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Commit to a Business Growth Strategy You Can Believe In

Commit to a Business Growth Strategy You Can Believe In
What do I do next?

It’s a question we business owners ask, particularly if we’re running a growth company with significant demands on capital.

We’ve all got ambitions. Vision. Energy. Drive. But, there’s a dizzying set of marketing products, technologies, plugins, and services available that dangle the elusive, shiny, sexy way to solve a problem in front of us every ten minutes.

Here’s the rub: Some of these products and services may just be tactics dressed up as a strategy.

The mish-mash of trial and error.

Most growing companies can’t “boil the ocean” and fund every growth requirement. When business leaders look closely at how they’ve spent marketing dollars, they acknowledge the “random acts of marketing” that were supposed to drive growth: a disjointed set of one-off tactics that spread budgets too thin to make an impact, and sometimes focus on activities that don't even map back to  the most important business objectives.

So, we’re left with the lingering, gnawing questions each year as we enter the planning process:

  1. How much?
  2. On what?
  3. When?

Until you can answer those questions with confidence, realistic expectations, and declared metrics for success, you shouldn’t be spending a dime on marketing.

[Related: Should Marketing Be the Second M in STEM?]

It’s hard to read the label when you’re inside the jar.

Concentration, honesty, and a bit of tough love can help us move from trying to do everything, into a discrete course of action. It’s much easier to ignore or wish away the weak links in our plans. Uncovering gaps takes courage to face what’s missing in your service, on your team, or in your P&L that stands in the way of success. Which can be addressed easily, and which are inevitably insurmountable?

Only realistic problem solving, supported by data, experience, and a dose of audacity, is going to move us through complex decision-making to a committed position on marketing resource allocation.

Here’s the good news: Once we do that, we become more confident as we narrow the set of choices we have to make. Then we’re set to consider the options, and land on a candid appraisal of the opportunities at hand.

It’s a process. And it’s hard to do alone. Certainly, that’s why company leaders have advisors, boards, and even super-smart spouses to get through the tough decisions so they can move on.

Like a good bourbon, good strategies are distilled.

When you commit to a set of priorities, you just know you’re leaving some aspects of your business unattended for now. That is hard. No two ways about it. It can feel like choosing one of your children over the other, for goodness' sake.

But, let’s think about what happens when we don’t set firm priorities: We remain undecided and uncertain, uncommitted to our definition of success. We spread our resources thin, cross our fingers that something will work beyond our wildest expectations. We aren’t really directing resources toward the outcomes we’ve declared.

I’ve sat in many planning sessions where the first question is “What’s it going to cost?” before the "it" has even been defined. When tactics are selected based on budget limitations, companies are often found spending marketing dollars precisely where they don’t belong.

My longest client relationship began with a CEO who wanted to hire us to put his company on the map with a paid advertising campaign. I said “No.” After we built out strategies that were connected to defined goals, we selected the tactics affordable at that time, set a timetable for impact, and stuck to it. The business grew 100% over three years.

There’s a lot of confusion around what’s a strategy and what’s a tactic. If a strategy is where you’re going, a tactic is how you get there. And how you get there is what costs money in marketing. So, like Goldilocks, a strategy can be fulfilled with a tactical plan that’s too small, too big, or just right.

The simple math of marketing is: Objectives supported by focused strategies succeed through realistic tactical implementation.

[Related: The 'M' FACTOR: An Entrepreneur's Staple Diet]

Budget is the main course, not the surprise dessert.

Since the main struggle around marketing is, “How much should we spend?” it's amazing how often in the strategy and planning process, budgeting comes last.

No wonder marketing services firms and MarTech sales people can be met with distrust and skepticism! It’s a bear of a sales process when the pitch is: We can help you do X - when the decision-maker hasn’t figured out if X is what she needs.

Presuming a company has a marketing budget - even an estimated one - the question of how much will it cost has already been answered. The real question is how should it be spent. And when. Before what. Instead of where…

A company can spend as few as 90 days focusing on priorities and distilling them down to a set of priorities; then, using the budget line they’ve already determined, options can be crafted that emphasize one aspect or another depending upon short- and long-term goals and other timeline pressures.

An end to the guesswork.

The advent of data as a decision-driver in marketing has led many to believe we can create strategies and plans based on hard numbers, trends, and quantifiable information. And that’s partly true. We can now inform marketing decisions with data, for sure - and we can measure the efficacy of our marketing decisions with data, uh-huh.

But the guesswork I’m talking about here is your guesswork. The trial and error programs of the past, the tentative, short-term view of results, the competing needs of your customers, employees, and the market. Guessing is stressing, I’d say.

What can be certain in marketing is a set of clear goals, defined strategies, realistic budgets, and assurance around who’s going to get the work done.

Results? Not always certain.

Outcomes? Not always assured.

Confidence in a plan you’ve built with clarity? Possible - no, probable - when you start the process with your own definition of success, move through chaos to a determined strategic direction, and commit to supporting it intelligently, as it teaches us wise lessons about what comes next.

What differences can you make in Q4 that will prepare you for 2021?

[Related: The Post-Pandemic Paradigm: Gearing Up for the New Normal 2.0]


Ilene Rosenthal is the CEO of White Space Marketing Group, a boutique marketing services company, and a fractional CMO for growing businesses. She partners with companies to help focus marketing resources where they’ll deliver best on business growth objectives. She held leadership roles for sixteen years at Y&R on enterprise brands, and has operated White Space since 2012.

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