Many companies view marketing simply as a checklist of items they believe to be essential: Website…check. White Paper…check. LinkedIn and Twitter Accounts…check / check. Client Newsletter…check. Trade Show…check. Blog…check. Publicity…check.
But marketing strategy is not akin to packing for a trip. “Shoes” may be on your checklist of items to put into your suitcase, but depending on your destination and itinerary, you may need dress oxfords, high heels, running shoes, slippers, golf shoes, sandals or hiking boots. Or perhaps you only need the shoes on your feet.
Marketers often throw far too many shoes into their suitcase, either because they see competitors wearing them, or they wish to avoid explaining why their company lacks the trendiest footwear.
Unfortunately, it’s this collection of shoes with no real reason to be in the company’s suitcase that causes the greatest problem for the marketing function, in terms of justification of related costs and contribution to enterprise goals.
To wean our B2B clients off their shoe fetish, we apply a “Marketing Diagnostic” planning tool, consisting of 10 simple questions. Here are the first two questions it asks:
1. Does your firm have a written marketing plan?
Although it’s the most essential marketing task, most firms do not have a written plan. A marketing plan need not be lengthy, take months to prepare, or require the services of McKinsey & Co. Effective plans can be developed in a few whiteboard sessions, and be contained in a 2 – 3 page document that address these key questions:
- What is our value proposition and competitive advantage?
- What is our target market and who are the decision-makers?
- What specific business goals / benchmarks are we seeking to accomplish?
- What tactics will we use to engage with and nurture our target audience(s)?
- What budgets, timeframes and responsibilities will we assign to those tactics?
- How and how often will we measure results and make course corrections?
The two most important aspects of a marketing plan are, first, that it ensures organizational consensus regarding the firm’s strategic purpose, where it wants to go, and how it intends to get there. Secondly, it provides accountability for results. In many cases, it’s that fear of accountability that discourages firms from creating a marketing plan.
2. Do all of your marketing tactics have measurable goals linked to business outcomes?
This diagnostic question involves the most difficult aspect of marketing: demonstrating tangible outcomes that justify the time and expense invested in marketing tactics. The classic complaints against marketing sound like this: “We’ve attended the XYZ conference for 3 years, and it hasn’t generated any new clients.” Or “We were mentioned in the Wall Street Journal and Forbes, and no one has contacted us based on that exposure.”
However, when you examine those marketing results-related complaints more closely, you’re likely to discover that (in the case of conferences) the firm failed to build an integrated strategy to communicate properly both in advance of and following the event, and did not leverage the conference-related content to reach a broader audience. And in the case of publicity, the firm likely generated the wrong type of media exposure (regardless of where it appeared), or simply hung the coverage on their website like a hunting trophy, instead of using it proactively to engage with their target audiences.
This second diagnostic question, regarding the practical benefit of marketing activity, is actually an integral part of the marketing plan development process. Every tactic that’s included in your marketing plan requires its own response to “How will we measure results?” Some tactics can be measured in terms of direct business outcomes, such as lead generation. But tactics that are unlikely to generate direct results, such as media exposure, will require a plan that combines related tactics. For example, to benefit from your published bylined article in a trade publication, your strategy might include sending a reprint of that piece (along with a non self-serving cover note) to targeted audiences, as a means to generate the awareness and conversations that precede transactions.
Both Do-It-Yourself marketers and professional marketers alike rationalize their activity on a tactical basis (number of white paper downloads, website traffic, “Likes” and “Re-Tweets,” etc.), and fail to either design or connect the marketing dots in a manner that’s likely to drive meaningful business results. This disconnect is the #1 reason why marketing is held in such low regard, compared with other professional disciplines.
If you’d like a complete copy of our 10 question “Marketing Diagnostic” planning tool for B2B firms, just shoot me an email through LinkedIn, or to gordon at andrewselikoff dot com. It includes a self-scoring system, allowing you to know exactly how you stack up, marketing-wise.