In our experience at the Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing (CEPSM) one of the biggest and costliest mistakes many public sector organizations make is to start rolling out individual marketing tactics without a strong strategic marketing strategy in place. Social media, blogging, website design, email marketing, advertising, proactive public relations, face-to-face marketing … if you don’t combine these individual tactics into a cohesive marketing strategy, you won’t get the results that you hope to obtain.The first step in realigning your marketing approach and establishing a strategic marketing plan for your public sector organization is taking the time to understand your audience.
Once you have identified the audience you’re ready to start uncovering the key issues you face – the pains and problems your audience has when purchasing your products, programs or services. If you understand what “pains” people have and offer a “remarkable solution”, it becomes a lot easier to “make the sale”. They feel connected to you and trust that you understand their specific challenges.
Most organizations think marketing and immediately think tactics. Hate to say it but most marketers think that way too!
I’ve been working for and with public sector organizations for over thirty years and I can tell you that none of the tactics matter until you are crystal clear about which direction you are going. Strategy before tactics is the simple road to success.
This does not mean that I am opposed to systematically and consistently rolling out tactics, because there is an expectation that when you work in marketing that you need to “do stuff” but you need to select only those tactics that support a marketing strategy that you can commit to.
Strategy and tactics are so intertwined; perhaps it is no wonder that people so often confuse them. Still, it is a big mistake when strategies and tactics are interchangeably used.
“Great tactics will win you a battle, but great strategy is what wins you the war.”
Goals and objectives are the basis of any marketing initiative. But most practitioners do not know the difference between a goal and an objective. Marketing goals communicate a broad direction for your organization. Marketing objectives identify specific actions that include a measurement capability to succeed at meeting objectives.
The more specific you define the objectives, the better off you will be. This level of detail sets expectations and creates a commonality that everyone works towards. Establishing measurable objectives sets expectations, and it enables you to begin to work on a marketing strategy.
A marketing strategy offers a high-level plan to achieve your overall goals and measurable objectives. It is a methodology and a train of thought that guides all future actions. The strategy is a platform upon which the tactics will rest or, to throw the analogy, the umbrella under which the tactics will lie.
Part of setting measurable objectives is developing key performance indicators. These indicators are yardsticks to measure progress. Next, the marketing communications component of the strategy outlines what type of tactics to utilize and to what degree. It defines how much to invest in each tactic. The strategy further defines the markets. The strategy supports the goals and objectives, organizes the approach, and advances a plan to achieve those measures.
Strategy is as much about deciding what to do as what NOT to do.
In essence, the marketing strategy establishes the topological map. Once the topography has been defined, the tactics will create a more particular road map. The strategy sets the campaign direction and the tactics translate those ideas into reality. For this reason, strategy does not change very often, but tactics can (and do!). The strategy represents principles that will guide the tactical execution.
In a nutshell, strategy is about picking the right goals and objectives and tactics is about how you go about achieving those goals or objectives. The role of a tactician is much simpler once you have a strategy, because the objective and the direction are already defined.
The biggest way this applies to marketing is “segmentation” and “positioning”. While marketing tactics are focused on how to interact with your potential audience, marketing strategy is more about picking the right audiences to go after. There may be many organizations out there doing what you do, and picking the right “niche” to call your own is the most important thing you can do to ensure success or guarantee failure.
Without a strategy, it’s easy for organizations to get caught up in chasing the latest marketing trends or switching tactics every week or month. Not only is that an exhausting way to do things, it also means you could be wasting time and money on tactics that will produce few results.
What happens when you develop and implement marketing tactics without a strategy?
- Lack of clear and consistent messaging. For marketing to be effective, you must create a consistent brand message that communicates what makes you different and why someone should buy your products, programs and services. Without a strategy in place, it makes it much harder to determine compelling messages that will speak to your audience.
- Difficulty achieving goals and objectives. In our experience at CEPSM we find that many public sector organizations don’t have well-defined goals and objectives. But, even if you do have specific goals and objectives, it will be difficult to accomplish them without a marketing strategy. What we find in our work is that organizations often see where they want to go, but have trouble connecting the dots on how to get there. It takes research, creativity and strategic thinking to build an effective strategy. But once you do your likelihood of success is that much greater.
- Wasted budget. If you don’t take time to build a strategy, you could be wasting time and money on the wrong tactics because you’re just guessing about what will work. Taking the time to build a marketing strategy and tactical implementation plan on the front end will ensure your budget is being spent most effectively.
- Unfocused efforts. All your marketing tactics should flow out of a marketing strategy. It helps guide your decisions and makes it easier to determine where to spend your time and money. Without it, your efforts will be weak and unfocused. And, it’s a whole lot easier to get caught up in the marketing “tactic du jour”.
Organizations don’t plan to fail … they fail to plan
So, how do you formulate a marketing strategy? Answer these three questions and get everyone on your team aligned around the answers. If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you’re not ready to start implementing tactics. Doing so can cause all sorts of problems:
1) Why do we do what we do?
This is the age-old mission question. Until you can get very clear about the one overarching purpose for your organization, things will always seem a bit muddy. When you can grab onto your “why” you have the basis for every decision you make and a thread that can define your branding and positioning, which leads to marketing success.
2) Who do we do it for?
The tricky part about this one is that the answer should be as narrow as possible. If you nailed the first question, your job as a marketer is to go even narrower and start really understanding who you want to reach and who gets the most value from your unique approach.
Look to your best clients. Find the commonality in this group and you should be able to develop a very narrow, ideal client profile that entails both a physical description and an ideal behaviour.
3) What do we do that’s both unique and remarkable?
The last piece of the puzzle is about what you do. But, it’s not simply about defining what products, programs and services you offer. That’s important to understand, but more important is to find and communicate how what you do is unique in a way that your ideal client finds remarkable. In a way, that allows you to stand apart from everyone else that say they do the same things as you do. i.e your unique selling proposition (USP).
This isn’t as simple as it might sound. Most organizations don’t fully understand what their audience truly values. It’s not necessarily a better product or program or good service. Those fall under the category of expectation and everyone can and usually claims them. The difference is in the details, the little things you do, the way you do it, how you treat your clients, how you make them feel. It’s in the surprises, the things that exceed their expectations.
Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. Sun Tzu
One of the things we note in our work at CEPSM is many government programs hire communications/advertising companies to help them implement their campaigns. That makes sense if you have a marketing strategy in place. But if you don’t then you are leaving yourself wide open for wasting money and not achieving your goals and objectives.
Here’s why. Most (but not all) communications/advertising firms are tactics-focused. They are in the business of trying to convince you that their tactical approach will be successful in attracting clients or “‘increasing awareness.” That’s fine, but only if you already feel like your marketing strategy is in the right place, and just needs more fuel. However, if you experience that “sinking feeling,” that maybe you are not on the right track, then you need something more than a tactical approach. What you need is a marketing strategy which becomes your road-map for your advertising or communications supplier.
What do you do if you and your colleagues have no experience developing a marketing strategy?
The Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing (CEPSM) offers public sector organizations an easy and affordable way to acquire expertise from marketing strategists to help develop a successful marketing strategy. The entire process can be completed in a very short time.
Two workbooks ideal for marketers and communicators working for government departments/agencies, non-profit/volunteer organizations, associations and social enterprises who are responsible for:
- Marketing programs, products, programs and/or services
- Social marketing, community outreach and public education programs
This workbook provides users with an end-to-end planning tool that lays the groundwork for a successful social marketing program to change attitudes and behaviours. The content is the result of more than 30 years of direct experience in the social marketing arena. It will assist public sector, non-profit organizations and associations involved in marketing, communications, public awareness/education and outreach.
To purchase workbook, go to https://cepsm.ca/product/social_marketing_workbook/
Alternatively, you can register on our MARCOM Conference site to attend an upcoming Introduction to Social Marketing Planning for Behaviour Change Workshop where we offer the workbook as part of 1-day interactive workshop
This workbook provides users with an end-to-end planning tool that lays the groundwork for developing a successful public sector or non-profit marketing program.
It also will provide you with an overview of public sector and non-profit marketing and highlight the importance of market research to support a decision-making framework.
To purchase workbook, go to https://cepsm.ca/product/marketing-101-for-marketers-and-non-marketers-workbook/