The Difference Between Strategy & Tactics
Before we dive in, let me define the difference between marketing strategy and marketing tactics. Put simply, a marketing strategy is a plan for achieving a business goal or goals (a strategy without a goal is never going to be a good strategy, but that’s a discussion we’ll save for later). Tactics are simply the activities and advertising platforms supporting that strategy.
Falling in Love with One Tactic
Simple enough, right? Okay, so let me give you an example scenario so you can see the danger of falling madly in love with one tactic. Big Al’s Widgets is a company that sells…you know what they sell – they sell widgets. They want to increase their revenue this year by 30%. Their marketing team determines the best target audience for them to reach their goal is first-time widget buyers. They do all the research on first-time widget buyers – the websites they visit, the TV shows they watch, what kind of radio they listen to, what search terms they use to research widgets, etc. and develop a strategy.
This strategy lays out the messaging they want to convey to their audience, how to best convey it, and how to get their messaging in front of potential first-time widgeters. The tactics (see? we’re getting there) include: commercials on local television, radio advertising on Spotify (because millennials love widgets), billboards, social media, online display ads, and PPC advertising.
Trusting the Data Too Much
After about six months, revenue is up and everyone’s happy. But they start noticing two things: everyone who comes into the store to buy widgets mentions their Spotify ads, and their website analytics shows that 80% of their online sales are coming from their PPC advertising. So Big Al makes a fateful decision: he cancels his TV spots, billboards and online display ads, stops posting on social media and pours all his budget into Spotify and PPC.
And… everything falls apart. Why?
Because Big Al’s Widgets thought they found a couple silver bullets when in reality, they had a strategy that was working.
I hear your mental gears grinding again: “But what about the data, Derek?!? Don’t you love data?” Indeed. I do love data, but it never tells the full story. We often look at data and envision Mr. Customer bee-bopping along with his headphones on listening to Spotify when he hears Big Al’s ad. Inspired to action, Mr. Customer makes a beeline to Big Al’s to buy a widget. Or, Ms. Customer is on her phone looking for information on widgets when she sees the Big Al search ad, she clicks, likes what she sees, and buys.
Here’s the True Story
That’s both a boring story and a complete fantasy. The real story is closer to this: Mr. or Ms. Customer is exposed to Big Al’s marketing across many channels multiple times over a period of weeks or months (or often, years). When Mr. Customer comes into Big Al’s, the radio ad is the only thing he remembers, but it’s not the only thing shaping his opinion. Ms. Customer sees the search ad and immediately recognizes the Big Al brand, thanks to being exposed to it across multiple channels, and has more trust in his brand than his competitors, so she buys from Big Al.
So am I saying that when a marketing strategy is working we should never change it? Not at all. Instead, we should focus on the overall CPA (cost per acquisition); that is, your total advertising cost divided by the number of sales. The goal is to get that number down. AND, when tweaking things, large sweeping changes are rarely a good idea because you won’t know where your efficiencies are.
A better move for Big Al would have been to remove a few billboards, and put that budget into Spotify and PPC, then assess what that does to his CPA after a period of time. If CPA goes down, he might consider another small change. The goal is to continue tweaking bit by bit. That’s how you build a finely tuned marketing machine.
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