What Happens to Those Who Confuse Marketing Tactics with Marketing Strategy

It is 9 a.m. on a brisk Sunday spring morning and I am walking with my colleague to a meeting. Work isn’t the most fun thing to do on a Sunday but I am excited. We were contacted by a startup to help market their new app. Due to the nature of their application, I knew it would be challenging but I was looking forward to testing my chops and putting my nose to the grindstone.

The meeting took the entire morning and stretched into the afternoon until we broke for a late lunch. Both parties left on good terms and we were optimistic about the future but what we couldn’t have known was that the whole thing would be over before it started.

Thinking back on it, the red flag should have been when they were talking about their marketing strategy.

“We are going to do Facebook ads,”  they said.
Is that it? I thought.  

Tactics Are Not Strategy

One of the negative things about online marketing is that it makes it relatively easy for anyone to get into. In turn, entrepreneurs and small businesses think that these tactics are enough to grow and promote their service or product. What they often miss is the foundation that sets the stage for these actions.

Facebook ads are not a marketing strategy, they are a tactic. Other tactics include blogging, AdWords, social media marketing, cold emails (and letters!), promotional events, and any other thing you can do that will promote your business. A strategy these do not make. If anything, they make up your company’s marketing mix – which is part of your marketing strategy but isn’t your entire marketing strategy.

These tactics do not establish your long-term goals or direction with marketing. Your strategy does that. It ties all of your tactics together and guides them. It is a top-level plan under which the tactics are defined. It is the foundation for all of your marketing actions. It is the Why to the What, the How to the Where.

Now, you might be asking why do I need to do this if I can just get some Facebook Ads? Well, it depends if you want to spend your money wisely and get a return on investment or throw your cash down the marketing well.

The Foundation of your Marketing

The first thing you need to do is evaluate where you currently are in the market. The first thing to do is to conduct a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis. If you don’t want to get outside help or consultants, you can do this yourself by sitting down with your company and brainstorm. It is important to be open to any and all criticisms and ideas. Then, see if you can sit down with your clients to get their impressions. Be ready to hear some difficult things, but remember that we are doing this to improve your company.

SWOT Analysis

There are 4 parts of a SWOT. The first part, Strength, you want to explore what makes your company strong. Ask yourself the following questions, and try to be as objective as you can.

  • Why would customers purchase from you and not your competitors?
  • What market advantages does your company have?
  • What service(s)/product(s) is your company best at?
  • What do your customers like best about your company?
  • What is your company’s unique selling proposition?

It is important to think of this in terms of your competition and your clients. For example, if you provide quality marketing services but so do your competitors, it is not a strength for your company. You want to look for qualities that really separate you from everyone else.

It also helps to connect with your current clients and customers. They will have an external view of your company which can be hard to see from the inside.

The second part, Weaknesses, is similar but you go in another direction. Ask yourself things such as:  

  • What could be improved?
  • What should your company avoid?
  • What do your customers see as your weaknesses?
  • Why does your company lose sales?
  • What competitive disadvantages does your company have?

When looking at your weaknesses it is important to be honest. Every business has them! The more thorough and honest you are with your weaknesses, the better results this exercise will be. I also want to note that while you want to look at what you can improve, not all of those things will be worth improving. However, this will shed light on where your competitors will have an advantage over you.

The third part, Opportunities, looks at things outside your company that can be beneficial. These external factors can be anything from the political climate, economic change, cultural changes, local events and more. Opportunities are always outside your company. If you have identified an opportunity that is internal, it should be considered a strength.

A part of the Opportunities is your company’s reason for doing business. The niche or demand that you saw when you founded it was an opportunity.

The fourth step, Threats, are similar to Opportunities but are things that negatively impact your business. Like Opportunities, these represent external factors but Threats have negative impacts on your business. New regulations that will make your business difficult, new technology which erases your competitive advantage, or trends shifting away from your product are all examples of external factors that are Threats.

Once you have the SWOT ready, you have a complete picture of the state of your company. This is the first pillar of your marketing strategy. It will be used to help determine what aspects of your company to market and how to differentiate yourself from the competition.

Personas a.k.a. Target Audience

The next foundation of your marketing plan is the development of your personas or target audience. You might think you know who your target audience is but if you haven’t thought about who wants your product, you might be surprised.

A good place to start, besides using the SWOT you just completed, is to look at your current clients and customers. Talk to them and find out what problems they needed to solve, why they chose your company, and any other pieces of important information.

We have written before about how to create personas for your business.

Marketing Objectives

The last foundation is to decide what the objectives of your marketing strategy are. These objectives should be broad but definitive. The tactics we will implement later will all work towards achieving this goal. Goals should be simple, measurable, realistic and have a set due date – SMART goals.  

Keep the list of objectives small. You don’t want to shoot for too many big targets. By keeping it limited but important, you can better focus your efforts to achieve your goals. Too many targets, and you are likely to spread yourself too thin.

An example of a marketing objective is:

SuperElectro Appliances Inc. wants to achieve cumulative growth in net profit of at least 25 percent over the next three years. 30 percent of the growth will come from new customers acquired via online marketing efforts.

The Marketing Mix and the Budget

Now that you have the foundation of your marketing plan. You know the position of your company, the target audience, and you have clear goals of what you want to achieve. Now it is time for the second part of the marketing plan – where we get into specifics.

The next step is developing your marketing mix. This is a collection of marketing tactics that we will employ to reach the objective. First, with the foundation at hand, brainstorm what can be done to reach your personas. Things to think about are where your personas go online, what messages they are receptive to, and what kind of content strategy they would find beneficial.

This is where we get specific but every tactic should have reasoning behind it based on the foundation we set up. We use the 4 Ps to create the marketing mix: Product, Place, Price, and Promotion. In other words, what you are selling, where (or how) you will sell it, the price it will be, and how you will get the message out.

The 4 P’s and your marketing mix enforces your company’s message will have a uniform message. You do not want to confuse your potential consumers. Each tactic (PPC, social media messaging, blog post topics, etc.) also needs to have SMART goals attached to it. In contrast to the marketing objective, these SMART goals should encompass shorter periods of time (we like to go on a monthly schedule) so you can measure effectiveness and adjust as necessary.

After you have brainstormed and planned a marketing mix, it is time to make it fit within your marketing budget. Budget is an important part of the marketing strategy because you need to make sure you can afford it and that you can measure the ROI.

If you are just starting out marketing for the first time, it can be hard to know how much to spend on things like PPC ads and social media. There are few things you can do to help estimate the cost, such as using Google’s Keyword Planner to check the cost of your target keywords. It is then a good idea to be a bit restrictive with your initial marketing budget. This will give your budget some wiggle room to adjust. Once you see how the variable pricing common on some platforms performs, you can adjust your monthly marketing mix budget without worrying that you are overspending.

With all of these elements, you should have everything you need to tie your marketing efforts together under a cohesive vision.  

Back to that Sunday Meeting

So what does this have to do with the Sunday meeting so long ago? Our clients hadn’t developed a cohesive marketing strategy. They had fallen into the trap of thinking that tactics = strategy. Their entire marketing strategy was based on using Facebook ads to reach an audience that had not been defined.

Without knowing what your message is, the SWOT analysis of your company, and your target audience, there is no fathomable way to get targeted ads correct. At that point you are rolling the dice with your marketing budget. 

That’s what the client did, and I was not surprised that it didn’t work. They spent most of their marketing budget on a week of intense Facebook ads and got very little return.

Don’t let the online articles about making mad money off of Facebook ads influence you from not doing the work necessary to build a foundation for your marketing. These strategies do indeed work, but not without the foundation required to make them work.