I’ve heard that years ago the Department of the Treasury’s Secret Service did not teach their agents (the famed “G-men”) how to identify counterfeit bills—at least not at first. Instead, they would teach them how to identify the real thing. Agents would study the real designs, paper, and ink with painstaking detail so that the tiny nuances that make the banknotes authentic become engrained into their minds.
Then when a fake one showed up, an alarm went off in their heads.
I hear and see the term “strategy” used a lot in relation to marketing and advertising. I see “marketing strategist” used as a title fairly often in my circles, and I have alarms going off in my head. Many times what is called “strategy” really isn’t. To the untrained eye, the counterfeit may be hard to identify.
A media plan isn’t a marketing strategy. A target audience, slogan, logo, and an ad concept is not a strategy. A really great presentation or sales pitch isn’t a strategy. So, what IS?
Building a true strategy for marketing is not easy, and sometimes—like a Federal Reserve Note—we have to identify what a strategy IS in order to know what it isn’t.
A marketing strategy is:
It’s more than slogans and graphics and budgets and target audiences. A true strategy takes your internal culture into account. How will your core values fit into your advertising message? How will your team deliver those values every day? What about the brand promise and your points of differentiation? Too often advertisers want to introduce an image of their company into the marketplace that doesn’t match their culture internally. That’s not strategy. That’s spin.
If it doesn’t spell out the details, it’s not a strategy. Don’t confuse ideas or creativity with strategy. Those are important parts, but they don’t pass the strategy test. True strategists work from the bottom up as well as the top down.
If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Your strategy has to actually do something, and that something needs to be measured and monitored. That doesn’t mean you must measure every little detail, but it should at least contain measurable goals, metrics, or milestones.
What good is a strategy if it’s not actually do-able? Again, ideas are great, but workable solutions are the key. Real strategists know how to qualify realistic options in advance and will avoid wasting your time.
A good strategy answers the “WHY” question, not just “what.” It explains why you should implement it, not just what you should do. There are many ways to answer “what” you should do for your marketing, but there’s only one way that your individually unique company can answer the WHY question.
A true marketing strategist is creative, detailed, brand-focused, and ROI conscious. Don’t settle for the counterfeit. It could cost you.