When talking with potential clients, they of course, like I would, want to see references and proof of results. However, this can sometimes lead to a really tricky discussion. Everyone defines success differently AND non-marketers sometimes make the assumption that marketing can fix a broken business. This could not be farther from the truth.
Starting “to do marketing” does not mean that, all of a sudden, your target market will love you or your product. Nor does it mean that your revenues and company are going to grow overnight. And… nor does it mean that journalists are going to start calling to interview you for an upcoming article.
There are a lot of organization-level factors that can significantly influence how well your marketing performs. READ: Just because you hire someone to do SEO or social media management, you are not necessarily going to get leads and/or customers – and that’s not necessarily a marketing problem! Your marketers may not be able to fix the issue(s). It might have to be YOU to do the fixing.
Articles about marketing challenges tend to focus on problems related to very tactical, in-the-weeds activities like copywriting, creative, or deep SEO. They can also be super-vague. A minority of them actually address what an organization can do to set its marketing team up for success. Here are the most common reasons we see marketing struggle due to factors outside of their control – and what you can do about them:
1. ABSENCE OF PURPOSE, MISSION, AND/OR STRATEGY
When I started business school, I realized that some organizations really do establish a purpose and have a mission statement. I thought it was cheesy. After all, isn’t the goal of every business to grow?
I completely underestimated how helpful having a purpose and mission can be to aligning an entire company. Even at tiny companies – including solopreneurs and startups with two co-founders – not having a purpose and not writing down a mission statement allow things to go off-course incredibly fast.
Why are these things necessary for marketing to be successful? Well, your marketing needs to stand for something. That doesn’t necessarily mean social issues unrelated to your business. I’m saying that marketers need to understand where the company is going so they can help the company get there. Otherwise, we can do a lot of nice things and measure them… but who cares?
Why waste a second of your day on social media engagement if it doesn’t matter to your mission? Let’s face it, you have better things to do.
When it comes to your strategy, you might be convinced – even rightfully so – that your app can be used by every consumer in the country as well as organizations across every industry. I’m a big proponent for dreaming big, but at the end of the day, you have limited resources and you cannot be all things to all people so you have to dream big, but plan with focus.
Again, you may wonder: why does marketing need to know about my business strategy?! Can’t they just build my website and write blogs regardless? Well, technically, sure, that’s totally possible. Just don’t expect much in the way of results. Marketing needs your business strategy so that we can build our strategies to support yours.
Please don’t leave marketers guessing. We have so many arrows in our quiver that we are almost guaranteed to pull out the wrong one!
Marketing exists to help the organization reach its goals. We just have to know what they are – and we need enough time to get there. Marketing cannot function effectively in an information vacuum.
Figure out your purpose. Write down your mission statement. It can be rough. It just has to be true. Share it with your team and get them excited. The path to building enthusiasm may look different at different companies. Maybe you need a retreat. Maybe you just need a mission statement party with donuts. There’s no right or wrong way to do this – just don’t forget about it. Revisit your purpose and mission frequently and often. Demonstrate to your staff that knowing and sharing these statements is primordial to their success and tenure at the company. Document and share your business strategy. Also recognize that when your purpose, mission, or strategy changes, marketing will need time to pivot with your business and adjust their approach accordingly. This cannot happen overnight.
2. LITTLE TO NO MANAGEMENT SUPPORT FOR MARKETING
Support is measured in terms of time, people, and money. A company’s management team needs to prioritize marketing and demonstrate that marketing is a priority. Marketing meetings are not something to blow off. Sure, there are always crises – but without management time and attention and some financial resources for marketers to do their job, marketing will wither and die.
Think about that line from Peter Pan: every time someone says they don’t believe in fairies, somewhere a fairy falls down dead.
Every time you de-prioritize marketing, your marketing program suffers. Successful marketing is not an afterthought.
Marketing becomes powerful when you do the same things really well over and over and over again. Contrary to popular belief, tweeting once a week does not constitute a Twitter presence. It is simply a waste of time. Even if that tweet took you all of 2 minutes to put together (another sign it should not be going out!), you’d be better off spending those 2 minutes doing something more productive.
Before your marketing team starts to use any new tactic or channel, ask yourself if the company is ready to commit to doing enough for it to be valuable. If you commit to contributing content to the company blog and to posting on LinkedIn (which are phenomenal things you should be doing as a company leader!), get yourself on a writing schedule and stick to it. If you’re not disciplined about writing, it will surely fall off your plate.
Enforce disciplined consistency – from attending meetings to producing content. Don’t always look at marketing emails at the end of the day. Evaluate new marketing opportunities through a “shiny object syndrome” lens. Is it just a shiny new thing or is there really merit in giving it a try – even if it’s a long-shot that it will generate positive results? If you’re not ready to commit, don’t pretend. Own where you’re at.
3. UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
A lot of us want to lose 10 pounds, but thinking it can happen overnight isn’t realistic or healthy, and it certainly wouldn’t be sustainable. It might only be achievable with gimmicks that you end up paying dearly for.
Some marketing tactics, such as SEO, may need 6 months or more to really show their value. And that’s 6 months of hard work, not just turn it on and forget about it. When I explain this to some of my clients, they look at me and say “well, that’s not acceptable. I need answers in 3 months or less.” Just as I cannot change the laws of gravity to your benefit, nor can I simply click my fingers and compress time … although that would be really cool 😉
Test your marketers’ and management team members’ understanding of how long their marketing plans will take and what are some leading indicators they will be monitoring along the way.
Other unrealistic expectations that I frequently encounter are related to knowledge gaps. Marketing is not just PR. Event planning is not marketing. Sales and business development are not marketing. For sure, all of these things are related, but they require different skill sets to do them well.
My first job out of college was in sales. It was company policy that every new hire had to work in sales before they could be transferred into another department. Their plan was to move me into marketing after I had completed the six-month sales assignment. But, I was no good at sales. I am good at marketing. I can write press releases and email journalists, but I could not lead a PR campaign. I can organize – and have organized – events, large and small, but I am not an event planner. That requires a whole lot of logistics planning and food ordering that is just not what I want to spend my time doing.
Expecting a marketer – or even a small marketing team – to cover all of your digital marketing activities is a fool’s errand. Worse still if you think they should also be good at business development, maybe corporate partnerships, event planning, PR, or sales.
Do you have the right people focused on a reasonable number of responsibilities that they can execute well? Meet with your team and discuss. Are any of them in the wrong job? Ask them to brainstorm ideas for how to automate reporting and other menial tasks. Be prepared to invest resources to help them do their job better.
4. A LACK OF MEANINGFUL DIFFERENTIATION
Do you have a product or service that solves a problem? Do you know whether customers are willing to buy that product or service? You can hire marketers to explore and validate your business idea. We can provide guidance on what you should do to position yourself for success. But, if you don’t have something people are willing to buy and you’re not willing to change it, no amount of SEO or email marketing or web design is going to drive more revenue for you. We might not even be able to generate leads.
We frequently see early-stage companies that promise to do something different from their competitors. Different doesn’t always mean better. And not everyone cares about something that is different. So, different doesn’t necessarily make your product or business marketable.
Personally interview potential customers. Seek to deeply understand them and their needs. Avoid jargon and technical speak. Always ask yourself “so what?” Keep asking that question again and again until you aren’t getting any further. Get to the meat of why you and your business matter.
5. THE COMFORT ZONE
You will need to find a balance between ensuring the same things are being done consistently well and giving your marketing team the resources they need to experiment and try new things. Marketers need time to think, learn, and generate new ideas. Be sure not to overrun your marketing team with Twitter demands to the point where this creative space is lost. It will be important to your long-term marketing success.
At the end of the day, this is a culture question and a time for reflection. Evaluate the culture you have created at your company. Does it encourage playing things safe or taking calculated and strategic risks? Do you know how much risk you can afford to take? Are employees properly incentivized to demonstrate the desired behavior? What behavior do you demonstrate?
TO WRAP THIS UP
Marketing is a professional skill. The discipline covers a very wide range of activities that bleed into other disciplines. Many founders and business leaders undervalue marketing, yet expect the results to be stellar. When results are lacking, marketing does need to examine its output, but the management team also needs to ask itself some hard questions about the organization.
By figuring out the big picture, whether your team knows about it, if there is a strategy, if there is support, if there is consistency, if there is talent that is allowed to flourish, if there is differentiation, and if there is a way for marketers to explore new tactics and strategies, you can set your marketing department up for much greater success. And then you can hold them accountable for something.
(If you want bonus tips, check out Build a Strong Marketing Foundation for your Growing Business!)