As that wise general Sun Tzu said in the Art of War , tactics before strategy is the noise before defeat.’ And it’s true tactical marketing can lead you to feel you’re making a difference to your bottom line when you simply aren’t. So, what's the secret to turning up the volume on your campaigns - while ensuring more long-term victories for your brand?
When tactics get more attention than strategy
Great marketers are driven people. They want their ideas and words to have a lasting impact; to make a difference in the world. But in some organisations it’s hard for marketers to get buy-in and budgets for sustained branding work and strategic campaigns.
When the marketing department can’t get support for long-term projects, they’ll naturally seek out new opportunities wherever they can. In the rush for maximum impact, novel ideas are trialled - one-off tests of new channels are used to gain traction. A pet project conceived by the head of sales may get the star treatment, while opportunities in branding and deep content production are ignored.
Short-termism in marketing; the enemy of growth
But organisations hoping for a long-term return from this piecemeal creative approach, are likely to be disappointed. As this classic research from IPA confirms, short-termism in marketing is the enemy of growth:
In their famous paper Effectiveness in Context researchers Field and Binet use this data to demonstrate how a focus on tactical marketing at the expense of strategy, can impact success:
“Too much time spent picking the low-hanging fruit means less time watering the tree. Eventually the tree stops growing.”
No amount of one-off martech wonders, webinars, or targeted LinkedIn ads can make up for a lack of strategic direction.
So, before your business starts flirting with yet another one-off campaign, make sure you’ve got a plan in place to drive your tactical choices.
What is a marketing strategy; why do you need one?
Marketing strategy defines the overall objectives of the company in terms of positioning, profile and revenue. It defines first your ideal customers, your brand positioning objectives and your sales goals. Then it uses those principles and targets to generate campaign and marketing tactics to meet your sales and financial goals year on year.
Without a strategy your long-term growth goals can quickly be lost in the fog of war. Here's why:
5 ways putting tactics before strategy stunts growth
1. It won't feed your brand
The shape of each tactical campaign, the message and content you share should be dictated by your positioning work.
But it's easy to go rogue with your messaging if you're not all working from the same strategic document.
Instead, think about what are you trying to achieve for your business with each campaign you plan. Who are the 'right fit' companies you need to attract? What is the central message they need to hear and the content they most crave? Where should your B2B brand be positioned in the market to maximise growth? How can your short term sales activation goals, support your long term branding mission?
As the researchers Field and Binet put it, in an ideal world:
“Brand communication creates enduring memory structures that increase the base level of demand and reduce price sensitivity. Sales activation triggers these memories and converts them efficiently into immediate sales.”
Without the brand insight underpinning your tactics, your overarching message risks getting lost in a welter of unhelpful noise.
2. It creates silos
Without an overarching strategy pulling activity together, your internal teams can also end up working in silos. New initiatives can be chosen based on the individual whims of different, maverick managers.
Before you know it, teams are competing against each other for limited budgets, work is duplicated and effort is wasted.
Meanwhile, results are ignored, exaggerated or changed to justify what has been done. But If you're not all on the same page and nothing is learnt from each tactical exercise, it’s just another waste of money.
Here’s a great blog about how sales and marketing alignment delivers campaigns that drive long term valuie.
3. It stops you being agile
Thinking on a per-campaign basis won’t give you the oversight you need to assess success and quickly change direction when it matters most. Your strategic map shows your destination, but you need to figure how to get there using your tactics. Working against quarterly cycles of planning, execution and continual review you’ll be much better placed to change, tweak and optimise your marketing tactics to meet overall strategic goals.
4. It can lead to dead ends
You might have a hunch that a new LinkedIn advertising option will be a good way to capture new leads or new ad-serving technology might prove a panacea for your sales pipeline, but where’s the evidence? Understanding in detail your ideal customer profile and buyer personas, will show you where and how you should experiment with new marketing approaches. But if you’re chasing new tech without a real sense of why - and if you don't have a plan for measuring impact when you do experiment - then it’s never going to pay you back.
5. It doesn't tell a story
A bunch of tactics don’t amount to a coherent story. And the business of B2B brand building should be about storytelling. You should be looking for an overarching narrative to capture your audience's attention in everything you do. As the marketing expert Mark Ritson says:
"Hope, aspiration, confidence and fear of failure are all in play in the B2B buying mindset. As B2B marketers we need to invest in understanding the relevant emotions for our buyers and their relationship to our brand"
The business writer Donald Miller points out we need to bring our understand those fears and aspirations to make the customer the true hero of our story:
“When we position our customer as the hero and ourselves as the guide, we will be recognized as a trusted resource to help them overcome their challenges.”
In all your tactical campaigns, you should become a consistent and helpful presence in the world of your customers and prospects. You should understand the challenges they face in each part of their sales journey and be there to help them with the messaging and content that is most appropriate.
Planning your campaigns to support these different needs in different ways - is the strategic approach that will build long term value for your customers and bring return on your investment.
Beneath the tactical story-telling should be a bedrock of brand work. This is all the website development, deep content production, and messaging around mission, vision and values - that imparts your reason for being in the world.
Turn your back on random acts of marketing!
If there is no over-riding objective in your marketing work, you'll be all bark but no bite.
There may be brilliant bursts of marketing, fireworks that briefly illuminate the night sky and win your brand applause. Those campaigns may make a lot of noise, but if they aren’t drawn together in a larger narrative and as part of a master plan, then your brand will end up poorer.
So, make sure you’ve got a marketing approach that’s driven by a deep understanding of the needs of your audience before you spend your advertising dollar. Make sure you know how your brand should be positioned before you embark on your tactical planning, or all your creative efforts may just wither on the vine.