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Are you a marketing tactician or strategist?

Now, in a sense, that’s a dumb question, because we all need to be both at times, but I was put in the frame of mind to ask it because of a recent encounter with a prospective client. As I explained how important social media is to her organic search results, she stopped me and barked, “I want search, not social,” showing the irritation of someone who has been sold something different from what she needed once too often. At that moment, I had a decision to make. It’s the moment where a consultant can lose a client—or break through the normal blather.

When I was younger, I tried very hard to give people what they asked for. I even felt bad about “upselling” them into things that they didn’t think they needed. But I have learned that what helps clients the most isn’t giving them what they want but filling their real needs. Identifying what they really need is more important than the solution to the problem. Any good consultant can solve a problem that has been identified. You create lifelong clients when you can consistently show them what they are missing and solve those problems.

Often, marketing is stuck on tactics. Clients often approach me to tell me what they need, and it is almost universally about tactics: “We’re looking for an SEO consultant” or “We want to get into social media” or the dreaded “Our boss says he wants to be on Twitter.”

Strategy pattern

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While I can help clients who need these things, it’s worth asking what value they expect these tactics to deliver. It’s worth probing how these tactics fulfill a deeper strategic purpose. It’s worth investigating how we’ll recognize success. Those questions start to peel away the blizzard of tactics and reveal the underlying strategies that spell the difference between merely doing something and achieving results.

So, after my prospective client interrupted my soliloquy on the importance of social media to organic search with a withering, “I want search, not social,” I paused, sat back in my chair, and took a chance.

“You don’t want search or social,” I slowly said. “What you want is higher brand awareness,better offline leads, and more sales. Search is one way to get that. Social is another. They work together really well, but there are other tactics that can deliver those results, too. I am happy to help you with whatever tactics you think you need, but I think you’ll be more successful if you think in terms of your strategy and develop the tactics that serve you the best.”

Luckily, that changed the conversation completely. She was now very willing to listen to what I had to say and we started to talk about the success metrics that made the most sense to her. In the end, it will of course come down to tactics, but starting with them is not the path to success.

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is a Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also served as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website,, most recently as the Manager of Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He was a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research and is now a Senior Fellow of The Conference Board. A Certified Speaking Professional, Mike regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide

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