Monday, October 22, 2007

Pragmatic Marketing Rule #3

This post is the third in a series inspired by Pragmatic Marketing's 20 Rules of Product Management rules for technology marketing.

RULE #3 Time spend on the strategic reduces the time wasted on the tactical.

There are books written, I'm quite sure, that define strategic and tactical, but here's my simple definition:

Strategic is where you want to go; tactical is how to get there.

Framed in those simple terms, it's pretty easy to see that you better have the strategic figured out first - or why bother with the tactical at all? Isn't going tactical without knowing strategic a bit like hopping in the car to go on vacation, without figuring out just what kind of vacation everyone wants?

Now, life can be one big adventure and all that - and I'm sure that there are occasional successful vacations that start out with hop in the car and go mode.

But for everyone who ends up feeling that they had the perfect vacation, there are a couple of dozen who feel cheated because they had their sand pails and shovels packed for the beach, and they ended up in the mountains where nobody really wanted to go. And I'm pretty sure that even the odd vacation successes are because the strategy was 'we just want to go on a fun vacation somewhere,' and the tactic was 'jump in the car and go.'

In business, however, this sort of strategy makes very little sense. Sure, you will end up somewhere, but is it the best somewhere for you? Or even an okay one?

There are a couple of recurring themes that pop into my head when I think about the implications for marketing of getting tactical before getting strategic.

One is that old favorite, 'if we build it they will come' approach, in which a product is built, then tossed over the transom into marketing, who's supposed to be waiting with open arms and closed mouths for the product toss. (Here you go. See what a nice thing we built for you to market. If you're any good whatsoever at marketing, I bet we'll sell a gazillion.)

So marketers are stuck with a product accomplit - and forced to come up instant tactics (and/or a retro-fitted strategy).

No, no, no.

You need to have a product strategy in mind that spells out positioning basics (who's going to use the product and why), establishes the pricing rationale, provides at least a rudimentary guidepost for where the product's going, etc., etc., etc.

Another thing we've all faced as marketers is the situation in which we've been goaded (forced?) to just do something, do anything. "Something" must be done.

The something, as often as not, is helping fill the big gaping maw at the funnel opening that feeds (eventually, one hopes) the pipeline.

Money for something materializes, somewhere, somehow.


We can spend it on banner ads. Webinars. eMail blasts. Promotional deals. Guys with sandwich boards trolling the streets.

Just do something, anything.

If there is a strategy that you can call on, lucky you. But most of the time I've found myself in this situation, there's a readiness and eagerness to toss out the strategy because it's not working.

And who wants to spend all that time actually trying to figure out if the strategy's any good? Whether the problem is execution? Whether the strategy needs to be tweaked?

Matters not.

It's just not working.

Do something. Do anything.

Thus the campaign to nowhere begins. Someone's got an idea. Let's get going.

Activity, as my friend Sean says. Not action.

Waste of money.

You may get somewhere, but even that somewhere is going to feel like nowhere, absent a strategy.

There's a corollary to this rule:

In the absence of a strategy, people will go ahead and do what they think is best.

So the marketers will look at the product they've been given and make some sort of informed guess on where they can market it. Or they'll put on their blinders and latch on to whatever half-baked idea is floating around. They may do a bang-up of it.  (Great! Two-hundred tuna-fishermen attended our webinar. Too bad our product doesn't really do anything for them. Not to mention that we really should be selling to tuba players. Tuna? Tuba? Close enough.)

Which is not to say that you shouldn't make occasional small tactical forays into new areas. Just as long as it's part of your strategy...

Strategy's hard. It really means thinking things through. It means taking a risk by declaring where it is you want to go. It means the discipline and strength to give it time enough to succeed before.

Tactics absent strategy? You might think you're getting somewhere, but you're really on the night train to nowhere.

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