When marketing isn’t working

CLIENT: “We’re doing this (insert marketing project) inhouse, and we’re just not sure it’s working.”

ME: “What are you trying to accomplish, exactly?”

CLIENT: (Crickets…)

And therein lies the problem.

There are countless occasions clients have asked me to fix an internal project that is not delivering the results for which they’d hoped. And sure, “the goal”–if you want to call it that–is always to generate activity of some kind. But rarely is the desired outcome defined more specifically than that.

Without setting specific and measurable goals, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to gauge whether or not any marketing project is working. Quite simply, I can’t tell them what’s wrong with their effort if they haven’t determined, with some degree of specificity, what the desired outcome looks like.

Goals aren’t all that hard to define, really, so why are people so reluctant to set them? I have a few ideas.

  1. Larger organizational goals may be unclear, conflicting or nonexistent. That leaves the marketing folks unsure how to focus their efforts in a way that supports broader organizational initiatives.
  2. Measurement can be difficult. The tools required to identify baselines, track activity and quantify changes may be inadequate or absent.
  3. Goals convey accountability. Commitment to an outcome suddenly makes someone responsible to make that outcome happen—whether the effort takes place internally or with an outside provider. Sometimes it may be more comfortable not to know whether something is working than to be held responsible when it is not.

what you can do to make marketing work better:

  1. Get buy-in from the higher-ups. In looking at your organization’s goals, identify desired outcomes where marketing can have an impact, and use that as a focus for your marketing activity. If organizational goals are unclear or nonexistent, propose marketing goals that you believe will push the organization forward, and get buy-in from the higher-ups so you’re not on the accountability island all by yourself.
  2. Set goals you can measure. You may not have the ideal tools in place, but there are usually simple or creative ways you can tie your efforts to resulting activity. Establish agreement on where the existing baseline is, and what an appreciable improvement would look like in quantifiable terms.
  3. Think of marketing as both science and art. If the most effective marketing solutions were formulaic, someone would have published them by now and become an instant multi-billionaire. Everyone who could afford the price of admission would have all the answers and all of their marketing efforts would be successful. But that’s not how this works. Marketing is part data, part strategy, part project management and lots of creativity and nuance. If an effort doesn’t produce the results you want, it’s an opportunity to assess, refine, and try again. What you learn from a less successful effort is valuable in its own right and brings you closer to what works for the next one.

Not sure your marketing is working? Let’s talk! Just know I’m going to ask you that question—“What exactly are you trying to accomplish?” If you’re not sure, we can talk through that too. Sometimes it’s easier to see the trees when you’re not in the forest.

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