Late last year I attended an APG event entitled Why we think what we think. The presenter talked about a pitfall many marketers fall into when planning campaigns and developing insight. Rather than heading straight into the deep account research – costing valuable time and money that may possibly be useless – he suggested we should be casting the net much wider and considering a broader range of viewpoints at the outset. Being reflective about the experiences and agency culture that influence our approach will help to move us beyond the obvious, and towards unique commercial insight.
This might sound very theoretical, but I think it has a clear importance in B2B marketing. Many commentators have noted the worrying trend in B2B marketing towards campaigns which are planned channel-first rather than strategy-first. The trend appears to be symptomatic of the eagerness with which marketers have embraced new digital channels at our disposal. For example, social media, apps, mobile, marketing automation – and, as we move forward, wearable tech, predictive analytics, virtual reality and Internet of Things – have the potential to change the way marketers reach their audiences. But eagerness to embrace these new technologies has overshadowed critical strategic thinking about the appropriateness of these channels to deliver a message to an audience.
Mark Ritson remarked on the problem in 2016:
‘Our discipline must be founded on understanding consumers and then coming up with the strategy that helps our organisation win in the market. All the tactical mish-mash and creative hoo-ha that follows is an important part of the marketing plan, but it’s not the starting point and it’s certainly not the most important bit.’
By thinking carefully about the marketing challenge before diving into specific channel tactics, we can direct our attention towards a customer-first approach with an emphasis on long-term strategy. At The Marketing Practice we split this approach into four steps:
We ask about commercial objectives, and then we ask, what is the marketing challenge that is standing in the way of achieving them? It may be an outdated brand perception, or low product awareness in the market. We need to understand that challenge in order to form a B2B marketing strategy.
Once we know the core challenge, we can consider the best marketing approach. This starts with insights from our Planning team, which we develop into an overall strategy. Do we need a brand activation campaign followed by a demand generation programme? A new value proposition leading into an advocacy campaign? Whatever the strategy, we need to agree that we’re heading in the right direction – before we actually go in that direction.
Once we’ve come up with an overall strategy, the next step is the marketing plan. This is where we get into the details of project plans, concepts, user journeys, comms plans. The marketing plan should give a much more detailed idea of the scope of your activities and help to define how your success will be measured.
Everything is set – now we deliver the marketing programme. We regularly review work against objectives and feed any findings back into ongoing programmes. The programme launch should never be seen as the finish line.
One of the biggest dangers in B2B marketing is confusing channel tactics with a properly researched marketing strategy.
The best marketers appreciate the need to think about the marketing strategy first, and ensure new technologies and channels do not obscure their focus on the fundamentals. Asking the right questions, remaining open-minded in our approach to developing insight, and only then utilising appropriate tactics and channels, delivers the best long-term B2B marketing outcomes.