Three (not so) simple strategies to avoid ‘losing the plot’ in marketing

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By Rob Woyzbun

In today’s hyper-paced marketing and advertising world, it’s easy for marketing management to “lose the plot” related to the purpose of the firm, the understanding of the customers it serves, and finally the profitable creation, production and delivery of products and services.

There are numerous internal and external demands and distractions experienced by today’s marketing managers:

  • Distractions from “shiny new things” that trend on business media and the twitterverse, but may not be a panacea for your marketing strategy. These include new media, new marketing services, new ‘theories” etc.
  • Increasingly frequent, yet legitimate questions and skepticism from senior management regarding marketing effectiveness and ROI.
  • Increasing budget and resource pressure (see above) – usually downward.
  • Finding and retaining the right marketing talent for your company.

Here are three strategies to avoid losing the plot , allowing to you focus on what matters to build and sustain your business.

1. Customer insight

You would think this would be a given – but unfortunately it’s not.

Insight is not simply knowing “who” the customer is. It’s more than knowing they want a product or service that addresses their needs, is available without too much trouble and is offered at a fair price. This level of insight describes “any customer” of any brand and offers little value in terms of understanding what kind of relationship consumers want with your brand (if any!) or what type of experience they seek or value.

If you have historical market research or customer data, by all means dig in. I’m surprised by how much research exists within a company but has been “lost” through turnover and poor filing. You are seeking information or knowledge on how your brand compares to others, how purchase decisions were made, or what your product benefits mean at a practical and emotional level. Even more valuable is face time with customers, in their “consumption” or decision-making environment, using your product or service.

With this knowledge and insight it becomes less challenging to make decisions regarding product or experience design, as well as the evaluation of promotion and messaging strategies. Relevant customer insight helps you formulate or refine your key strategy decisions (see No 2.)

For a recent article on acquiring real-time customer insights, I suggest McDonald ( in the September 2012 Harvard Business Review

2. Ace the strategy fundamentals

Your core marketing strategy requires you to look at your business model and brand from a customer’s perspective – their needs, their motivators, balanced against what your business can actually offer or provide. It’s business 101 but often missing.

What are your specific marketing objectives, and how do they reflect the business objectives? Who is your target audience? Logical segments? What job does your brand do for them? How do you do it better than your competitors? And finally – how do you make money?

Your strategy fundamentals guide downstream decision making. Should I drop advertising in favour of content? Do I need “big data” to be successful? What ad agency should I retain? These are now less “distractions” and more part of good marketing discipline, so less challenging when mapped against a specific marketing purpose and direction.

3. Take ownership of your own learning and marketing knowledge strategy

It won’t be easy to tackle points 1 and 2 if you don’t become highly knowledgeable in marketing theory and practice.

That means finding the time and resources to invest in learning, thinking and debating developments in marketing theory, and also developments that affect marketing and advertising practice. In a remarkably useful academic journal article, George Day suggests there is a gap in our marketing capabilities relative to the flood of data, the proliferation of marketing tools and channels, and the increasing complexity of markets. He suggests marketers need to adapt to change (and in my language defend against losing the plot!) by:

  • Continuous market learning and harvesting of insights in order to better anticipate market changes.
  • Increasing adaptive experimentation and continuous testing of marketing strategies and tactics to increase knowledge.
  • Embrace collaboration and the power of social networks to “mobilize the skills of current partners.”

My suggestion is to create a formal marketing knowledge strategy – for yourself if you are a solo entrepreneur, or for your firm. Carve out two hours a week just for that purpose. Build your knowledge network from both industry and academic sources – both perspectives are critical and valuable.

Rob Woyzbun is the COO and director of media research and strategy integration for Vector Media Canada, and also a partner and founder of the firm. In its 20th year of business, Vector Media provides paid, owned and earned media planning and consulting services for B2B and B2C clients. Rob is also a professor at the Queen’s School of Business in Kingston, Ontario. Rob’s mantra is to challenge patterned thinking for better marketing and communication results.


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