Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat

It was great to catch up with Prof Mark Ritson for a beer at the Marketing Week Live conference; I sometimes feel we are lone voices in a marketing world obsessed with digital marketing. As Mark said in a recent column, “In the last few years, marketing seems to be devolving into a tactical pursuit, devoid of strategic thinking.” Below I explore this issue and what to do about it.

1. The ever more busy “digital marketing toyshop”

As Mark says, “The last decade has seen marketing deluged with a sea of new tools and techniques.” Every week a new digital marketing channel seems to emerge. Specialist digital agencies love to scare the s**t out of us, especially those of us over 25 years old,  with confusing charts like the one below (just for content marketing). As a result, many marketers feel the urge to spend a lot or even most of their time trying to keep up with this tsunami of new tactics and tools.

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2. Following fads, not following the money

With this seemingly never-ending stream of new digital tactics, all hyped up in the marketing press, marketers feel the urge to experiment and use these to keep up with the crowd. Our research showed that this was by far the biggest driver for using social media, followed by “gut feel on business benefits”. A meagre 19% were based their social media usage on evidence of tangible business benefits.

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3. Loss of strategic skills?

Mark suggests that marketing is now over-run with “under-trained, overly tactical managers who have already selected their mode of execution long before any research or strategy has been even countenanced”. His view is quite extreme, but not that far from the truth. 99% of the talks at Marketing Week Live were on digital marketing tactics, and all were packed to breaking point. Mark was the lone speaker talking about strategy. Marketing should be about “Ready. Aim. Fire”: create a strategy, then pick the right tactics to execute. But in many companies it does seem to be more “Fire. Fire. Fire”. As Mark puts it, “They already have their crossbow drawn with no clue where, who or what they are attacking.”

4. Re-focus on consumers and brand

Digital channels and tactics do present exciting opportunities to connect with people in new way. But there is a need to re-focus our efforts back on to consumers and brand strategy. This is a view shared by Procter & Gamble’s Roisin Donnelly (my first ever boss). “Marketing has got too hung up on platforms, when we should be completely and utterly people obsessed and people centric.” Without a clear consumer insight and brand idea, no amount of sexy digital marketing will be effective, as I posted on here, using the demise of Friends Reunited as an example.

In conclusion, I echo Mark’s view that its time for a “re-centering of marketing back towards strategic fundamentals before it’s too late.” In the words of Sun Tzu that Mark quotes, “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”