It’s a common problem in digital marketing. We jump straight to execution without first developing the strategy. For many that work in this space, strategy is nothing more than a collection of tactics. Why is this sentiment so prevalent, how does it impact our work, and what is the benefit of treating strategy as more than a collection of tactics?
Digital media lends itself to tactical thinking. This begins with the media companies. Their continuous outreach to brands with a singular message to spend more on their channels and properties to the exclusion of others makes it difficult to consider a strategic approach. Think about this; how much more difficult is it to refute a media message when the reps can gain access to the C-Suite due to the near monopoly position they occupy? For a marketer, you would have to be pretty brave to temper or refute this message. But to not do so only plays deeper into tactical thinking.
The second reason that digital media lends itself to tactical thinking is the nature of the platforms. Intuitive, self-serve platforms that can be rapidly activated are perfectly designed for tactical thinking. You can turn campaigns on and off quickly with relatively little consequence. This simplicity and speed makes it easy to bypass the need for strategy.
The third reason is the emergence of specialization in the industry. When you have paid search specialists, SEO analysts, content specialists, display planners and developers, you have an environment that is tailor made for tactical thinking. Not only is each specialist trying to prove their worth and advocating for their channel, doing so can happen at the exclusion of others. This creates a tension that, if not properly managed can become corrosive.
But beyond the impact on personal dynamics, overlooking strategy can be become extremely counterproductive. Sun Tzu wrote that ‘tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat’. An alternative and more contemporary way I like to think about this is that in digital marketing, tactics without strategy is day trading in the dark. The algorithmic nature of the digital media platforms, with bid rules and focus on performance means that they will optimize through the path of least resistance. This is the day trading aspect of digital. But if you don’t understand why it is acting the way it does, or why your audience are reacting in the way they are to your advertising, you will be unable to weather any storm. The best you can hope for is that the platform will react quickly enough to a problem to minimize your loss. This is not a growth oriented approach.
If there is any expectation of business growth, you have no choice but to develop a strategy. This means analyzing the audience and understanding who they are, where they are and what motivates them. It means understanding your competitive set, analyzing their messaging and the platforms they are using. It means considering macro-economic circumstances in the markets you are looking to operate in and potential disruptions to it. It means applying a strategic framework such as a SWOT analysis or Porter’s 5 Forces. Out of this exercise, it means developing a clear and simple vision of how your brand will differentiate itself and target and motivate its audience along the journey to purchase. It will connect tactics and touch points, clearly showing how each tactic contributes to the objective within the framework of the strategy.
Doing so will deliver considerable benefit. First, it brings into greater harmony the various specialists and helps them understand their roles relative to their colleagues. It builds a unified experience for the consumer all the way through the journey to purchase. It allows us to actively grow our brand, connecting awareness with engagement and conversion, driving investment into platforms and tactics that would otherwise not stand up to the same last-touch ROI scrutiny. It will allow us to move from asking ‘what’s our Snapchat strategy?’ to asking ‘how do we leverage this emerging platform within our marketing strategy?’.
Focusing exclusively on tactics without a strategy means treading water in a strong current. Eventually you run out of energy and get washed away by it. Starting with strategy and determining how the tactics align with it allows us to sidestep the current. A strong strategy, well implemented gives the brand the opportunity to move beyond incremental improvement and into the realm of revolutionary change. If your imagination and determination will allow it to be, strategy is so much more than a collection of tactics.
Next week on octopus, we will continue to explore the role of the digital strategist. Please be sure to comment below. I’d love to hear from you. Please subscribe for alerts about new episodes and content. Thank you for listening to octopus. I’m Nasser Sahlool.