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In today’s short-term, performance-obsessed marketing atmosphere, it’s easy to find yourself drowning in operational tactics, campaigns and day-to-day marketing decisions. But as a marketing executive, it’s critical you find time for the “deep thinking” needed to craft and refine your strategy.

In our experience, the word “Strategy” is one of the most misunderstood concepts in business. Instead of trying to explain what it is (there’s a lot of content out there on that subject), we instead illuminate the common signs of not having one. After all, the first step in any recovery is admitting you have a problem.

If any of the below sounds like your marketing organization, resolve to carve out the time to define your strategy and succeed in growing your brand for the long-term.

 

Sign #1: Your Target is “Millenial Moms”

When we work with clients, one of our first questions is “who is your customer?” For many brands today, the answer we often hear is “Millenial Moms” – which we translate to mean “we don’t really know”. Besides the fact they are of a certain age, gender, and have children… a Millennial Mom in Berkley may be significantly different than a Millennial Mom in Boise.

This one example illustrates how too many brands today are just going through the motions when it comes to understanding their customers. They haven’t empathized with their customers to the point they can articulate their unique needs and desires. The outcome is an incoherent (or non-existent) marketing strategy, uninspired creative and generic content, and inefficient use of ad spend.

When you have strategy in place, you’re able to create more nuanced customer categories, craft a more meaningful message and deliver a personalized experience.

 

Sign #2: Your Messaging Focuses on “Better”, Not “Different”

Quick exercise. Review your own website and complete this sentence as many times as you can: Customers are compelled to buy our brand because <fill in the blank>.  

Review what you’ve written down. Cross out anything that includes how your brand is “better” than the competition – those things that are based on features. Maybe it’s “our products are higher quality” or “we use fresh ingredients” or “rated #1 in customer satisfaction”. Leave only those things that describe how you are truly different. For example, “the only brand that can go from your daily life to the outdoors”. Defining an ownable and sustainable position is a key element of a strategy.

Although messaging about features have their place, a lack of a clearly articulated brand differentiator is a red-flag that you don’t have a sound strategy.

 

Sign #3: You Have Arbitrary Goals for Your KPIs

In a sales meeting with a potential client, they explained to us how their marketing team’s goal that year was to double their Facebook following. When asked how and why they came up with that number, the all-too-familiar answer was, “that’s what our CEO wants”. Though s/he may have had a good reason backed by solid data, the marketing team charged with meeting that goal was not clued in – indicating a lack of a clearly defined and communicated strategy.

At Room 214, we believe in “no fairytale numbers”. This goes for how we run our agency as well as the planning and measurement of our work for clients. The KPIs we select tie directly to each brand’s marketing strategy and serve as our “GPS” to track where we are and how best to get where we need to go. 

Specific metrics that tie directly to business objectives are a critical piece of any marketing strategy.

 

Sign #4: You’re Constantly Fighting for Dollars and Protecting Your Budget

For those outside of marketing, all that matters are business results. They don’t care about that sexy new campaign creative or an innovative new ad platform.

Securing the budget you need to fuel your marketing organization comes down to the return the organization will see on its investment.

When brands don’t have a defined and properly communicated marketing strategy, they often find themselves begging for budget and fighting against constant cuts. They ask stakeholders, many of whom lack imagination and/or an understanding of marketing, to connect the dots from fan growth and CTR to something that sounds like revenue generation or cost reductions.

A clearly articulated strategy, along with the meaningful metrics we mentioned previously, helps draw a straight line from the work your team does to bottom-line business results.

 

Sign #5: Your Content Plan Includes a “Viral Video”

The quickest way to a creative roadblock is to charge your team or agency with creating a “viral video”.

When your content plan relies on this magical phenomenon, it’s a tell-tale sign that your organization hasn’t done the work to define the strategy. You don’t really understand your customers, what progress they’re trying to make in their lives and how your solution alone can solve their problem. This also tells us that you’re defining success based on vanity metrics such as likes and views.

Viral content may generate a lot of buzz (sometimes negative!), but do nothing for sales.

Instead, the goal should be to create content meaningful to the right audiences that leads them through the customer journey.

 

Ok, I Have A Problem

Once you’ve recognized the symptoms of not having a strategy, it’s difficult to unsee the problem. You’ll start to notice many other consequences of not having a guiding “north star”. So great, now what?

Often we hear organizations say they just don’t have the time or resources to invest in things like personas, customer journey maps, brand positioning or targeted messaging. The train has left the station, and they just need to optimize what they’re currently doing.

This is the fact of business today – the speed at which things change makes it difficult to invest in things perceived as luxuries. However, we believe you can paint the train as it’s moving, you can switch out the cars, you can even replace the engine if you want to.  All it takes is the will, discipline, and agile approach to doing so.

So this year, if you find yourself without a true strategy to guide your marketing efforts, make the time to put one in place. It not only saves you and your team from frustration down the line, it improves the return on your marketing investment.

 

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Jen Casson

Jen Casson

Jen's experience marries art with strategy to embrace IT, data and creative craft. She loves collaboration, storytelling and supporting clients with research-based data and creativity. She is an award-winning editor for the Discovery Channel, Sundance Channel, Science Channel, Ford, Dish and others. When she’s not working, she’s enjoying life skiing, hiking and mountain biking with friends and family.
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