Photo by Steven Lelham on Unsplash
In an ever-accelerating world that prioritises instant gratification, it’s all too easy to focus on short term tactics over long term strategy.
Early on in marketing career I became hooked on reading about “growth hacks” — quasi-magical tales that tend to focus on how people generated astonishing results from micro-changes or single campaigns.
You can see examples of these narratives across the internet, even on Medium. Sensationalist titles such as “How I grew my email list from 100 to 100,000 using this one landing page template” hook readers in with stories of astonishing results, all for supposedly very little actual work.
For a long time, I believed in this, that I too could find the magic bullet that would change the game. I too could be a “growth guru” and make small changes, using repeated tactics, to generate inconceivable results.
I now realise if it was that easy, I’d be out of a job.
Tactics are Transitory
The more I build my marketing career the more I realise that growth hacks are the junk food of our industry.
They produce high immediate rewards, but generally fail to deliver long-term, sustainable results.
Yes, you can occasionally stumble on something that has a larger than anticipated impact, but it will only work for so long. I have seen this myself in some of my best performing campaigns, there is a definite decay in effectiveness over time unless new ideas and formats are bought to the table.
Eventually competitors will copy you, or you’ll soak up the low hanging fruit, or your audience will become bored. Worse still if you’re trying to “hack” your consumers, they will become wise to anything that reeks of using not-so-subtle psychological manipulation.
Immediate reward vs. long-term advantage
The problem is that we are hard-wired for immediate reward. Results that might be generated now can seem much more important than focusing on the long term.
When faced with the prospect of making good choices for tomorrow over good choices for today, we will instinctively prioritise the here and now.
This is why tactical thinking is so attractive. Even if the rewards don’t come, we feel like we are doing something that might produce instant rewards.
This is then further compounded by confirmation bias, whereby we are more inclined to believe information that confirms our hypothesis. If we‘ve been soaked in a narrative about the power of tactics, we’re much more likely to believe in their effectiveness above all else.
Strategic thinking is damn hard work
In a world where there are endless ways to spend your marketing budget, position your offering and speak to your customers, good marketing strategy is about understanding the wider picture to identify and prioritise your best opportunities. It’s about knowing where you want to get to and planning the route for getting there.
The best marketers I’ve met intimately understand how to manage scarce resources, whether that’s budgets, staff or our audience’s attention. This takes discipline and a fair amount of analysis, stakeholder feedback, market research and perhaps most importantly, time.
Marketing, like most knowledge work, is as much about deciding what not to do as deciding the best direction to take.
Simply put, it’s complex and difficult to do. Even worse, the results are often delayed. Good strategy, because of it’s very long term focus, can feel like a waste of time, especially when your employers/clients are pushing for quick-wins and immediate ROI from you and your team.
But you do need to push back on this. You have to ask for the time, knowledge and space to think about where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.
You also need to be continuously revisiting and reworking your strategy. Adaptability is becoming the number one competitive advantage in an ever-changing landscape.
Strategy isn’t a one-time short burst exercise, it’s an evolutionary living and breathing set of directions and principles.
We’ve got to deliver for the long term
I absolutely agree that strategy is useless if we do not take the steps required to achieve it. However, by ignoring the future and focusing on quick-win tactics, we do our industry and clients a great disservice.
Yes, we might strike lucky and find that magic formula that delivers better than expected results, but I guarantee you that these will be short term-wins that provide a purely temporary boost.
Great marketing is generally the result of a set of sustainable, repeatable and considered tactics, all driven with strategic direction and thought. Not one-off stabs in the dark.
Because if it feels too quick and easy to be true, it probably is.
Previously published at https://medium.com/swlh/great-marketing-takes-a-marathon-b80611a2aff6