When marketers discuss reports, I often see confusion instead of clarity. It is too easy to build reports and those reports are often tactical or worse, misused. Let’s discuss the differences between Strategy, Tactics, and Operations. From a marketing operations perspective, the tools should always be chosen to support the overall strategy.
Here is my understanding, notwithstanding the dictionary definition:
- Strategy: the larger plan and goal. The set of tactics to achieve a larger scale goal. (where the spear is aimed and how often).
- Tactics: individual actions or small team efforts to achieve a goal that is part of a larger plan. (Tip of the spear)
- Logistics: the science of movement; management of materials; detailed planning and organization of a complex operation. (Delivering the spear to the right place).
And while I do like to have marketers forget war metaphors in our jobs, it is interesting to note that many of the top military commanders of the past 300 years boil down their work to logistics:
“Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics.” – Gen. Robert H. Barrow, USMC 1980 (attributed)
More and more I see marketing’s challenges resolved through logistical – that is, Operational – methods, for our workflow and deployment of messaging. You can create the perfect messaging for an audience, but if you cannot deploy it to the places that audience will be receptive to it, then what’s the point? Constant, rapid testing is the key to knowing if the message and the medium are right. But if you’ve been around the block a few times, you know that few firms actively test their message or medium. (See: channel-offer method).
The other challenge when looking at Strategy vs. Tactics is that many marketers are so focused on “Which webinar had the most registrants” that teams lose sight of driving pipeline or revenue. Yes, it’s helpful to know that webinars related to a narrow topic tend to have lower attendance than webinars with a more general topic. But are those webinars helping attendees decide your team are experts at Solution X and should receive deeper consideration? Is it driving pipeline? Is there a perception in Sales that this helps?
What should you focus on? What should you build for when you run a martech stack?
Let’s take a look at how different tactical marketing, strategic marketing, and logistical marketing really are.
Tactical Marketing and ROI – are we in the right places?
Tactical marketing is composed of campaigns, emails, and specific assets or offers. This is the email designed to bring in 50 registrants to a webinar. This is the email you want 10% CTR on. This is the advertising campaign on LinkedIn that drives in 20 leads a day.
Most marketers are familiar with the metrics that drive such tactical programs.
- Delivery Percent
- Click Through Rate (CTR)
- Page Visits
- Form Fill Conversion Rate
- Ad CTR
- Ad Impressions
- Number of Net New Leads
and so on. There is nothing inherently wrong with tracking these metrics at the tactical level. You should do so and you should seek to improve these metrics with AB testing methods and segmentation by behavior.
Tactics might be thought of as finding the right fishing holes, the right bait, and then offering the fish a better place to swim. If you are looking for statistical significance though, you do need to run data over time and enough of it. The difficulty, of course, is did you structure your data analysis to look across Channels and Offers in a clear way? One firm I worked with tested Live Demo invitations. The original invitation list was pulled separately from a list of pretty much anyone who may have engaged (or not) in the past year. The CTR and registrations were trailing after several months. Then we tested adding the same emails to nurturing streams; that didn’t work so well either. But how would we know where to go after that? Is the email written poorly? Is the Offer and Audience not matched? Do people just not want to do a Live Demo, and which people? I can make guesses and keep testing…
What if my Strategy is just wrong? Will I know when to stop a tactic or reconsider the strategy?
Strategic Marketing and ROI – Revenue Improvement
We can spend all day discussing just what “strategy” is in marketing. The strategy should be set with the goal in mind, and the goal is revenue improvement. A different firm I worked with used Marketo’s Revenue Cycle Explorer to prove that when marketing touched an Opportunity, on average, the deal size was 50% larger than if sales went alone. WOW. If that’s not enough to get marketing to the revenue table, what is?
I consider marketing strategy as answers to a series of questions:
- Who are we as a company?
- Why do we do this thing we do?
- What kind of people would be interested in us?
- How can we attract more of those people and identify them faster?
- How can we help those people choose us?
Attracting more people who tend to buy means describing the story of the company, the solution statement, and then finding the right tactical mix to attract the leads. The leaders should design the marketing department workflow to deliver that strategy down to the operational level. The story you want to present higher up is about driving Opportunities and Revenue, not driving a higher percentage of clicks.
And before creating anything, one must ask the right questions, leading to metrics like:
- Opportunities Created
- Opportunities Influenced by Marketing
- Opps Won
- Opps Won %
- Revenue Won
Then look back at the program mix involved to achieve Revenue Won. Does a particular combination lead to Opp Won? Can you say certain Programs brought in a high number of net new leads that became opps? Certain types of Programs? How consistent is this?
Remember that marketing automation platforms do not spit out these numbers out magically. It requires a lot of work at the marketing operations level to ensure the reports are right.
Marketing Operations – Creating the Delivery and Reporting Chain
This is where most companies seem to have the challenge: how to track and attribute pipeline and revenue to the set of tactics and strategy chosen. Marketers often get the tactic or strategy correct, but find it hard to execute effectively. Execution is the logistical end, creating the delivery mechanism for the message as much as knowing if the message was effective. I’ve written about how firms should consider the Martech Maturity Model™ as a roadmap. To go further though, the marketing operations team has to consider the above metrics as their goal. Which tools and data collection points help us understand the Strategic Questions. It isn’t enough to automate a few things like CTR and registrations vs. attendance.
When considering how to implement a strategy, I work to answer questions about the possible reports. It’s easy to generate hundreds of reports, but very few are helpful at a strategic level or even at a Channel level. Questions to ask about reports include:
- Is this answering a Strategic or Tactical Question?
- What is the Question we want an answer to?
- Over what time period will we ask the question?
- What decision will be made based on this data?
- Is there a known time-series average or variance whose boundaries we should use as part of the decision?
- Is there a known (or suspected) seasonal variance we should consider in the decision?
The decision part is where most of us fail. We create reports that look like great reports or charts, but never really make a call. Now, it’s hard to make a call if we don’t have a historical average or sense of what we want. At the same time, someone needs to say, “We’re not generating enough pipeline from this Channel-Offer set, let’s test other Offers, or other Channels.”
Here’s an example of how to craft and use the right report:
- Question: Are we generating enough pipeline influence from LinkedIn with Offers ABC?
- Goal or Threshold: We will know this because our goal is 10% of pipeline should be influenced this way.
- What we will decide based on the data:
- If we are under 10%, then we should test Offers DEF vs. ABC for 2 months.
- If we are over 10%, then we should keep the best Offers and test D vs. the worst Offer.
Let’s be honest, most of us in B2B rarely do this consistently.
Ultimately, as Marketing Ops professionals, we should ensure our work is addressing the Strategic choices of the organization and push back when the martech stack is not supporting the Strategy just as much as we should push back if there isn’t much of a strategy in the first place. It’s easy for executives to blame the delivery mechanism instead of muddled thinking.