Among the “things to stop doing in 2023” listicles circulating on the net, one phrase keeps jumping out at me: Stop random acts of marketing.
Why does it catch my attention?
Mainly because it’s one of my favorite expressions to use with prospects and new clients. It captures the futility of unstructured marketing while bringing a guilty-as-charged smile to their face.
Secondly, I’m struck by how easy it is to spot the random acts and yet how difficult it can be to stop them from happening.
And third, because it makes it onto these listicles by being easy to understand and implement. No complicated theory or tricky skills. And yet … see point two.
In this post I’m going to explain what I mean by random acts of marketing and why I think they are more insidious and difficult to avoid than listicle compilers think.
I’ll also give you some tips on turning random acts into calculated experiments, which is my preferred recipe for success.
According to the dictionary, the adjective random describes things that are made, done, chosen, or happen “without method or conscious decision”.
Colloquially, we might say “without rhyme or reason” or “on a whim”.
This is exactly what I mean when talking about random acts of marketing.
Things—tactics, concepts, ad designs, channel selections, event participation, brand designs, voice, and so on—that are implemented without being part of a larger strategy.
Things that are explained by phrases like “it seemed like a good idea”, “we’ve always done it that way”, and “the latest trend…”
Importantly, such things are usually short-lived.
This has two root causes: Random acts often fail to deliver value, and the perpetrators of random acts usually move on quickly to newer, shinier things.
In the first case, no biggie, right? Better to abandon a failing idea than throw good money after bad.
Sure, except there was no need to throw the “bad” money away in the first place.
The tendency to follow up with more randomness is worse.
Even if the perpetrator stumbled across a wildly successful marketing idea, they would just as likely abandon it before it had chance to bear fruit. We’ll come back to this point in a moment when I explain the harm this does to B2B marketing.
In sum, a random act of marketing here and there isn’t the end of the world. An ongoing series of random acts—unpredictable, erratic, and uncoordinated—is a recipe for underperformance, if not disaster.
Lacking a coherent strategy, random acts of marketing have limited chances of being successful in today’s uber-competitive digital environment.
The most frequent consequence will be time and money spent without return.
The knock-on effect of repeated low or no return marketing efforts is reduced budget and a lack of confidence in marketing. Cue: “Digital marketing doesn’t work for a business like ours”.
With nothing much to show for them, tactics and concepts that might work if properly applied are condemned to the “failed, so forget them” bin.
Even if a coherent strategy is eventually developed, often by a new marketing leader, it can be perilously difficult to reintroduce ideas that have “failed” in the past.
Scar tissue is one of nature’s nastiest creations.
All of this gets magnified when it plays out in the business-to-business (B2B) arena.
Why? Because the timelines are longer, and the dollar amounts are larger.
Fritter away a few dollars on slot machines and low-stakes table games and you won’t leave a casino feeling too sore. You’ve entertained yourself and lived out your fantasy of striking it rich without losing your shirt or your house.
Gamble away your life savings on a few misguided hands of high-stakes poker and you’ll wake up the next day with one helluva hangover.
Along similar lines, B2C companies with thousands of potential customers can play low stakes advertising games and find out almost immediately if they’ve struck gold. Their sales process is simple—there’s usually only one person involved—and the sales cycle can be measured in minutes, hours, or days.
B2B companies must contend with multi-person buying committees and extended sales cycles
B2B companies, meanwhile, must contend with multi-person buying committees—typically 6-7 people—and extended sales cycles, often measured in months or even years.
Most random acts of marketing don’t persist long enough to make a significant difference in B2B situations.
While short-lived B2C marketing efforts can yield enough data to show whether they worked or not, short-lived B2B efforts seldom do so. More often, they are abandoned—either as non-productive or simply on a whim—before they ever impact a statistical measure of success.
Random acts of marketing are foolish but seldom financially ruinous in the B2C world.
In the B2B world, they are futile and, in aggregate, financial folly.
Much of what I’ve just written might strike you as obvious.
When I talk through it with prospects and clients, they usually nod and find the logic easy to follow.
So why the heck are random acts of marketing still something we’re trying to shake as we begin 2023?
And why, especially, in the B2B sector?
The answer, like so many of the patently dumb things we do as humans, is that the alternative requires more work.
We are inherently lazy, especially when the consequences of our laziness aren’t something that affects us personally.
We’re playing with house money in an environment that treats marketing like institutionalized gambling
When we perpetuate random acts of marketing, we’re playing with house money in an environment that treats marketing like institutionalized gambling.
It’s easy to blame overcrowded channels, greedy social media platforms, fickle customers, faddish marketers, and—my favorite—the fact that B2B buyers simply prefer to do business in person, with a salesperson they trust.
They don’t. Most B2B buyers hate salespeople and love the internet.
Most B2B purchases—including many worth over $1 million—are researched, evaluated, and completed entirely online.
Your chances of winning most of the business in your addressable market are tied inextricably to playing the digital content marketing game better than your competitors.
Random acts of marketing persist because B2B leaders got to where they are before digital processes and content marketing became mission critical.
They bury their heads in the sand and ignore their organizations ill-preparedness to implement a digital-first strategy.
Marketing leaders must step up and change things.
B2B CEOs (and other budget-setting leaders) must listen, learn, and enable.
Alright, enough of the rhetoric atop my content marketing soapbox.
Is there hope?
Yes, of course. And it need not require widespread angst and bloodletting.
It will, however, take some work.
The first and most important step is (surprise!) to recognize the issue and commit to taking a more structured approach.
You need a content marketing framework within which to make tactical marketing decisions.
The second is to accept the world of B2B transactions for what it has become. Unless you believe in end-to-end digital processes, you’re not going to make them happen.
The third is to construct a B2B content marketing strategy based on authenticity, customer understanding, and an always-be-helping mentality.
Marketing efforts should be targeted at building awareness of your brand and communicating relevant, helpful information to prospects and customers at each stage of their buyer’s journey, via the channels they prefer.
Sounds easy but it’s not.
Identifying buyer personas and performing a detailed analysis of each of their buyer’s journeys is arduous but necessary
The process of identifying buyer personas and performing a detailed analysis of each of their buyer’s journeys is arduous but necessary.
Armed with key messages that your buyer needs to hear and an idea of the channels on which they might be receptive to hearing them, you can design marketing experiments to test your understanding and see which approaches work best.
Calculated marketing experiments are very different from random acts of marketing.
For starters, they involve method and conscious decision. See definition of random, above.
For the main course, they require goal setting, performance measurement, and being allowed to run long enough for statistically significant results to emerge.
And for dessert, they yield valuable information about your prospect or customer—even if they fail to achieve their stated goal—that can be fed back into the planning process to help improve future efforts.
Calculated experiments lead to both learning and financial return.
Does this mean that “seems like a good idea”, “the latest trend”, and “how we’ve always done things” are condemned to never-again-land?
Not necessarily. But they must make sense within the strategic marketing framework.
“It seemed like a good idea” will translate to: “Based on our analysis, it made sense to test…”
The latest trend will inevitably show up when your team evaluates potential marketing tactics. If following the trend makes sense for your target audience and market, then a calculated experiment is justified to test the veracity of that assumption.
The status quo isn’t always broken, either.
Not all B2B buyers are twenty-something digital natives. There is a dwindling but important population of tenured buyers who want to read printed brochures, kick tires, and be taken for lunch to discuss a proposal.
Not everything that worked last year is doomed to fail next year. Some tactics and channels are consistently successful over long—i.e., multi-year—periods.
Marketing is a never-ending game of experiments to uncover ways your company can stand out from the crowd
However, marketing is a never-ending game of experiments to uncover ways your company can stand out from the crowd and out-perform its competitors.
Sticking with what has worked until now might be okay in the short-run but will inevitably mean you get overtaken, or even leap-frogged, at some point.
My recommendation is to always, always be experimenting.
Evaluate your marketing efforts on a regular basis (at least quarterly) and be judicious in what you start and what you stop.
Choose tactics based on method and give them enough time to prove their worth.
You don’t have to eliminate random acts of marketing entirely—spontaneity can still be valuable—but let’s commit to making strategic marketing a priority.
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Image credits: Adobe Stock