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Strategy vs.Tactics

Posted February 21st, 2017 in blog, copy, marketing, strategy by Gary

One of the most common difficulties I have encountered in marketing is the confusion between strategy and tactics. It arises, I believe, from the fact that the words are used together: a successful strategy cannot be executed without tactics.

Tactics, however, can be executed without strategy.

The goal of every business is relatively simple: drive revenue. To do this, companies employ tactics like sales, promotions, sweepstakes, etc. When these tactics achieve their goal of bringing in more dollars, the strategy is declared successful. See the problem?

For the proverbial mom and pop local shop, tactics are all that they really require. A large part of the success of their business lies in their location and proximity to their customers. If there is a demographic shift – a factory going out of business, a big box store moving into the neighborhood – these businesses simply close up shop. Then someone comes to town and makes a documentary about the injustice of it all, the innocence of the past and the harsh realities of the present, but I digress.

The first challenge in developing a successful strategy lies in the fact that tactics work. This is a good thing, because the fact that tactics do actually work justifies using them as the building blocks in a strategy to achieve growth. This can also be a deterrent as it makes it more difficult to focus on the larger picture and figure out where one wants to be in six, twelve or eighteen months.

So this is where it starts to get more complicated. In business there are rarely clear starting and ending points. There are dates when things begin and end, such as campaigns, but these are established in a muddier framework. Does the strategy start when it is first conceived or when it is rolled out? While the campaign is being prepared, business is still being conducted. In a best case scenario, the tactics being employed during this period are effective and driving revenues. But this makes the whole process messy. Why change what works? Why am I worried about strategy and what might happen next year when things are working today?

Strategy gives tactics context. Context can be evaluated. And this context makes it possible to decide how best to improve on the tactics. Marketing is a grind. It is about successfully executing and evaluating the tactics involved in an overall strategy, day in and day out.

To develop a coherent strategy involves determining the goals for the company. This is where it gets even more complicated, and we haven’t even gotten to managing all of the moving parts. Obviously, you want to make money. What else do you want to achieve through your marketing efforts? What do you want people to associate with your product or service? Are you going to attract people with discounts? Wow them with the quality of your goods? How do you want to tell your story?

You see, there are a number of different directions your strategy can take and decisions need to be made about what will lead to the greatest success. This is one of the reasons that understanding one’s business and defining the value that your product or service brings to the table is so important (see Getting the Foundation Right, last week’s post). If you cannot really define what you are doing, how can you articulate what you want to be doing in a year?

All of these questions need to be answered while one is doing business, unless you happen to be going after investor dollars, which poses a whole slew of strategic questions that I plan to address in a later post.

All of this and we haven’t even started to discuss the tactics themselves and how each one advances the different goals articulated in the strategy. Sounds complicated, I know, but it simply requires hard work, insight, and organization.

Did you notice that we haven’t even started to address media, voice, or messaging?

So many options, so many decisions, so many moving parts.

So much fun. All you need to do is enjoy thinking in time.

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Ideas

Posted February 7th, 2017 in blog, marketing, social media, strategy, thoughts by Gary

Another meeting comes to an end and I am awestruck by the number of brilliant ideas that have been suggested. The VP of sales kicked things off by mentioning a competitor’s event that he had recently attended.

“It was packed. They had a whole slew of sponsors, a vodka company, an interactive agency that had set up a bunch of screens, a music label, a vodka company. The place was rocking. They had these hostesses who were giving out free passes. We should do something like that.”

While everyone else was nodding, I was noting a possible time frame to execute this kind of project, the budget required, the assigning of responsibilities. Then someone from HR mentioned a charity drive that was done at her last company. Loads of fun. Great press. The clients ate it up.

Everyone around the table thought it was a great idea. But which charity? The sales reps, the HR department, accounting, all had their favorites and the number of charities shot down in under five minutes was amazing: Too controversial. Doesn’t make sense with our brand. Too obscure. Then somebody, I think it was a customer service rep, said “And we could use social media to promote everything. Have people tweeting, put announcements on Facebook about the amount of money raised. It’s going to be awesome.”

Note: we still hadn’t decided on a charity. Or a date. Or exactly what kind of drive. Believe me when I say there are many different kinds.

The meeting continued, only now everyone was adding something new. A giveaway. A loyalty program. I thought to myself life is a beautiful thing when ideas are all that matters. And I smiled at how far I’d come since I got into this business, remembering the words of an old pro at which I had scoffed just a few years ago: “A good marketing executive has four good ideas a year, a great one, eight. What they have in common is flawless implementation.”

Have you ever sat through a meeting that resembles the one described above? How many times?

They always adjourn without anything actually being done. Or, more precisely, without anything being decided in a way that would enable things to get done. No one is assigned any responsibilities. No deadlines are set. Nothing is broken down into executables. Messaging is almost never mentioned. Neither is media, other than the now ubiquitous social. I won’t even start discussing how these different tactics are supposed to fit in with the overall strategy (see last week’s post). And, when it’s all over, everyone is always thrilled at how well the meeting went. At all the great ideas that marketing should be working on.

I hate to say this, but ideas are easy.

They’re out there for all of us to see. Taste tests. Giveaways. Strategic partnerships. Promotions. Discounts. Raffles. Coupons. Ads. Commercials. And a lot of them are fantastic. Cool. Edgy. I wish that I’d thought of some of them. And then I wonder if they came out of meetings like this one.

Maybe.

But I am certain that someone was asking the real questions: What will it take to get this done? How much money will it cost? How does it benefit the company or product now and in the future?

I am not registering this as a complaint, nor as a criticism. I LOVE getting ideas from all over the place. I am acutely aware, as every marketing exec should be, that I cannot know everything nor be the source of every idea, and that good ideas originate in the strangest places. I just think it is important to remind everyone from time to time that there’s much more involved.

I have worked as a freelancer, for a start-up, in a small company, as well as in a corporate environment. The evidence is overwhelming: the most important quality of a marketing professional is the ability to recognize which ideas are both great and executable given the resources at one’s disposal.

The rest is just talk. Fun. But just talk.

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Questions, Questions

Posted January 24th, 2017 in blog, marketing, strategy by Gary

One of the things that I have always enjoyed is the creation of a new marketing campaign. Introducing a new product, revisiting an old one or simply adding a new service opens the door to the creative process. That messy, collaborative exchange  forces long term reflection and combines it with immediate realities.

Without getting into specifics, I am currently working with two different companies: one is developing a new product, the other is repositioning itself in the marketplace and revamping its sales process. Being involved with both projects at the same time made me realize that the important information needed is basically the same.

Most people that I have worked with believe that the first question to be asked is whether or not there is a market for the product. This seems simple enough to answer. If your company or start-up has the resources, you put together focus groups, get some real data. If you don’t, a market study usually does the trick.

I believe, however, that before you start trying to prove your case, there are two fundamental questions that need to be asked:

Why are we better? Can we be the best?

The answer to these two questions ultimately involves the quality of the product or service to be provided. This, in turn, gets you closer to nailing your value proposition. If the quality isn’t there, it will be an uphill battle, constantly compensating for a product or service that doesn’t deliver on its initial promise. There are many examples of flawed products that succeeded anyway, but in most cases that is because the flaws were part and parcel of the struggle to create the best product.

When you are on the cutting edge of technology – the introduction of the automobile, the radio or the personal computer – there are going to be bumps and glitches along the way. Quality and flawlessness are not necesssarily the same thing, although one should always be striving to achieve both.

By asking yourself if your product or service is better than the competition forces an honest analysis of what it is that you do. If this analysis cannot get off the ground, or if you find yourself unable to answer uncomfortable questions posed by the team it may be time to go back to the drawing board.

This is not the same as trying to differentiate yourself from the competition. They say in sports, your team needs to execute its game plan because it plays to your strengths. These strengths need to be better than those of the opponent or you will lose. Being different doesn’t mean you’re necessarily better, it just means that you’re different. If different means that you have strengths that the opponent does not, and these are the better strengths to have and increase your chances of winning.

Different is good. Being better is, well, better.

The tension between the two questions lies in the fact that they address the here and now as well as the future. They also imply the passion that is necessary to achieve one’s goals. It is much easier to work your tail off if you believe that what you do is better and that there is the possibility of becoming the best. The balance that one is able to establish between the responses to these two questions helps shape the development of the product or service, the projected resources required and the marketing strategy over time.

If it turns out that there is a market for your idea, you can now develop it with confidence. Playing to your strengths.

With passion.

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Infinite Variations, Finite Universe

Posted January 10th, 2017 in blog, marketing, thoughts by Gary

A piano has seven full notes and five half notes. That feels like a relatively small number. The instrument, however, has been used to produce – and continues to produce – countless pieces that are different from one another. The Goldberg Variations, Erik Satie, Bruce Hornsby, all come from that same finite number of keys and represent different levels of success depending on your taste.

So it is with marketing.

The number of actual tools at our disposal are as finite as the interests and incentives of our fellow human beings. Is your campaign focused on branding? Are you offering a BOGO deal? A \discount? A raffle? Points? The question is not whether your offer or idea is new, it is whether it is compelling. And, of course, properly executed.

To prove this point, I present the Guinguette, or turn-of-the-century French dance hall. We are all familiar with the music, the accordion, the cheesy frenchiness of it all, images of Maurice Chevalier or Edith Piaf come to mind. These dance halls have their origin more than a century earlier, when the white wine made from the guinguet grape became popular. In order to increase sales, the local wine-producers in the Nogent-sur-Marne area outside of Paris, where the grapes were cultivated, created popular dances and balls to attract people to the region to… drink.

My point is not that this is special. It is not. The execution of these efforts, however, has created an indelible image of a specific time and place because it was done well. Another great example is the loyalty card, most ingeniously employed by the Catholic Church. If you  attend mass and follow the rules, you will receive the ultimate loyalty prize: Heaven and an eternity relaxing with friends and relatives who all decided to be a part of the same club. But I digress, and fear to offend.

Marshall McLuhan’s famous statement – the Medium is the message – reinforces this notion of a finite universe that requires the need for inventiveness and execution.

Put in a simple way, we can all use a piano to make noise. All you have to do is hit the keys and sounds are produced. But to make music – truly beautiful and memorable music – takes skill.

And with the number of ways to reach people today – print, radio, television, outdoor advertising, social media in its ever increasing complexity – that skill is more and more in demand.

The real question is: Who has it?

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And so it begins…

Posted December 27th, 2016 in blog, thoughts by Gary

Having thought for some time about creating a place where I can expound on things that interest me, I am finally taking the plunge in 2017. We’ll see if I can actually find the joy in writing that I once did. I plan on publishing a post every two weeks that will come out every other Tuesday. The main focus will be marketing from a slightly different perspective, injecting a bit of humor and perhaps some of the frustrations faced in different settings. I will also address other topics that strike me as interesting to keep this an interesting mix and have it reflect other aspects of my personality. Only marketing all of the time is already more than well covered by others so my hope is that a little variety and quirkiness will add to the readers enjoyment. I look forward to comments by all. Thanks.