3 Ways to Criticize Your Own Marketing Strategy — And Why You Should

Someone once said: “I could spend one million dollars on marketing, but that would be one million dollars wasted.”

And there’s also a joke that goes: “I know that 50 percent of my marketing budget is wasted. I just don’t know which 50 percent.”

Most marketers have run into these marketing naysayers. Upon hearing these types of comments, they will immediately defend the profession and sing the praises of building and executing marketing strategies, and leveraging all the tactics that go with them. To bolster their case, many marketers will also point to examples of misaligned marketing efforts and waste and the reasons why they happened, noting that they can, of course, avoid these.

While it is definitely not a good idea to let marketing naysayers say things that aren’t true, it’s equally important to understand where they are coming from when they voice skepticism. Their conclusions may not be right, but that doesn’t mean they’re just tearing something down for the sake of it.

More to the point, a critical mind is a good place to start when building a new marketing program or auditing an existing one. It’s important that marketers remember the naysayers and ask themselves three key questions along the way.

Are You Running a Program for the Sake of a Program?

Sometimes a marketing program has become routine. Whether it’s because “it’s always been done that way,” “we need to keep up the momentum,” “the level of noise we’re making must continue,” or any of the other psychological traps of marketing management inertia we’re all susceptible to if we’re not careful, a marketing program can quickly lose the connection between itself and its reason for existing. It becomes justifiable only because it exists.

For this reason, marketers should continually question how their programs and tactics are aligning with the high-level marketing objectives and business goals that were established at some point in the not-so-distant past. Continually reconciling programs and processes with these goals to see if they are, in fact, serving them keeps marketers very honest, and helps them optimize and improve their strategies and programs.

Do You See Disintegration?

A marketing program that is managed properly and continues to support business and marketing goals can never be “too big.” Yes, resources are finite, but the more strategic marketing you can apply to support market objectives the better. However, as marketing programs grow, marketers should keep an eye on how integrated their efforts truly are.

With all programs, there is a tendency for disintegrated tactics to creep into the marketing process. Marketing efforts start off very tight, based on a pre-defined strategy, but then project scopes and tactical maps expand. To meet new short-term objectives, a laundry list of tactics is added and everyone is running in all directions trying to get the list completed, rather than focusing on the most efficient way to meet objectives.

Disintegrated tactical add-ons can be a deadly drag on a marketing program, affect overall performance, and reduce ROI. They make it increasingly difficult to keep a critical eye on how every small piece of the marketing puzzle contributes to the bigger picture you are trying to build for your target market and audience, and if certain pieces are even necessary anymore. To avoid disintegration, marketers must continually scrutinize their efforts to ensure that all tactics serve overarching marketing and business objectives, and are not part of the process just because someone thought they would be a great addition.

Can You Reconcile Money and Time Spent With Actual ROI?

It’s a marketing reality: The bottom line for everything we do as marketers has to be the bottom line.

Inefficient processes are a drain on marketing budgets. A marketing machine that’s not focused and well-oiled always risks going over budget on any initiative due to various inefficiencies.

If that’s not bad enough, it’s not just dollars and cents at risk. Small inefficiencies can add up quickly, creating a larger performance problem. Marketing programs will suffer and your company will not be positioned properly in the market and in the mind of the target audience. If that happens, one marketer or an entire team will not be able to fully justify the time and effort spent on all those marketing tactics with the results they are measuring. So, it will be difficult to justify the level of spend and effort going into the marketing process.

At best, this will raise a few eyebrows from those who see the marketing reports and influence budgeting. At worst, you’ll just be creating more marketing naysayers in your own organization.

The best way to avoid the problem is to nip it in the bud. A quarter of a year of less-than-expected performance is ultimately made from days and weeks of bad performance. If you’re asking the right questions and detecting the right problems along the way, you can fix and avert disasters in real time, and not just talk about them at the next management meeting.

Understanding Is the First Step

Looking at your marketing program with these three questions in mind can be the key to understanding where the marketing naysayers are coming from and addressing the underlying perception about the effectiveness of marketing in your organization.

Ultimately, marketing itself may not be the problem. How your marketing activities are structured could be the problem. So, whether it’s a strategy that’s been created recently, or one that’s been puttering along for some time, at some point in your spend you’ll want to know if all your marketing efforts are working exactly as intended in service of initial objectives. You’ll want to have a serious look at the strategy and tactics, and then compare them to your actual results.

The three questions outlined here are a start. But a truly serious examination of your marketing process may require a structured audit that will slide all your marketing efforts under a microscope. With a marketing audit, you can find out what’s truly working and what’s not. Then you can adjust accordingly and be in a better position to avoid all those conversations with marketing naysayers.

*Updated version of blog published 03-28-2016*

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