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It's the time of year for setting out what you want to achieve in the coming twelve months at both a personal and business level. Given that 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions', you'll also want to think through how and when you will achieve them.
It's all too easy to get back into the work routine and find yourself so swamped with daily tasks that taking a step back and thinking about planning and vision for the long term ends up taking a back seat. Before you know it you're several weeks into the year and you still haven't found the time to sit down and properly plan out your strategy. For businesses working on digital transformation, inspiring digital transformation through vision statements can help here.
To inspire action, we have put together some of our favourite marketing planning and strategy quotes, so you can take some time out of your busy schedule to prompt some long-term thinking about planning and strategy. After all, our recent developing digital skills survey found that 77% of marketing professionals think a planned approach focusing on analytics and continues optimisation is the most effect way of managing digital marketing, whilst only 14% thought a relatively unplanned, reactive approach was best. We know it's never easy to find the time 'in the real world', but if anything can inspire you to make time then it's these evergreen quotes from great thinkers, strategists and marketers.
Sun Tzu's legendary work on the 'Art of War' is over two thousand years old, but still is regarded as perhaps the greatest ever work on strategy ever produced and has even been applied to digital marketing strategy creation. Held in high regard by characters as diverse as General Mattis, US secretary of Defense and the fictional Tony Soprano, it may seem strange to suggest that the lessons of the warring states period of ancient Chinese history can be applied in a marketing department, but Sun Tzu's advice really is timeless. This quote is among his most valuable nuggets of wisdom, and one marketers would do well to heed. Too often today marketing departments have become so focused on tactics like social, email or SEO, that they forget the bigger picture and the real objectives. This 'tactification' strips the strategy from marketing and leaves it as little more than what Mark Ritson has called 'the colouring in department' in his article "Tactics without strategy is dumbing down our discipline'. As the great Chinese general said, tactics on their own won't get you anywhere. You need to get the strategy right first.
Marketing Week's Mark Ritson has railed against the dumbing down of marketing and the focus on one of the 4Cs of marketing (communications) to the detriment of all others. This quote is always important to bear in mind when thinking about your marketing plan sfor the year ahead.
Strategy must always come first. Tactics are the buttons you press to implement the strategy, they are subservient to the strategy and their success or failure comes down not to how well the buttons were pressed, but how smart (or stupid) the strategy which required those buttons to be pressed was.
Kenichi Ohmae brought Japanese business thinking to the west. He's most famous for bringing the idea of a 'long-term planning horizon', common in Japan but not in the West where short-term concerns like boosting share price tend to take priority. This quote again shows how crucial it is to get the overall strategy right, and that it is aligned with objectives. It doesn't matter how hard you are working every day if what you're doing isn't going to be impacting your key objectives.
Marketers involved in agency pitches to clients will recognise the ability of intelligent fools to make things more complex. Pitch documents have become huge wads of information, containing a menu of a million different strategies for the baffled client to choose from. I'm sure we can all agree it would take a whole lot of courage for an agency to pitch with a few sides of A4 that said in simple terms 'this is what we will do, and we won't try and sell you any tactics we don't think will work'.
The tendency to over-complicate often also works its way into planning. When writing your plan, always try to make everything as simple as it possibly can be, anything else will simply waste time. Our Digital Marketing Toolkit resources cover the detailed analysis and insight needed for an informed, data-driven strategy, but we take care to include one-page summary formats to help simplify the overall strategy.
Marketing automation and Machine Learning is all the rage at the moment as our vote on the top marketing trends for 2017 shows, so it's worth remembering this famous quote from Bill Gates. Automation is only as smart as the way it is implemented. Automating effective tactics is likely to massively boost effectiveness, but it's easy to waste time automating tactics that aren't actually delivering value. This ends up just wasting time and money.
This is a great quote to remember for digital marketers. Sometimes big organizations engaging in digital transformation can be a mix of old legacy technologies creaking under years of poorly-implemented bug fixes and bodged integration, and flashy new enterprise tech from Cloud providers that is at the absolute cutting edge of what is possible. This can be really confusing for employees and might also affect the customer journey. Try to ensure you distribute new systems evenly across the business to bring all areas up to date, rather than buy snazzy new tech for some divisions whilst leaving others working with creaking legacy systems.
With ad-blocking becoming increasingly common, particularly among the tech savvy under 35s, marketing is going to have to shift from being intrusive to being helpful. This quote from marketoonist writer Tom Fishburne reminds us that really good marketing makes us forget we are even being marketed to.
David Ogilvy richly deserves his status as the 'father of advertising'. This quote has been given new meaning in the age of behavioural economics and 'nudges', designed to get the customer to do certain things the marketer wants. Sometimes this forgets that the customer is not some abstract concept without free will, but is your husband, your brother or your mum. Treating your customer like your friend, rather than an idiot you can subliminally nudge into doing what you want, is bound to leave them feeling more valued and thus more likely to return.
The only historian ever to win a noble Prize for literature, two-time prime minister, two-time first lord of the admiralty and cigar aficionado, Churchill spent most of his life working on strategies and made at least his fair share of strategic mistakes. If anyone should know when to re-thinking a strategy, it's the mastermind behind the catastrophic Gallipoli and Italian campaigns. Churchill's quote reminds us of the importance of analytics and taking time out to review them. No matter how good your strategy looks on paper, you should be careful to properly measure it and be willing to change course if it's not having the intended effects.
Bob Hoffman, better known as 'The Ad contrarian' has been doing great work critiquing the stupider trends in the ad industry over the past decade, and makes an excellent point that analytics teams should be better aware off. You can be swimming in data, but data is not valuable by itself. You need facts, principles and models. Humanity has watched the movement of the planets for thousands of years. The Greek root of the word 'planet' means 'Wanderer', because people watched the planets wander across the night sky. But it took Isac Newton coming up with the theory of gravity to work how and why they move in the way they do. Newton didn't have any new data, but he created a theory that could predict the movement of any astronomical body perfectly accurately. He established facts.
Marketers are swimming in data, but are all too often lacking facts. We might be able to count how many clicks our banner ads get, but we don't know who's clicking on them, we don't know why they're clicking on them, and we don't even know if they're actually human or just a bot. Marketers are like the ancient Greeks, able to look up at the sky and see the movement of the planets, but totally unable to explain why they move in the way they do.
By Robert Allen
I am the Editor of Smart Insights. I manage the Smart Insights blog and write on a range of subjects- Marketing Technology trends and latest tech developments are a regular focus, as well as exploring key marketing concepts. You can get in touch with me on Twitter and connect with me on LinkedIn.
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