There is a persistent conflict in marketing, a degree of blind fumbling in how we create solid marketing plans that will succeed. On one side of this conflict, we have status quo marketing steeped in outmoded tradition, where every customer was treated the same and most interactions were built on guessing what customers might respond to. On the other side, we apply data to personalize the customer experience through a multitude of touch points, technologies, and tools that are generating more data than a human can possibly manage.
“There’s a conflict in #marketing: status quo work steeped in tradition vs. #personalization & #data overload as we try to enhance the CX,” says @AllenNance CLICK TO TWEET
Often trapped between the two is today’s marketer (you!), tasked with tactical execution while also having to meet overarching goals, such as revenue growth and customer retention.
Complicating our ability to fulfill these duties is an upside-down approach to the way we put our marketing programs together, and it goes something like this:
When we assess new software and marketing tools to help us do our jobs, we talk about features and tactics, the components of a tool that most mid-level marketers spend their day-to-day professional lives in. Then we do our best to fit the tactic into a strategy and hope the tactics and strategies roll up into big-picture objectives.
But this is as misguided as it sounds and only creates confusion, inefficiencies, and a failure to meet company-wide objectives.
In this post, we discuss why and how we need to replace this status quo focus on features and tactics with a planning model that seems obvious: Start with your objectives, then determine the strategies that will get you to your goals, and within each strategy, figure out which tactics are the most likely to succeed.
But if it’s so obvious, why are we still so focused on tactics?
It’s Like We’re Not Even Talking About the Same Thing
When looking to bring on a new technology company, the salesperson might ask you, “What are you hoping our company will help you do?” And in most scenarios, the answer ranges from a general “better email engagement” to a more specific “I want an abandoned cart workflow.”
But herein lies one chief cause of confusion: Better email engagement and abandoned cart programs are not objectives. The first is a strategy, and the second is a tactic, two things you might use to achieve a larger objective like customer retention.
Building out your marketing program from a tactic is like constructing a sink and a kitchen countertop and then building the rest of the house around those items. It can be done, but it’s definitely not the most efficient way.
So how exactly did we get so upside down on building our marketing programs?
No Mystery to Marketer Misery
Marketers face a figurative death by data. It’s slow and incremental at first, but as more data is generated, even greater amounts of pressure fall on the marketer.
“Marketers face a figurative death by #data,” says @AllenNance CLICK TO TWEET
We spend so much energy on meeting our deadlines that we don’t evaluate the why behind the deadlines nearly enough. Unfortunately, the last few years have piled on more pressure to meet rising customer expectations, leverage increasing amounts of data, serve as a tech-savvy digital native, and prove ROI at every turn.
The day-to-day struggle
How many of you came to marketing because you love data science and managing a dozen different tech tools? The answer is none, yet how many times have you run through this kind of scenario in your head as you plan out your priorities for the day:
“I have to get this many emails out today. I’m looking for this many opens and clicks, and, above all, conversions. In the moment, I’m not sure how these campaigns meet the larger company objectives, like increasing revenue or retention. I’m just scrambling to pull all my data, get it vetted and organized for my contact list, truncating the time I actually spend writing and thinking about my content, and then I just shoot the campaign out the door and pray.”
It’s no mystery how we got here. It’s the status quo, one of the biggest barriers to brand growth. We were taught that speed trumps accuracy by our marketing mentors because, for the longest time, speed to market was always more important than the quality of the interaction with the customer. Then came big data, which made it possible for us to make better decisions about personalization and what constitutes an excellent customer experience.
Haste is a habit, not a plan
Today, marketers feel stuck, overwhelmed, under pressure, unsupported, frustrated, anxious, set up to fail, and falling behind everyone else in the company.
Marketers are like anyone else. We’re driven to do our jobs, and like any other profession, we’ve fallen into the habit of doing things in a particular way — often because it’s the fastest way to execute a tactic — without always thinking about whether the habit makes sense.
One habit that has reached a breaking point is blindly gobbling up tech to take care of every problem that comes up never mind the cost, never mind the integration issues. As a byproduct, many marketers have come to serve the machines more than the other way around.
That means we spend less time on the other parts of marketing (namely strategy and creative work). It’s all about the day-to-day execution of tactics. You launch campaigns, analyze your performance metrics, and then… you make your best guess about how to next engage the customer.
So, we’re rushing all the time. We’re downloading tools ad hoc regardless of feature overlap, cost, or security issues. We’re rushing to do all of this without a clear path to our objectives — without a clear why.
Where we go wrong in the hunt for marketing technology
Most conversations with software providers still begin with the features. “Show me those blueprints. I heard you guys have one of the best automation tools around, and I want to see what an abandoned cart campaign looks like.”
And when marketers get these tools, it’s quite tempting to just start using them so that their time to value is short. Once deployed, we then monitor conversion rates as a way to prove the investment in the tool was justified.
But what we are often not tracking is exactly how those automated campaigns support a company-wide goal like increasing revenue. It’s more like we have to assume that these widgets must increase revenue in some way, but we haven’t built a solid plan because we didn’t start in the right place — with big-picture objectives.
"You've got to take a step back and stop letting the technology drive the strategy. The way most organizations' strategy comes together is they say: 'what technology do we have (in other words, what capabilities do we have)?' And that becomes their strategy. It needs to be the other way around. We have to set our strategy and what we want to do; then find technology to facilitate it..."
The big mystery is that we are still focusing on tactics and features even when we know they are not matching up with our larger company objectives. This could cause a variety of problems for your company. Not all departments will align, and worse, some departments may work counter to others or duplicate work.
So why does this feature-first fixation still exist?
Because as humans, we can’t keep up with the data. So, to meet our daily goals, we will do what we’re most familiar with, which is at the root of the problem when we start implementing our tactics before identifying objectives.
Put Objectives Where They Belong: In the Beginning
Despite the ruts that marketers fall into, when you take a step back from your campaigns, you realize that the best results-producing tactics can only be determined by objectives. Tactics should not even be part of the initial conversation.
Before you talk about tools or specific campaigns, you have to start with the most important question, whether you’re a CMO, a marketing manager, or an IT engineer:
What do you want to achieve?
Seems simple. Seems obvious. Yet we still see marketers and clients talking up browse abandon campaigns during a demo without realizing the greater purpose of such a campaign.
The Solution to Tactics-First and Too Much Tech
From detailed segmentation that allows you to truly understand what customers prefer to campaign templates that expedite the email creation process, the Emarsys platform is a marketer’s platform, built with the marketer’s plight in mind (that data has buried you and that tech solutions have to be managed and maintained, which only adds more work to your plate).
Not only does the platform give you the power to personalize your communications with your audience, but we have also included industry-specific roadmaps designed to suggest strategies and tactics for particular verticals based on real customer data.
The Strategic Dashboard
The Objectives-Strategies-Tactics philosophy lies at the heart of the Strategic Dashboard, your control room where you can create and monitor campaigns in real time. This is where you tell the software your objectives, and the platform suggests key strategies that will support those objectives. Then you choose the strategy you want, and the platform will offer up a selection of tactics. You choose the best one to meet your needs and let the machine go to work.
What sets Emarsys apart from competitors is that we have included pre-built roadmaps within the platform. These are based on data from thousands of our clients. So, once you choose your vertical, say airlines, you would then be able to leverage pre-determined, industry-specific best practices based on how other similarly positioned brands have succeeded. Essentially, we are giving you a treasure map left behind by those who came before you and won, and such a guide greatly reduces guesswork on yours.
The Strategic Dashboard allows you to check on the performance of your tactics in real time. If you don’t like what’s happening, if you’re not hitting your KPIs, you can go back into the dashboard and change either the tactic or strategy.
Marketing Doesn’t Have to Be This Hard
You shouldn’t be working to make your tech better. Your tech should be making YOU better! But tech should also be applied in the most optimal ways possible so that it can help you, your team, and your leaders achieve the objectives of the brand.
The first shift that has to happen is to move away from snatching up the features and campaign tactics you think might belong in your marketing arsenal and instead start things off with the right questions. What do I want to achieve? How am I going to get there? And what are the tactics and tech that will help me get there?
This is what Emarsys has discovered for thousands of our clients. We don’t just want to sell you software, wish you luck, and wander away from you. The sale is the beginning of our relationship, one in which we only succeed when our clients do. We believe that when marketers can delegate more data analysis to the machine, they can devote more creative energy to strategy… And be happy marketers again.
We built our tools and our platform with marketers in mind. We know that customers will continue to demand more from brands, and brands will demand more from their marketers.
But we’re here to help you meet those demands and get you back to the kind of marketing you love. ◾
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