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June 2, 2023


The Consultant’s Dilemma: How Do You Know You Are Right?

Making confident decisions in the chaotic world of marketing

Richard Byrd
The Consultant’s Dilemma: How Do You Know You Are Right?

We were reviewing a go-to-market strategy playbook with a client recently. The playbook outlined the company’s marketing strategy, brand strategy, positioning and messaging, pricing strategy, and new market entry strategy, so it was fairly comprehensive, and there was a lot at stake for the client. He asked a really astute question: “How do you know you are right about all of this?” 

My answer? “We don't.” Don’t get me wrong. We did our homework and our recommendations were based on both qualitative and quantitative research data from their customers and the market. For the pricing section, we used a sophisticated research technique, and we had some amazing data that made me very confident with our recommendations. However, marketing is still filled with assumptions. Humans can be pretty unpredictable, and we all sell to humans at the end of the day.  

My follow-up answer was, “But I do know that we will be monitoring the success of the program and adapting as necessary to optimize and improve the campaign as time goes on.” So why is marketing so unpredictable? Let’s take a deeper dive.

The economy

In its simplest form: when the economy is doing well, people have more money to spend, which can lead to increased sales. However, when the economy is struggling, people tend to spend less, which can hurt sales. Marketing can help improve your odds during slow economic times, even helping you grow your share of the pie, albeit a shrinking pie. We saw it during the COVID lockdowns. The companies that continued with their marketing efforts, but pivoted to more online tactics with fresh, relevant messaging did better than those who didn’t. Those companies grew market share and when the market bounced back, they were in a way better position than their competitors. Learn how we helped a business retain members, grow sales, and increase profit during the pandemic.

Fierce competition 

The number and strength of competitors, or as we call them “the bad guys,” can also affect marketing success. If there are many strong competitors, it can be difficult to stand out and attract customers. This is true when competitors are drastically outspending you on marketing, when their product is superior to yours, or when they are using aggressive pricing as a way to maintain market share. All of these factors can affect your marketing results. We’ve seen examples of each of them when dealing with our clients. Each requires a different marketing strategy to combat the bad guys and win in the market.

Unpredictable customers

Consumer behavior is constantly changing, which can make it difficult to predict what will appeal to customers. For example, what was popular last year may not be popular this year. Our clients are seeing a changing of the guard when it comes to their client’s buying committees. The older buyers that liked to discuss deals on the golf course or while hunting and fishing are being replaced by younger people who want to do the majority of their research online, and then finalize the deal with salespeople. This requires a very different marketing approach. You have to communicate your differentiation online where your target audience can find it. According to LinkedIn, “research says that 90 percent of the buyer’s journey may be complete before a prospect reaches out to a salesperson.”

The X Factor

In addition to these factors, marketing can also be unpredictable because it is a creative endeavor. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to marketing, and what works for one company may not work for another. Additionally, what worked last week may not work this week. This means that marketers must be constantly experimenting and trying new things to find the X-factor for their target audience. You can’t take a “set it and forget it” approach to your marketing. It’s an always on process in which ideas are tested, adapted, and optimized to best resonate with your buyers.

Marketing that makes sense of the chaos

Despite the unpredictability of marketing, there are several things that businesses can do to increase their chances of success. Here are some tips that will help you navigate the uncertainty of marketing.

Have a clear understanding of your target audience

Businesses need to know who they are trying to reach with their marketing messages to create content that will resonate with them. Voice of Customer (VOC) campaigns are a great way to look for changes in your customers’ needs and requirements. This should be done routinely, and not by your sales team. No doubt, your sales team should have great customer intimacy with your clients, but most of the time your customers will avoid telling your salesforce what is really keeping them up either because they don’t want to damage the relationship, or because they only think of your company and offerings in a certain way that precludes bigger “out of the box thinking.” Hiring a third party to ask bigger questions and dig deeper yields insights you can’t get on your own. We have engaged in numerous VOC campaigns, and we always come back with some unexpected insights for our clients.

Use data to track results

Businesses should track the results of their marketing campaigns so that they can see what is working and what is not. This information can then be used to improve future campaigns. Many times when we are working with new clients, they have insufficient marketing data to set a reliable baseline. Most of the time they are only tracking revenue. This is admittedly the ultimate scoreboard marketing should hold themselves to, but so many times the marketing team doesn’t have an accurate idea of the current deal flow, close rate, lifetime value of customers, and which tactics are generating the highest quality leads. etc. We work with our clients to set up a scoreboard that is meaningful to their growth and report on the numbers that matter most, weekly.

Be flexible and adaptable

The marketing landscape is constantly changing, so businesses need to be willing to adapt their strategies as needed. This means being open to new ideas and being willing to experiment. This is another area we see companies get stuck. So many times we see clients attending the same trade shows that repeatedly yield negative ROI, or keep repeating the same messages that don’t break through on social media. Marketing and sales teams can go through the motions using the same tactics and messaging that the rest of their competitors in their industry are using. This approach reminds me of the old Dunkin’ Donuts “Time to make the donuts” TV commercials – just getting up and doing the same thing day after day. If your marketing efforts are flat, it makes sense that your revenue growth will be flat relative to the rest of the market. This is where hiring a marketing consultant to take a look at your business can help get you out of a rut, and apply some fresh thinking.

The Final Chirp

There are no silver bullets. Only a well-orchestrated, data-driven approach to marketing can help you grow your business in unpredictable times. Following these tips, you can increase your chances of success, and that is how you know you are as “right” as you can be. If you want to talk to us about adding some predictability to your marketing efforts, we are here to help.

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