Marketing a business means balancing a few competing objectives: expanding a business’s reach and creating efficiencies around those processes. Marketers often need to pursue both objectives at once, which can create friction.
Let’s take a look at how marketers can reconcile these needs.
Don’t Outpace Your Current Support Systems
Years ago, I used to play a game called Star Wars Battlefront on the Playstation 2. (This is a brief but relevant trip down geeky memory lane, so bear with me.)
In the game, the objective was to lead your army to claim and defend various checkpoints. The point was not to sit back like a general and guide your army in the right direction. You played the part of a soldier on the front line, leading your group in to the fray. Your character could die, and you’d just respawn at the nearest checkpoint you’d claimed.
I tried playing aggressively, but I learned that if you get too far ahead of your army, then you can lose checkpoints behind you. If your army became stretched too thin from some of the soldiers trying to keep up with you and some staying behind, then you were susceptible to losing the checkpoints you’d already claimed.
In this light, your accomplishments would simply wither away as you simply ran on to the next challenge and the next.
Think about this from the perspective of marketing. Instead of taking enough time to create relationships on social media, you schedule up 100 posts to advertise your product. Instead of taking the time to build up that email list, you buy a list and start blasting them.
We could go on and on, but you see how these efforts would fail quickly. The marketer (the one not taking the time to reflect on the real issue) then simply concludes that the marketing tactics are to blame.
Rapidly Expanding Companies
I went back to school a few years ago for an MBA, and it helped shake me out of some false belief systems in business.
School showed me that sustaining a business requires real systems to be put into place in order to not only have the idea but to actually implement it. Before going back to school, my metric for success was how many new ideas I had. While not everyone thinks in a way that makes it easy for them to come up with a lot of new ideas, the real value is not in the idea generation but in the idea implementation.
For better or worse, history is littered with people that had great ideas yet failed to succeed. Sometimes, this happens just because the opponent had more funding or better access to get their ideas across, but the fact still remains.
It’s not just inventors and marketing people like me that struggle with this.
Start-ups have helped disrupt media and commerce, especially over the past 20 years. Love them or hate them, they have made their mark. Several of these companies go through some major wins to either stall out entirely or seriously struggle for a time.
Let’s face it. Investors are expecting startups to grow like wildfire and bring in massive financial returns. The emphasis is on new and exciting thinking, not optimized growth and systems. Sometimes, companies are able to hire experienced executives from outside and infuse the company with structure later on, but this is certainly not always the case.
Mergers and Acquisitions
Of course, even the big companies can struggle if they focus their efforts entirely on merger and acquisition to generate new returns and hopefully new “synergy” (shudder at the word). How many times have companies purchased more companies with the promise that these disparate cultures will blend together in an efficient and massively profitable way? Far too many times. (In just doing a quick Google search, I was stunned at not only how many mergers and acquisitions have failed.)
Rapid growth requires careful planning, not just to get bigger but to also be able to sustain that growth.
Evaluating New Strategy with Tillis’ Criteria
When it comes to evaluating new ideas, much of my experience has been a collection of very informal processes. I certainly did not use a real framework to make these decisions. It was more a matter of trying to do what’s right and trying to use good business sense.
Back in 1963, Seymour Tillis wrote an article that is still very applicable to businesses in 2019. He suggested six criteria for evaluating corporate strategy:
- Internal consistency.
- Consistency with the environment.
- Appropriateness in the light of available resources.
- Satisfactory degree of risk.
- Appropriate time horizon.
The full article is available to read on the Harvard Business Review website, but here is a quick summary. Internal consistency and consistency with the environment have to do with how well the idea fits in with the overall culture and strategy of the company as well as the direction of the business environment.
Kodak’s weak entry into the digital market showed a lack of consistency with the environment. Customers were changing, but Kodak did not.
The next two bullets (appropriateness in light of resources and satisfactory degree of risk) refer to whether or not businesses can afford to implement the plan and whether they are okay with the level of risk they are taking on. Lastly, strategy evaluation needs to consider the time the strategy will take to implement (appropriate time horizon) and how feasible the actual work is (workability).
I’m drastically oversimplifying Tillis’ article. Still, you can see that a new idea is only a small part of bringing about real change.
Evaluating Strategy for Marketing
Yes, Tillis developed his framework to evaluate strategy for running an entire company, but this approach to strategy can be applied for marketing initiatives.
Are you picking the right ways to market your company with the budget, the state of the market, the size of your team, and the time you have available? Have you shored up those leaky funnels? (Does the traditional funnel even apply to your business model anymore?)
One of the real pitfalls to watch out for is not considering your available resources. This is not as likely to happen if you are working on a marketing campaign for a client. You understand their budget, and you bill accordingly for the work you’re providing.
I’m talking about overextending your own marketing team (or yourself) in order to try and accomplish too many objectives. Speaking from experience, I found that a lack of resources meant that we never had a clear understanding of which marketing efforts were most effective and that our marketing efforts were not truly optimized.
We had to cut several efforts in order to find the ones that were actually working for us.
An Example: Our Podcast Launch
Let’s get specific with an example where dealing with right now. We are introducing a new podcast at the end of the month called the Paradigm Shift of Healthcare. We are hardly the only people to put out a podcast, but I feel good about the approach based on this method of strategic evaluation.
Internal consistency: The podcast is focused on building new relationships within the healthcare industry. While we tend to focus more on certain medical specialties with the P3 platform, this podcast is aimed at a broader group. We must be aware that we are trying to enter a larger conversation, and this entire effort is not built around making quick sales. This is more of a branding effort for the audience that can be our customers or partners. We may even get to meet with people interested in making healthcare better.
Consistency with the environment: Podcasts really are much more mainstream now, and audiences are more comfortable turning to them to find new ideas. As for the content itself, our country has long known that healthcare needs improvement.
Satisfactory degree of risk: A podcast is relatively low risk, so there is not too much to have to consider here. There are some costs associated, of course, but they are not major.
Appropriateness in the light of current resources: Thankfully, podcasts are not nearly as intensive as other forms of media can be. That said, we are working with Jared Johnson to help get the podcast running in a much more efficient way. There are certainly too many things where I don’t know what I don’t know in this form of communication. Jared is helping us navigate.
Appropriate time horizon: There is certainly a delay between deciding to do a podcast and having a podcast go live. As of this writing, we have recorded three episodes, and two of those episodes involved guest interviews. It takes time to contact the guest, create an outline for the discussion, record the episode, and edit the episode. We were able to plan for all of this, but we could have created very poor expectations internally and with any potential audience without alignment on our timing.
Workability: With assistance, our plan is very workable. The conversation format plays very well to our strengths, and we are certainly comfortable with the digital space as a company.
Increasing Chances for Success
That may be far more information than you wanted to know about how we approach the podcast. This is what a strategy evaluation looks like step-by-step. This evaluation does not guarantee that we will succeed. The audience may simply dislike what we put together, and nothing in this process will have surfaced that issue. If there was a perfected process for determining which content would succeed or fail, then wed never have another Hollywood flop again.
Still, we have increased our odds by focusing on the sustainability of this effort and how likely our audience would be to engage in this form of communication.
As a quick final word on strategy evaluation, be sure to include a regular review of your processes to understand your successes and your needs. Having metrics in place will certainly help you understand internal consistency, the degree of risk you can afford, your available resources, and the workability of new ideas.