Destination: Unknown?

by Rolf Gutknecht, Agent of Change (c) 2012

The GPS is a wonderful invention for anyone who’s had to get somewhere they’ve not been before. Whether you get directions from your SmartPhone, Mapquest, Google Maps, dedicated GPS device or even the old paper map, there are only two pieces of data to plot your route: where you are now and where you want to go.  Sounds pretty simple, right?  Yet how many companies, maybe even yours, have launched into a marketing campaign without really considering these things!  Unfortunately, not having a clear picture of where you are now and where you want to go leads to not getting anywhere because one critical factor is missing: a overall marketing strategy.

Time and time again in speaking with CMO/VP/Directors of Marketing for companies large and small, they tell me that they need to execute marketing programs, but then tell me they “don’t have time to develop a full  strategy.”  I’m not kidding. It’s actually easy to understand, given all the exciting marketing tools available today, including social media, email marketing, location-based apps, etc. It’s easy to confuse these tactics with strategies. Too often I see people focused on the newest and sexiest marketing tactic du jour without any appreciation for how it fits in an overall marketing strategy. I’ve also seen entire marketing plans that consist of nothing but a series of tactics strung together one after the next without an over-arching marketing strategy.

So, what’s the difference between strategy and tactic? A strategy is the broad roadmap that defines where you are now, where you want to go and how you’ll get there – taking into account your product or service, what the competition is doing, which direction the market is heading, and what you’ll need to do and say that gives your company the competitive edge. It’s the big picture. Tactics, by contrast, are the specific tools you use to do this: Write a blog. Send out a newsletter. Develop an app. Run an ad. Be more visible at tradeshows. Etc.

It’s easy to start with the “how” but if you haven’t identified the “what”, you may find yourself spending a lot of time executing tactics that don’t take you where you want to go and in so doing, you’ll be wasting time, resources and losing out on sales-producing opportunities.

The confusion compounds when I hear some marketing folks talk about their organization’s “online marketing strategies” given all the attention to social media, online and mobile tools. You shouldn’t have an “online” or internet marketing strategy any more than an you should have an “offline” strategy. What you do need is one, single integrated strategy that looks across all delivery platforms whether online or offline, print, broadcast, or mobile. Your customers don’t have an online self and offline self and neither should you. Think holistically about all your marketing initiatives. Otherwise you’ll drive your customers and your own team crazy.

So at the end of the day, executing marketing tactics without having a well-developed integrated strategy is like leaving your roadmap tools at home and taking off on the drive without concerning if you’ve chosen the right road, highway or turnoff. You wouldn’t haphazardly set off on an important trip in your personal life so why let it happen with regard to your company’s marketing activities. You’ll never make it to the right place taking the wrong roads.

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