Mistaking activity for results is a path to failure
We’ve had the experience of being very busy on behalf of clients only to have them come to us six or nine months into the marketing year saying that they don’t feel they’re getting traction toward objectives. It’s incredibly easy to be focused on tactical execution at the expense of driving toward strategic objectives. It's also easy to set plans in place that create work without actually achieving anything. In this post I'll talk about both scenarios, early warning signs and how to react and right your course. And, with your permission, I'll use narratives right out of our experience working for clients and us.
1. Falling for the “Spectacular” to the detriment of other work.
The hard-charging creative-type CEO demands action. He or she has a board to report to and everyone is looking for precursors to the next milestone. Marketing is tasked with generating the opportunities for sales to convert. The pressure is on. And then the CEO has an idea for what I call a spectacular. It’s a seminal event or promotion that will reorder the universe and create the opportunity that’s missing in the pipeline or finally put the startup on the track to success. While some of these ideas have the potential to achieve big things, they suck all the resource out of the system, depriving planned activities of the time and money needed to get the job done. Your job as marketing leader is to remind the CEO of the agreed plans in place to drive toward specific objectives, and refocus the executive team. If it’s not possible to kill the spectacular, protect your plans and insist that additional resource (people and dollars) are made available to fund and manage the big idea.
Takeaway: CEO pet projects often fail to drive results that you will be held accountable for achieving. Ensure your KPIs are achieved by protecting your budgets from “spectacular” ideas.
2. Building content that doesn't fit the buyer’s journey.
This one is a little harder to recognize as it's happening, but it can really waste time and resources. We developed a series of webinars to create high-level opportunities for our agency with brand publishers. Each webinar took an immense amount of time, not just to recruit the audience and run (build the presentation, rehearse, etc.), but also to secure co-presenters, mold their presentations to the editorial calendar (as much as possible) and get their help to build the audience. The problem was that we didn’t have a good audience for the content we were building, and the people we did recruit to attend weren’t a fit for the material we created. In reviewing the results of this series of webinars over the course of a year, we can't find a single dollar in returned revenue.
Takeaway: While I am all for thought leadership, you ultimately have to be driving results into the funnel, and have content that’s meaningful enough to drive audience recruitment.
3. Working on content that doesn’t support sales.
The sales and CX teams are responsible for your ultimate success in more than the obvious way of sales and renewals. They are on the front line with real buyers every day and can tell you what your prospects care most about. You can convert this knowledge of the customer into some or most of your content planning, depending on how far down the funnel your content strategy focuses. But clearly, the bottom of the funnel matters and getting content ideas from sales and customer success is a great way to be more relevant, and to keep your finger on the pulse of what prospects and customers are thinking. You also want to negotiate with sales and success on how they are going to handle the leads you generate and the support they will provide customers as they approach renewals. Your service level agreement with both teams also should include how marketing will take feedback from sales to improve content and lead quality.
Takeaway: You can’t focus just on the top of the funnel if you want to have a functional relationship with sales and success teams.
4. Doing work that’s not in alignment with goals.
Working major and minor projects from briefing documents will ensure that your work meets its objectives; you have agreement as to what the objectives are and how you will measure success and align approvers and doers on each project. When briefs refer up to the larger plan the project is part of, you are more certain to tie it all together. Some senior managers bridle at the process of briefing before doing, and this can be a challenge. One thing I've seen done is that the briefs get written but not presented in written form to this person; they are delivered in a short call or meeting, or even an email or series of Slack messages.
The larger point is to make sure your tactics deliver on your strategy. Brief your campaigns intended to meet annual goals before making a calendared plan, brief your projects before writing and designing to be sure you meet the goals for this leg of the campaign or creative product. The only thing you don’t need to brief is your briefs… though it would be helpful to have a good format agreed before you brief. You get the idea.
Takeaway: Use briefing documents to align your leadership and team around your goals.
Working with an agency provides knowledge, depth of resource and political cover that can enhance your effectiveness and help navigate difficult times in the life of your organization. Hiring an agency with deeply experienced leadership also ensures that you don’t make the same mistake once. Read more about this point of view in my blog on the case for deeply experienced and classically trained marketers in the blog post, “The Case for Gray-Haired Marketers…”
Want to talk about how content marketing can accelerate accomplishment at your organization? Book an exploratory call on my calendar and let’s talk business growth!