Like virtually every other aspect of marketing, the tentacles of digital have burrowed into marketing strategy.
This strategic realm has historically been immune to barbarians at the gates. But digital appears with a different set of credentials which allow it to pass through into an inner sanctum of decision making.
For a sense of how marketing strategy is weathering the disruption, I asked David Mayer, senior partner at Lippincott, for his thoughts.
Paul Talbot: Could you put the current state of marketing strategy in context? How is it changing, if at all?
David Mayer: Marketing strategy is in a crisis, with digitization taking the place of strategic craft. While today we have exponentially more data and sophisticated tools to analyze it, we’re often trying to answer the wrong questions.
Strategy is, at its core, an art. It requires decision-making, based on incomplete information, to predict the future and, while telling a persuasive story, take a calculated risk for how resources should be best applied.
The shift to digital has challenged this approach in two ways: offering boundless data that promises to remove the uncertainty and enabling real-time optimization that reduces the need to be strategic.
Where in most marketing strategies is there even the consideration that dollars might be better spent in the post-purchase experience? It’s important to consider that our access to more sophisticated data needs to be supplemented by the strategic, visionary arm of our craft.
Talbot: Of all the reasons why marketing strategy can fall short and fail to achieve objectives, are any becoming increasingly prevalent, or are the mistakes of analog 1990 the mistakes of digital 2020?
Mayer: Just as video didn’t kill the radio star, data-driven decision-making needs to be one input, but not the be all and end all to how marketing strategy is developed. Here’s why:
Many data sources aren’t reliable. Garbage in, garbage out. This was a major reason for P&G cutting $200m on digital spending in 2017.
Even where data is robust, correlation is mistaken for causation. This enables the “selection effect” which leads to poor investment decisions.
We end up spending disproportionately on what can be directly measured over the short term versus what’s more challenging to measure. For example, performance marketing instead of brand marketing.
The marketing platforms that support decision-making are complex. They are only as powerful as the ability of organizations to mold their processes around them and understand how to effectively use them.
Stretch that strategic muscle. Creative vision is as important now as it ever was, yet it’s also a discipline that’s been undervalued in the past few years.
Talbot: How often should an organization review its marketing strategy, and which benchmarks should be used to gauge its effectiveness?
Mayer: The model of an involved review, held once a year and anchored in the annual budgeting process, needs to evolve. An approach grounded in layers of insight updated on different timeframes provides for a more agile approach.
Infrequently, or every three to five years, disaggregate your audience to understand what’s most meaningful, informing the rules of engagement for how to reach them with the content and experiences that will most resonate.
Then, annually, drive alignment with the entire organization budgeting process. Allocate funding across major activities and develop the overarching campaign narrative for the year.
And, to cap it all off, testing and learning should be ongoing. Recognize the accelerated pace of change and the need to be nimble. Double-down on experimental design and piloting ideas versus placing your trust entirely on the data flowing back directly from your vendors.
Talbot: Any other thoughts you’d like to share?
Mayer: The strongest businesses are built and sustained through a healthy tension between belief and measurement. Nowhere is this balance better exemplified than in marketing strategy.
Today, it feels like the balance has swung too far towards measurement, providing a false reassurance that is not only wasting millions of dollars but actively alienating customers as they are bombarded by irrelevant messages.
It’s time to bring ourselves back into balance. Not by returning to the approaches of the past, but harnessing our new technologies to support our creativity, not smother it.