Today more than ever, companies are operating with a limited supply of resources. Skeleton-crew staffs are running on scaled-down budgets while being held to even greater accountability. There is no time -- not to mention budget -- to waste.
Over the last 10 years while working in the interactive space, I have observed many tactics, strategies, and practices that are worth the often vast amounts of time and effort required to get them right. But then again, I've also witnessed many that are simply not worth the resources they require. Here are a few of the ones that just waste marketers' precious time:
1. Operating without reliable metrics and measurement
If you're operating without reliable metrics and measurement, you're essentially operating without a real plan. It is hard to determine success if you haven't established a clear set of objectives and measurements that relate directly to business success.
Every business goal can be cascaded into other areas of the business, and marketing is no exception. Building and executing a successful marketing plan back from the over-arching business plan is required to ensure that successful marketing also means a successful company. Executives have to be on the same page as to what success really means; otherwise, battle lines will be drawn, and the marketing department and its respective budget will come under greater scrutiny.
2. Looking for the silver bullet
Most of the time, it takes dedication to a mix of activities to be successful in any marketing efforts. Rarely is there a silver bullet (although, some have been pretty lucky).
Even though marketers can't usually bank on a single tactic to drive their businesses, some continually try. The most common ones I see are companies turning to affiliate programs for "insta-sales." It is just not that easy. Decide on a marketing mix that meets your budget but also has room for experimentation to enhance that mix into the future.
3. Doing too many things (therefore, unsuccessfully)
Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. Granted, I just said that the silver bullet just doesn't exist, and you need a marketing mix. However, it doesn't mean that you can't focus on a few things at a time. Prioritize tactics in terms of complexity and impact. Then, when you have your list, tackle each line item one at a time (while still keeping the big picture in mind). This process will ensure you maintain the optimal cycle of research, planning, follow through, and measurement.
This process will help keep you on-time and on-budget so you can continually make adjustments to task lists as the competitive landscape changes for your clients. If you are doing too many things when a major competitive shift takes place, it could displace too many projects and, therefore, critically damage a breadth of budgets midstream.
4. Skipping the research -- or doing too much
Too often marketers feel that they already know their target, their competitive threats, etc. In this assumption, it is too easy to forget the voice of the consumers, their unique perspectives or needs, their media consumption habits, and other important elements. By taking the time to conduct research and getting a better understanding of key drivers in consumer behavior, campaigns become easier to execute and future decisions are supported, which can reduce bickering about opinions. Nothing can pre-settle arguments and streamline the creative process like solid data and research.
Interestingly enough, though, research can also be the source of wasted time. It is not the fault of the research itself -- rather, it's the fact that some people prefer to pore over data to such an extent that it becomes a barrier to decision-making.
At our agency, we have realized that even though it would be nice to have an overabundance of information, sometimes we need just enough to get us moving in the right direction. Then empirical evidence can be our guide, and we can adjust from there. In conducting research, we look for a few "a-ha" findings to help us make the big breakthroughs. Then we continually look at results to fine-tune our path.
5. Over-meeting and under-deciding
All organizations and departments can probably complain that they have too many meetings -- and that those meetings too often break without any concrete goals having been established. This time-suck hangs out with the with the "paralysis by analysis" crowd and probably is inherent in groups that operate without reliable metrics or research.
There are times to make a decision, and sometimes you need data to support those decisions. Data can set you free and allow you to react, but clear roles and responsibilities need to be set in any team to make decisions and pursue initiatives.
6. Learning it yourself rather than asking an expert
I believe in educating oneself. I go to industry events, read articles (even those I don't write myself), and generally try to stay up-to-date on my industry. I believe that is my job. But I have found over the years that our interactive industry is complicated, and I simply cannot get the depth I need to be effective in all aspects. That is why at Red Door, we have specialists in a variety of specific tactics who collaborate with client teams.
It is supremely difficult for marketers to both keep up on their own industries as well as learn the intricate details of social media. I recommend that marketers get the overview, understand the mix, set metrics, but -- most importantly -- hire and manage the right people who can maintain the expertise needed to be effective within their respective disciplines.
7. Doing the menial tasks
Even with skeleton crews, it is important to delegate to those who show a passion for the various tasks that marketers have to accomplish day-in, day-out. You don't have to send every tweet yourself. Find other people or take the time to let technology do the work. There are services like TweetLater by SocialOomph that allow you to prepare tweets in advance, which can save you some time. Or, find freelancers, interns (not twinterns), or outsource partners who can pick up less-strategic work and get projects knocked out for you. Your time is valuable. Optimize it.
8. Setting and communicating budgets
Nothing is more difficult than trying to create a plan without having budgetary parameters within which to work. The key to confidently communicating a defined budget is to develop trust and consistently operate with ROI in mind.
Generally speaking, there is a budget number inherent in any idea. It has to fit within the budget of the department (if one has been specifically defined), or if it supports initiatives within the marketing mix, we can pull from other buckets. Regardless, there should be an ROI number that we can back into from anticipated results.
Too often the interpretive budget dance lasts longer than it needs to because we, as humans, find it challenging to talk about money. Ultimately, trust needs to be built over time, and agencies need to think about results before pushing outlandish budgets for even exemplary ideas.
9. Anything free
If something is free, don't waste your time on it. There are free link directories and myriad other widely touted "free" services out there. Don't bother. Your time is worth more than you may think; therefore, free is still not free.
10. Worrying about underperforming affiliates
In affiliate or partner programs, the 80/20 rule does not apply; it is more like 99/1. If you're prioritizing, then focus on those that are performing and cater to them. Find the biggest, baddest partners and enhance what they're doing the best you can. Worry about the other 99 percent another time.
I am sure I have over-complicated things a bit. People who've read this far are either laughing or crying -- or nodding in agreement or denying. Hopefully you haven't felt that this was a waste of time.
In summary, I believe that the single most important bit of advice I can give is to prioritize. Marketing is a challenging undertaking and one fraught with gray area. For example, we want a lot of research, but we don't want so much that we fail to make a decision. We want a plan, but we want flexibility to modify the plan midstream. In my opinion, marketing success is an art, supported by science. It is a lesson in management, coordination, and psychology.