I’ve noticed over the years that a lot of advertisers, and even advertising professionals, don’t know what strategy is. So often “strategy” is defined as a list of tactics, like this:
• Increase our Facebook followers
• Start using PPC
• Run ads with “X” creative message
Folks, these aren’t strategies. At best, they’re tactics. Lee Odden wrote a great essay on strategies vs. tactics. He says, “I think part of the problem is that a lot of marketers are spread thin because of chasing shiny objects. They’re distracted from core marketing. They’re tourists in the digital and social world without taking the time to understand what the locals do and care about.”
So true. I’ve worked in marketing departments that loved to follow shiny objects: “PPC is the next best thing – let’s do it!” or “We’re going to focus on social media because everyone’s talking about it!”
As I tell my kids, just because “everyone’s doing it” doesn’t mean it’s a good thing to do. And it’s definitely not a strategy.
I work at a traditional agency, so we do a lot of creative work for clients. We PPC pros often don’t have much insight into the creative development process, so it’s been interesting to me to learn how it works. But the trap I’ve seen clients fall into is to become enamored with a particular creative theme, or even an individual print or video ad. All of a sudden, that becomes their “strategy.”
As marketers, it’s our job to remind clients (and bosses) that ideas aren’t strategy. Avis’s marketing strategy back in the ‘60s and ‘70s wasn’t “We try harder.” Avis’s strategy was to beat Hertz.
Nowhere is the folly behind turning creative ideas into strategy more apparent than in PPC. In PPC, we don’t have a full-page print ad to tell our story, nor do we have a 60-second radio or TV spot. We have 95 characters in which to get the searcher’s attention. And yet, so often I have clients who want to put their catchy tagline into a PPC ad.
Can you imagine putting this Coke tagline in a PPC ad?
It’d look like this:
Not terrible, but not very convincing, is it? It looks like a crummy eBay ad.
Or what about this fine tagline?
Translated to PPC, it’s:
You wouldn’t even be sure what Luckys were from this ad! I’d think it was some kind of diet food.
Now, I know these are vintage ads – you can’t really run cigarette ads in PPC as they’re against the TOS. (And cigarettes are not a great way to get slender, folks.) But they’re not just vintage ads – they’re iconic. These are brands that are well-known, and yet their taglines don’t make good PPC ad copy. And they’re certainly not a strategy. “Get people to buy cigarettes by telling them they’ll make them skinny” might have been a strategy, but the taglines themselves aren’t.
Ideas are not strategy. Taglines are not strategy. Creative concepts are not strategy. They’re all tools in the arsenal of a good marketing strategy, which might be “sell more Coca-Cola” or “drive leads via our website.” Don’t confuse the two – and don’t let your clients confuse them either.
Have you ever run into this kind of “creative wagging the strategy dog” scenario? What did you do to convince your client or boss that their creative ideas aren’t strategy? How do you explain PPC strategy vs. tactics to clients? Share in the comments!