Marketing Mistakes: Focusing On Activities Instead Of Results

Michael Brenner on May 26, 2011 in Marketing Strategy

Ask sales people what they think is wrong with marketing and they will say the biggest mistake marketers make is too much of a focus on marketing activities instead of results.

I have explained already that I think the biggest B2B marketing mistake is putting your company and not your customers first. And focusing on internal activities and fighting the latest internal fires instead of solving customer problems is the other side of the same coin.

Sometimes the solutions that best solve customer problems are not very flashy or exciting and sometimes they are really quite simple. But the best ideas are ultimately practical. They are ideas that simply work.  

Take a marketing plan, for example. Nothing sexy there. But how many of us truly create and execute one? (For a slightly more academic view see “The Overachievers Paradox” by Srinivas Rao aka @skooloflife.)

And let’s face it, we all feel the pressure to answer the burning email from our boss – right away. So slowly we risk losing focus on the end goal of meeting the needs of our customers and executing sound strategy and a strong business case.

I believe the best ideas are born from first understanding the right problem to solve and then having the courage required to go against the status quo and take a different approach. In my first blog post, I explained why I am in marketing and advised people to stop worrying about their boss and to do what was right for customers first. What I really meant was to help your boss by focusing on results and not on unproductive activities.

Doing The Same Thing Over And Over Again While Expecting A Different Result

For example, many marketing organizations assume that in order to best target the needs of each buyer segment they serve, that they need to de-centralize marketing plans. Many times, this results in “least-common-denominator marketing” where strategy can get left behind and having the right people with the right skills is compromised for the sake of “targeting.” Note: I believe very strongly in targeting overall, just not at the expense of strategy and customer focus and not as an excuse for de-centralizing budget or authority.

Channel strategies can get lost, media properties might get picked based on relationships and steak dinners and not sound business plans. And content strategy. What’s that?

In a “one-off” tactical approach, each plan carries the full weight of planning and execution. This approach produces lower ROI, higher costs, duplication of efforts, and unnecessary complexity by simply not focusing on customers and instead by focusing on fighting internal fires.

And it happens over and over again. Why should anyone expect better results?

Efficiency & Effectiveness: Work Both Sides Of The Equation

By focusing on your customers and results instead of efforts, you can be more efficient by eliminating all the overhead of execution and tactical planning. By moving to a strategic and integrated marketing plan, the elimination of waste alone can remove tremendous amounts of inefficiency.

And by focusing on results, you can stop spending time executing, or planning throughout the year, and spend your efforts optimizing your marketing programs around the elements that are producing the best results.  

You can adjust towards the content and channels that produce the best results at the lowest cost.

Now many of us make the common marketing mistake of assuming that we know better what will work. We assume that customers conform to internal definitions, that they use the channels we think they use. But by focusing on our customers and taking a different approach we can create and share content that our customers want. We can use the “halo effect” to our advantage so our marketing results are never wasted. 

Four Steps To Focus On Results

  1. Create an integrated annual marketing plan – Put the customer needs at the center, building a marketing strategy to meet those needs and eliminating waste with an “always on” approach because buyers are always looking for information.
  2. Content Strategy– Segment your buyers, define their unique personas, understand what channels are most important, create content that meets their needs and that customers want and continuously test it in the market.
  3. ROI optimization – Monitor and report the results of all activities and model the best channels and content combinations that help to convert prospects to qualified buyers.
  4. Sales enablement– Do NOT forget to work hard to ensure your sales and telemarketing teams are trained on your marketing programs so they can best support conversion at all stages.

What do you think? Have you seen this mistake in your world? I’d love to hear from you either in the comments below or on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook.

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Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner
Michael Brenner is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, author of The Content Formula and the CEO of Marketing Insider Group. He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael shares his passion on leadership and marketing strategies that deliver customer value and business impact. He is recognized by the Huffington Post as a Top Business Keynote Speaker and a top CMO influencer by Forbes. Please follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook and Subscribe here for regular updates.
Showing 7 comments
  • Eric Wittlake

    So simple, yet so difficult. Most marketers never manage to focus on the customer.

    I really like what you have outlined, I would even take it one step further: marketers need to ensure they are meeting their audience needs first, then meet their own. When the focus is reversed (which it normally is), and resources are short or marketers go into a reactive mode, customer needs get dropped.

    Against this backdrop, it becomes far easier to maintain an integrated plan throughout the year. Change is constant, and plans must evolve because the environment the customer is in changes.

    While a hesitate to say marketing must react (as we should strive to anticipate), marketing must remain nimble. Activities are fluid and continually evolve while we focus on the results.

    Great post, thanks!

    — @wittlake

    • Michael Brenner

      Great emphasis Eric! It is truly about focusing there and in that pursuit, you can achieve results. There is a book out called “Obliquity” which talks about the same paradox of focusing on others first to achieve your goals.

      I believe a marketing strategy has agility built in. To me the whole point of planning once and optimizing throughout the year is to do just that – react to market and customer need changes.

      Ultimately I think it comes down to focus (on the customer) and structure (with the strategy and plan) that enable success.

      Love the support and thanks for your comments!

      Best, Michael

  • What makes this post stand out is that rather than just saying, “Hey, do this,” you offer guidance on how a company can do what you’re recommending. Too often, we wax poetical on our blog sites and don’t show that we really know what we’re talking about by pointing to the steps that will accomplish what we’re talking about.

    It’s a truly great post, Michael. Well done!

    • Michael Brenner

      Thanks Margie, You really know how to make someone’s day! I think it is so important to be practical. These “mistake” articles always start out as a rant but I push myself to end positively. Therapy for me and hopefully value for my readers. It is always a pleasure to see you stop by. Have a great day!

  • kenny

    oh yes. and the major activity: volumes of leads = activities . My other favorite one is telemarketing teams having a target number of dials to make a day.

    • Michael Brenner

      absolutely right! Or how many emails are sent or how many campaigns are executed. All meaningless and in so many cases harmful!

  • Maureen Blandford

    Well said, Michael. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that you didn’t mention “branding.” Instead you focused on what true marketing is supposed to be. When marketers pursue a Branding path, it does tend to devolve into activities rather than results. Bravo.