Seemingly every day, there is a new platform, vehicle or medium that promises to be the next big thing for marketers and brands. Agencies and brands then rush out to not just learn about these new shiny marketing apples, how they are grown and what they promise to do—but they (oftentimes) want to take as large a bite as possible of these apples, no matter how ripe the fruit may/may not be.
As time grows, the platforms mature—monies get reinvested by the marketers. Consumers may be aware of the platforms, but they don’t know what to do with them, nor do brands know how to best monetize their presence.
At the end of a business quarter or a fiscal year, these same marketers and brand managers chew on something different—antacids, typically—wondering why their brand has not grown with consumers and shoppers the way they had hoped.
The answer is simple—marketers need to stop eating the apples and first decide upon the right or best strategy.
You might realize that the orchard of bright shiny apples might be better left for someone else.
Pick strategy first
To be perfectly clear, I am not saying that agencies doing incredible work in their respective fields should stop what they’re doing. In fact, I am suggesting that if marketers are going to lead with strategy, then some folks might want to appreciate what strategy really is, and more importantly why it holds so much weight for decision makers in any industry.
Lots of people “talk the talk” about strategy, but few people really get it. Strategy is all about making the right choice based on the best insights possible, and having the right tactics in place to support the strategy. It’s a formula that companies need to drive success forward. In an information-rich age, brands of all shapes and sizes have great stories and successes, but merchandising them in the right channel—and reaching the most optimal influencer—can be a challenge.
- Do customers need information now, or can it wait?
- At what touch points can a company connect with its ideal customer?
- How can these stories fuel the business development engine?
- Does a story get communicated better when other partners are in the mix?
Our work as communicators should focus on generating meaningful insights first, and that we merchandise those pieces of fruit first, so that the intellectual and creative power that brands seek from us deliver much greater and demonstrative returns.
Some of you might be reading this and think, “No duh, Shmarak.” But when I make presentations to C-suites about how smart marketing strategy dovetails with operations, or when I share this approach with students at Northwestern University and University of Chicago (where I teach classes), the notion of where strategy fits—let alone what it really is—generates deer in headlights. Strategy gets lost because the focus is on the creative execution.
I don’t have all of the answers on how to flip the switch, but allow me to share some ways to put strategy back at the forefront of your team’s marketing and communications efforts.
Always start with the end goal or deliverable in mind
Work with your brands to identify what the REAL problems are, and what objectives can be measured.
Make sure you’re tackling the right problem
Strategy solves problems, but you have to identify the choices that your client can take—as if the solution were a multiple-choice test. It’s not as easy an exercise as you might think.
Cover all your bases
Just when you think you have connected all of the dots with your product, service or idea, expand your thinking to include supply chain partners, indirect consumers and other stakeholders. The more insights you have at your disposal, the wheat will distinguish itself from the chaff. Creativity will begin to blossom in ways your team has never thought possible.
At this point, you can then decide which apples need to be picked to address your strategic path.
As we look ahead, let’s pick the right/best strategy that feels right—and find a way for our marketing investments to bear more fruit.