Channels Are Not Strategy

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Earlier this week, TechCrunch published an article by Samuel Scott called How Google Analytics ruined marketing. It’s a lengthy but important article saying that’s because Google Analytics (and all web analytics packages, for that matter) force marketers into looking at performance by channel, instead of focusing on strategy and objectives.

In the years before web analytics, the article says, no one talked about “television marketing;” yet people today constantly talk about “Facebook marketing,” “content marketing,” and even “social media marketing.” These, the author states, are not strategies.

I couldn’t agree more.

I’ve written about strategy so many times that I created an entire section on this blog for it. And yet, on what feels like a daily basis, I hear marketers talking about “Facebook marketing” and the like as a strategy.

Here’s the thing: a strategy is a means for achieving a business goal. According to Wikipedia, “marketing strategy has the fundamental goal of increasing sales and achieving a sustainable competitive advantage.” If you read the rest of that Wikipedia page, it reads like a college textbook on marketing. It takes me back to my undergrad and master’s degree days.

The point is, we’ve forgotten what we learned in school. Channels aren’t strategy.

Lots of marketers mistake tactics or tools for strategy. Sometimes they get stuck on a particular creative idea, and want that idea to become their “strategy.” But ideas aren’t strategy. They’re ideas, and creative is an important part of any marketing mix. But the strategy should help a business achieve goals – not be an end in itself.

The same thing goes for calling “Facebook marketing” a strategy. It’s not.

That’s not the worst of it. Even the TechCrunch author got it wrong! Here’s his example:

techcrunch strategy
This isn’t strategy either! SEO is a channel, not a strategy. Take a step back: why did the person create informational material in the first place? No one creates information material for the fun of it. They’re doing it to sell stuff! That’s the strategy, not SEO.

When decision-makers think about marketing strategy (and spending their money on any type of marketing efforts), they have questions in their mind. Back in 2014, I wrote about 7 Things About PPC Strategy Your Clients Want to Know. In the post, the first thing mentioned is campaign goals. What are we trying to accomplish? And “be on Facebook” or “get to the top of Google” aren’t goals. You can spend a bunch of money marketing on Facebook or bidding high on Google, only to find it didn’t generate a single sale. This is why channels aren’t strategy. They don’t achieve goals.

Another question in the client’s mind is “how do we know if we’ve succeeded?” Well, if your strategy is “Facebook marketing,” you’ve succeeded the second you put a post on Facebook. And if that’s true, then every crappy company who’s posting to a Facebook page is succeeding. We all know that’s absurd.

Remember, a strategy includes goals and objectives. Sure, your strategy may be to “use Facebook to reach our target audience and generate sales of blue widgets” or “engage in SEO to improve visibility of key product pages to increase sales.” But the strategy isn’t “Facebook marketing” or “SEO.” Those are tactics – means to an end.

To make sure your strategy stands up, check out my Ultimate Cheat Sheet on PPC Strategy.

What do you think? Do you find that marketers understand strategy, or are clients coming to you saying “we want to be on Facebook”? Share in the comments!

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  1. I hate that articles like this and the referenced TechCrunch article are needed. I don’t know if our schools are failing us or what, but this should all be so obvious. Don’t get me wrong, your post is good. I’m just bummed that every day for years I’ve worked with people who don’t understand any of this at a basic level.

    The most important things that I wish people understood about marketing is…

    1. Google Analytics measures web traffic, not marketing. You and Samuel point this out nicely.

    2. We don’t have any magical insight into consumer behavior just because we’re online. STOP THINKING YOU DO!!! People think because they run a search ad and it gets clicks and makes money, that we’re doing something infinitely smarter than TV or any traditional medium. But we don’t know why they searched for us, why they clicked our ad, etc. What we do know, is someone was already looking for us or our product and we were there with a paid placement. We’re not creating any interest, we’re just fulfilling demand. It’s more similar to having a storefront near a busy intersection.

    3. We should not be making marketing decisions only based on Google analytics data. If we do, we’re going to stop doing anything that builds awareness or grows demand and only show branded search ads, remarketing ads, send emails. We’ll keep selling to the same customers over and over and our conversion rates and revenue will dwindle quickly.

    4. strat·e·gy
    noun: strategy; plural noun: strategies
    a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.

    This is the most commonly used word in marketing where so many people have not even the slightest understanding of its meaning.

    • Melissa Mackey says

      YES! I couldn’t agree more! I frequently have clients ask “why did people search for XYZ keyword?” and my answer is always “I don’t know. We can surmise, but we don’t know why people search.” You need to have measurable goals and see if your marketing efforts are achieving them – together, as an integrated strategy, not in silos. Thanks for your comment!

      • Melissa Mackey says

        And this is also why people often see their search volume plummet when they stop running display, TV, newspaper, whatever. SOMETHING prompted the person to search and choose you. Sometimes it’s great search ad copy – but sometimes it’s because they heard of you elsewhere.

  2. I read the TC article and commented on it. I can’t find my comment now but it went something like this: “Total BS. No CMO I know relies entirely on GA”. That’s definitely not what I think of your article. But, as times change, I’m willing to accept a change in how terms like tactics and strategy are interpreted. Facebook does offer many more features on its advertising platform than TV ads ever did viz. targeting, tracking and measurement. To that extent, if people go a little overboard and call it Facebook Marketing, I’m okay with it as long they don’t ignore the larger picture of channel, tactic and strategy. Which I don’t think they are. Even the ones drunk on the Kool-Aid of Facebook Marketing. And, as I pointed out in my TC comment, I really don’t know a CMO who formulates their strategy based on what GA says. To answer the two questions at the end of your post, (1) Yes, most marketers definitely understand strategy (2) Roughly one-third of our customers do come to us and say “We’re hearing Facebook Ad is cheap and effective, we want to be on Facebook”.

    • Melissa Mackey says

      Interesting perspective. To be fair, we hear that as well: marketers who understand the benefits and power of a particular channel and want to add it to their mix. But sadly, we still see a surprising number of people who come to us wanting “social strategy” and such. Now if social strategy is part of a larger marketing strategy, great. But it doesn’t stand alone.

      • Melissa Mackey says

        Side comment: Wow, the comments on the article are a total cluster. No wonder you couldn’t find yours!

      • You’re not going to believe this. After I submitted my comment, I was away from my PC for about an hour. When I just got back, there was an email in my inbox from a prospect, saying “I am from running a car wash business. Do you provide Facebook Advertising service for other businesses? If yes then please send me your quotation. Also what material is to be provided from our side like images etc.?” That’s the thing about 800 lb chimpanzees – they create so much hype that people forget the basics of marketing! I’m going to reply back reminding him that “…social strategy is part of a larger marketing strategy … But it doesn’t stand alone.” I suspect I won’t hear from this prospect again but I’m willing to take a risk because, since I focus exclusively on B2B tech, a B2C business like car wash is not in my target audience anyway. So let me try.

  3. A very informative article! I will be writing this down for future references.

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