Why So Many Marketing Tactics Fail

My driveway is a wreck. Over the past 75 years, tree roots have turned the once flat surface into a small mountain range. My wife and I keep debating whether we should demo it and lay a new one. However, we’ve got other needs in the house, too – like a new laundry room door, oven, range hood, garage, front porch, as well as an iffy school district – it goes on and on. While on a road trip to the mountains last weekend, we found ourselves debating which projects to tackle, whether we’d get ROI for those improvements and how long we’d even want to stay in the house. That’s when I joked that we needed a strategic plan for the family. We both laughed and made jokes about our 10-month-old lobbying for a house near a banana farm, but then we both stopped and thought for a minute when I said, “Actually, I think we really do need a strategy.”

This is a situation I see all the time in my position at Jackson Spalding – brands and companies that come to us asking for guidance on email marketing or interview skills but have no brand strategy to guide their marketing decisions. They haven’t decided where they need to go.

“Tactics are fun and strategy is hard, which is why everyone wants to jump into tactics.”

My friend and colleague Chuck Toney and I were meeting with a potential client a few months ago when he tossed out that bit of wisdom. It’s certainly true, but I also I think companies like seeing action, and tactics are full of action. Building a brand strategy can be a slog. It often takes months to develop a great marketing strategy and many companies see that as wasting time ‘because we need to increase sales now.’ However, diving into tactics without sound marketing strategies (that are anchored in business goals!) is an irresponsible approach. It’s also likely that metrics will be an afterthought, and ultimately have to be reverse engineered after the tactics are complete, displayed in the most dazzlingly designed Powerpoint slide possible so as to distract from the lack of a solid marketing strategy.

Avoid the trap of rarefied air.

The flip side of this coin is no good either. I used to work for a global professional services firm and we spent three years strategizing how we were going to add a new practice group. We had six in-person meetings on the topic, flying in the leadership team from around the country, and we never once discussed tactics. Two years into the conversation, I asked if we could settle on next steps to get this initiative going and someone said something to the effect of, ‘We’re setting strategy. We can’t waste time on tactical stuff right now.’ In the end, the practice group never came to fruition and our firm missed an opportunity with huge revenue potential.

Stick to the strategy for a year.

A great marketing strategy will not only help define where a brand needs to focus to help drive business goals through tactics like content marketing, online advertising and marketing videos, but it does something else wonderful, too: it keeps you from getting distracted by shiny objects. There will always be new social media platforms or marketing ideas that creates a wave of buzz throughout the business world. Develop a sound brand strategy and stick to it – at least for a year. You can reflect after a year and shift if you can find better ways to drive business goals. Tactics can shift and morph throughout the year as new information emerges, but examine all of these things objectively. Reject emotional attachments to the old or the new ideas – even (and especially) your personal ideas.

Strategy vs. tactics. You have to do the hard stuff first.