Wednesday, October 17

Sticking With Tactics: Do Marketers Know Strategy?

A recent study by Econsultancy tells the story. Marketers believe in content marketing. Ninety percent of those surveyed say that content marketing will become more important in the next 12 months.

It's not a surprise for anyone working in social media. But what is even more telling about the survey is something else. Only 38 percent have defined a content strategy. It's also likely most don't know how.

What happens when you work without a content strategy? 

The entire communication process becomes tactical, relying on the tips of the trade but never really reaching business objectives, campaign goals or even brand reinforcement. Remember Bud TV?

But perhaps even more disturbing, even those that are in the process of planning a strategy demonstrate thin objectives. The top three goals: increase engagement, increase site traffic, and raise brand awareness.

Seriously? While some of these might be considered outcomes, none of them are well-defined objectives on their. Rewritten, marketers might consider increasing brand loyalty, positioning themselves as source experts, or improving positive brand recall (e.g., not only increasing awareness but also ensuring people get it right and have a positive impression of it).

Even some of the lower scoring answers — improving SEO links, generating leads, influencing stakeholders — represent a tendency to focus on tasks that lead to something but seldom define what those tasks are likely to lead to. Ergo, marketers are becoming too reliant on "doing" something but many of them don't know to what end while others plug in "increase sales," which ought to be a given. (Businesses are in business to sell things, hopefully in such a way that they actually benefit people.)

Establishing objectives always starts with a situation analysis.

Many companies do not start their planning process with an understanding of organizational purpose (preferably one underserved in the market), their long-term achievable position in that market, or a handle on their most pressing issues within the company that are holding them back. If they did, it would likely change the fundamental nature of their organization and establish different objectives.

To give you an example, I worked with a company that developed an environmental solution for the construction industry to meet certain environmental protection regulations. They could have picked any path to do it, but the shortest path made the most sense — prove to the construction industry that they have the most cost-effective solution (lower cost and fewer fines) and prove to the environmental policy makers that they had the best available technology (in order to be recommended or even mandated).

The communication plan was built around this understanding because if the company could prove its value to general contractors and necessity to policy enforcers — everything else would fall into place. Sales would increase. Brand awareness would increase. Their reputation as innovators would increase.

There were many ways to accomplish this, including partnering with regulators, cooperating with environmental organizations (shifting them from aggressors to educators), and targeted educational communication to companies that would purchase their technology among them. I'm not going to list all the details today.

I mention it merely to illustrate the point. Without a strategy, they would be chasing likes, follows, SEO links, web traffic, and lead generation like many marketers. So the question becomes ... to what end?

This is why a communication strategy is the most important part of a campaign. If it isn't, then your company can waste money chasing the wrong numbers for very little results beyond a short-term spike. At the end of the day, especially in this economic climate, you most assuredly can't afford it.
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