Advertising may offer a better return on investment. For companies with large contact lists and little traffic, email marketing may be the best way to boost traffic and start to qualify leads with calls to action.
For B2B companies with long sales cycles, the language of “conversion” doesn’t always make sense because customers don’t buy online, and it can take months or years to validate that your product is right for them. “Conversion” may be more about identifying qualified opportunities than about closing business.
Some companies working without a marketing strategy know that this is where they need to start. One company’s VP of sales asked us, “How do I know you can increase our sales.” That was his first question in our first meeting. We replied, “It would be arrogant to think we know the answer yet, because we don’t know what your current goals, strategy, or results are.”
“Perfect,” he said! “That’s what we need.”