7 Habits Of Highly Strategic Marketers
It's time for you to be more strategic — but what does that really mean? Columnist Patrick Armitage gets into the nitty-gritty of what it means to be strategic and outlines a list of habits that every strategic marketer should adopt.
It’s a marketer’s greatest crutch word: strategic.
“We need to be strategic.”
“Let’s start thinking strategic.”
“We gotta approach this more strategically.”
Do you want to endear yourself with clients? Drop “strategic” in client meetings, and you’ll create the perception that you are, in fact, strategic. Say it enough, and people will start believing you… and you’ll start believing yourself, as well.
I fall into the trap of using it because it sounds considered and thoughtful. It carries gravitas and profoundness without actually meaning anything. It’s the “Get out of jail free” card of business speak.
Who is going to disagree with the notion of “being strategic” in a meeting? You can’t lose.
But what does “being strategic” mean? You’ll get 50 different definitions of “strategic” if you ask 50 different people. I remember when I was coming up as a young marketer, I would be told to “be more strategic” despite having no idea what that meant.
So I’ve created my own definition and compiled a list of habits.
Habit 1: Ask “Why?”
This is so basic. But asking “Why” gives your work purpose.
And yet, I forget to do this. All. The. Time. My day is spent putting out fires, slavishly checking my to-do lists, taking phone calls out of nowhere and answering emails without the presence of mind to stop for one second and ask: “Why?”
When I worked at an advertising agency, we were so hell-bent on billable hours and project throughput that the question of “Why” wasn’t of primary importance. It was only after I was knee-deep in a project that I would stop and arrive at the conclusion that this boondoggle didn’t make sense at all.
I’d stop for a brief second, and with a moment of clarity ask, “Why am I doing this?” And in some cases, when I couldn’t answer quickly and clearly, I’d realize that I’d gone so far afield that I had forgotten why I was doing this in the first place.
Being strategic is asking “Why?”
Ask “why” enough, and you realize that it’s the best way to deconstruct anything down to its purest form. Take Louis C.K. and his daughter’s question of “Why can’t we go outside?” (warning: some language).
It’s a fairly innocuous question. But because it gets picked apart by the follow-up question, “Why,” it reveals truths deeper than anything Louis C.K. anticipated. That’s the power of “Why?”
Start with this simple exercise for your own company:
Why do we have a blog?
Why do we do social media?
Why do we even exist as a company?
Why am I doing [insert whatever it is you’re doing] today?
Can you answer each quickly and clearly? Will everyone on your team have the same answer?
It’s never a bad idea to ask “Why” of each marketing tactic as it crosses your desk. This is the start of being strategic.
2. Support Your Argument With (GASP!) Numbers
The future of marketing is here. It’s numbers.
There’s still something to be said for not having your marketing world run completely by numbers, but the success of your marketing will be measured quantitatively. Businesses run by gut instinct won’t survive.
Agencies and marketers can no longer rely on doing something to “build awareness” and “create mind share.” Truthfully, these are vacuous terms used in lieu of putting in the extra work to derive or show real, measurable data.
Marketers can no longer be afraid of numbers. I’m not advocating for every marketer to have an advanced degree in mathematics, but knowing enough to be dangerous will separate a great marketer from a good marketer.
Ideas are good. Ideas with numbers for support are even better.
It’s a lot easier to sell an idea to your boss or your client when you can show your work. Whether those numbers are real or projected doesn’t matter. Show your work.
3. Justify Your Budget
Being comfortable with numbers starts to pay off when you have to get budgets approved.
Marketing gets a bad reputation in the C-suite as being a cost center. We’re seen as the department of tchotchkes, swag, mugs and branded stress balls.
I’ve worked with many marketing clients that get marginalized by their CEO and CFO because they’re constantly fighting against the perception of unjustifiable expenses.
A budget without showing your company’s return on investment (ROI) IS a cost center. A budget without a revenue forecast shouldn’t see the light of day. It’s useless.
Budgeting is a series of wants and needs. Needs show ROI. Wants don’t.
4. Measure Your Work
This habit isn’t just for marketers. It’s critical to a successful professional career.
Looking for a job? Want a raise? A promotion? You’d better be prepared to measure your work.
Measurement isn’t just helpful for showing off your wins — it’s equally important for understanding your losses.
The definition of crazy isn’t just doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. It’s doing the same thing over and over and not knowing what happened.
How can you sustain, stop or reassess a project if you don’t have the numbers to guide you?
I don’t start or approve a project if there isn’t a plan for measuring it.
And sure, we may be measuring the wrong thing. That’s happened. But we’ll never know if we’re measuring the wrong thing if we don’t measure anything at all.
Some measurement is better than no measurement.
5. Do 5% More
This was advice I got from my uncle, a successful painter. He said that because there’s so much mediocrity in the art world, those doing five percent more reap the cumulative effect of being a little better.
That might mean bringing one more idea to a meeting, sending one more email before the end of the day, making your to-do list the night before, getting up 10 minutes earlier each day.
On their own, these slight differences may not have an immediate, discernible impact on your success. But that one additional idea could be the difference between securing and losing a client. And the cumulative effect of those efforts will pay off.
Sometimes I don’t know what that five percent more even is. Sometimes I just have to sit, think and ask myself: “Okay, what would five percent more on this project look like?”
When I stop to figure out what the additional effort would look like, I can’t help but get creative.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Philosopher George Santayana is believed to have said that. And it applies to marketing, too.
Today, we have so much content and information at our fingertips that forgoing research neglects one of the great gifts of the digital age: We can learn from others’ mistakes. We can hear about what worked and what didn’t and not make the same mistakes.
Research also means really, truly understanding your customer. We have all these tools that make it easy to look at Google Analytics, email open rates, form submissions, social interactions, surveys and questions sent to our support and sales teams to understand what our customers think, want and don’t want.
The magic happens when we’ve set aside the time to understand our customers’ needs and meet them.
Research doesn’t just have to happen before starting a project or initiative. It’s an ongoing practice — looking at your dashboards, checking open rates, talking to customers.
Instead of ignoring some random email from a company trying to selling you something, look at it. What are they doing that you can learn from that might make your company better? Constant vigilance is what makes a good researcher.
I try to set one day a month aside for just looking at our numbers. It’s one thing to check your to-do list. It’s another to step back and reflect on the work that’s been done.
Measuring your work (#4) is only useful if you go back and actually look at what you measured. That’s research.
It’s crazy how often we measure a project but forget to look at the data because we started another project.
Imagine if scientists did that. They run an experiment and move on to the next experiment without looking at the data. Absurd.
That’s why I’ve found that setting aside a day to review our numbers goes a long way.
7. Your Customer Is The Only Thing That Matters
Without the customer, you can’t do the previous six habits. The customer is why I have a job. It’s the ONLY thing sustaining our business.
I heard a great piece of advice from HubSpotter’s Beth Dunn recently. Before sending out your company’s next newsletter, responding to that email, writing that next line of copy, think about your customers. Put yourself in their shoes.
Now think about them having the worst day of their life. Would they want to read or watch whatever it is you’re sending them?
Is it going to make their day better — life easier? Or is it just going to annoy and piss them off? It’s the ultimate marketing litmus test.
I spoke with a designer friend of mine, and he shared a story about user-testing a website. During the course of development, people involved were convinced that this site was the most user-friendly, intuitive piece of work ever created.
Over the months of development, they lived and breathed the site. Every detail was obsessed over. Every piece of UI was painstakingly considered.
And then they asked customers to use it.
The results were astonishing. Navigation, which they had thought would be insanely intuitive, turned out to be cumbersome for the customer.
Customers had trouble finding what they were looking for, they didn’t understand certain design cues, and months of work turned out to be in vain.
And before customer testing, they thought they had a website that couldn’t lose. But because they were so close to the project, they didn’t have the benefit of viewing it through the eyes of someone who wasn’t.
A customer can be your best and your worst marketer. In fact, bad customer service interactions are more likely to be shared than good ones.
A customer can also be more valuable than the world’s most accomplished, highest-paid, most decorated user experience expert on the planet. And the beauty is, customers love being heard and are typically happy to give their feedback (at least in our experience).
Ask a customer for their thoughts, and it’ll be cheaper and faster than trying to figure it out on your own.
So, what are the habits you look for in a strategic marketer?