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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 an expert in internet marketing, search technology, social media, text analytics, web personalization, and web metrics, who, as a Certified Speaking Professional, regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide. Mike serves as a senior strategist for 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 serves 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, ibm.com, most recently as the Manager of ibm.com 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 is a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research. Mike worked at ibm.com from 1998 through 2006, pioneering IBM’s successful search marketing program. IBM’s website of over two million pages was a classic “big company” website that has traditionally been difficult to optimize for search marketing. Mike, working with Bill Hunt, developed a strategy for search engine marketing that works for any business, large or small. Moran and Hunt spearheaded IBM’s content improvement that has resulted in dramatic gains in traffic from Google and other internet portals.

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  1. Avatar auto transport company

    I love the way you help your client decide. Oftentimes, we just submit to what they want even though we know that there is something that we have better in mind. Thanks to you, I know how to say the right words when I need to speak up.

  2. Avatar Lowest Cost Auto Insurance

    Thanks for the post. I would label myself as a marketing tactician. I am tactical with my marketing in every way. But the way you wrote this post is simply brilliant.

  3. Avatar Keven Gates

    Thought-provoking article! Sales and marketing leaders come in all types of personalities and leadership styles. Figuring out what ‘makes them tick’ and how to get them to effectively work together is critical. The reality is that sales and marketing disciplines are very different – Sales is focused on the ‘now’, whereas marketing is concerned with shaping the ‘to be’. And the leadership types for each group are equally different. The Strategist is a strong proponent of sales and marketing alignment and often a catalyst of alignment. Thanks a lot for sharing your excellent ideas to individual, it really helps a lot.

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