“Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” (Sun Tzu, The Art of War)
Often, agencies or suppliers call us with the idea they need to do ‘some marketing/up their marketing game/stop being the best-kept secret in insights’. When we meet them and ask them to tell us more, they often tell us what they think they need – a new website, more activity on social media, more lead generation, a podcast, and lots of blogs. We call this an acute case of marketing tactics: a condition when the sufferer knows something is wrong and is also sure they know what the medicine is – a flashy new marketing pill to solve their problems.
Reader beware! Do not be seduced by the allure of glossy marketing tactics without having a good, well-thought-through strategy to base them on. Tactics can lead to long-term decline unless you are treated with a proper bit of strategic medicine.
Using strategy to sustain competitive advantage
Let’s clarify: your marketing strategy is the plan your business makes to grow and create a sustainable competitive advantage. The strategy addresses the long-term aims you have set out. If you don’t know what your overall strategic aims are and your message to deliver your proposition and growth, how on earth do you know what your website should look like or what you should say on social media?
We see countless generic websites in insights that have a cookie-cutter design and content approach. Sustaining competitive advantage means identifying the differences between you and your competitors and articulating that clearly and consistently. But many research firms are struggling to pinpoint or articulate their differences.
Aligning tactics with strategy
Of course, a strategy without tactics is also not helpful – to go back to Sun Tzu; “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory”. But each tactic needs to be measured alongside the next and against your considered targets to understand how much it contributes to your strategy. Just one single tactical approach is not enough to help you, and all your tactics must work together to meet your goals.
When considering your tactics, think about channels, content, and frequency, and ensure you consistently measure success. Just because your competitor sends out a weekly trends e-mail doesn’t mean you should. If your focus is more on insights derived from deep-dive studies, your tactic might rather be a white paper used on different channels.
Long-term strategy over short-term gains
A few years ago, we worked with one client whose team of senior and experienced researchers with broad business knowledge and extensive consultancy experience were bored by clients that wanted research to deliver simple “go, don’t go” and “blue pack, not pink pack” results. They had a strong desire to work on high-level strategic projects and, in turn, charge higher fees for their newfound value.
Our client had to voice the team’s strategic and challenging message to the market – rebranding and creating a new website, PR, and e-mail marketing. For the first 18 months, the results were not what they hoped. Many of their existing clients didn’t have the right projects for them; they needed to refocus their segments and target a new audience, moving up the food chain to more senior and strategic clients.
During this time, the senior management team wobbled. Sales were dropping, and they’d just spent all that money on marketing! However, they stuck to their strategic guns, and after 18 months, the RFPs and pitches for the big, strategic, and global studies started to come in. As their messaging and content was so focused on those projects, they had the stories and the collateral to support their pitches, and they started to win them.
Their team was excited and inspired by the projects, did excellent work on them, and started getting repeat business for those strategic studies. Due to their success, they were able to charge a premium for their work as they could prove it had a significant impact with clients. That agency grew from 10 to 50 people during the time we worked with them, exceeded its targets – and was later sold to a much larger group.
Ensuring their strategy and tactics were considered, aligned, and delivered consistently led to success for our client. But ironically, this is a common problem within the marketing research and insights community, where we advise clients on strategy daily but often fail to turn the spotlight on ourselves.
Always remember, your marketing tactics are not a strategy. Only by stepping back and reviewing your tactics in the context of strategy and then sticking to your guns – will you be able to fix the problem.