Marketing Strategy Madness: How too Much Choice Leads to Mediocre Results

David Lazarenko

While advertising, marketing and communications have been around much longer than my 16 years in the industry, the last two decades, and especially the last five years, have quite possibly brought about more change to the discipline than the previous 90+ years combined. And while this change is made up of a myriad of things, it all boils down to choice, in that, as marketers, we have more choice now than ever before.

For those who were in marketing, and more specifically advertising, in the mid-2000s, you would have experienced the major trend of integration. While much of this trend focused on the blending of traditional with digital capabilities, it resulted in agencies providing a menu of nearly every service offering under the sun. Over the course of a decade, we went from a rather tight focus on print, radio, direct, TV and some digital, to a laundry list of choices that still includes many of these, with more and more added every year.

For agencies and clients alike, this was an amazing time of experimentation where we got to implement and try new things. Media plans got much more diverse and communications strategies were more complex than ever. We were adding new things every year and felt like we were embracing the curve because of it. We lived in the world of “AND” (lets do this and that) and were proud of it. In the spirit of diversification, it was the more the merrier.

We lived in the world of “AND” (lets do this and that) and were proud of it.

Fast-forward to today and the trend hasn’t stopped. You could argue there are now more choices added everyday than during the integration boom. The world of choice has not diminished, but unfortunately, neither has the world of “AND”. While I’ve spoken to the process of strategic decision-making and wise marketing investment in the past, the desire to focus is still being trumped by the desire to diversify. Coming from the world of “AND”, we are still in a mindset where doing more is better than doing less and we’re suffering because of it.

If you don’t believe you’ve fallen into this trap, here's a quick test you can take.

Step 1: Down the left edge of a sheet of paper, list all of the communications vehicles or mechanisms you are using.

Step 2: Across the top, write the numbers 1-10 (with 1 being Poor and 10 being Exceptional).

Step 3: Score each row based on how well you are using that vehicle. Think about the amount of time and budget you are able to commit to it (versus what should be committed to it) and the results and returns you are achieving due to your efforts.

Step 4: Determine your average.

Here’s an example of what your chart might look like:

Table with the following communication vehicles listed down the left hand side: Print Ads, Blogs, Website, Radio, Social Media, Public Relations, SEO and SEM, Digital Tools, Customer Events, Sales Collateral, TV, Direct Mail, Video Content, CRM, Email Marketing, Inbound Marketing, Tradeshows, Mobile. Each communication vehicle is scored on a scale of 1 through 10. The average score is 5.2.

How’d you do? My guess is you had some highs, some lows and a lot in between, with an overall average falling in the mid-range (4-6). While this test is far from perfect, it does shed light on the mediocrity the world of “AND” and the desire for continual diversification can lead to.

In contrast, let’s look at the world of “OR”, where we do this or that, but not both.

In today’s world of near limitless choice, focus is more critical than ever. In advertising and marketing, this means success will be achieved not by those who embrace a little bit of everything (the proverbial Jack of All Trades) but by those who can make the best, most informed strategic choices. This doesn’t mean diversification is bad or cannot be achieved; it just means diversification should be a strategic process of selecting one thing over another in an effort to find the best mix possible (not a fool’s journey to try and integrate every new option available).

Going back to the test, by strategically selecting the vehicles you believe are and will continue to be the most critical, you can not only improve your allocation of time and money, but also increase your proficiency in each (to at least a state of better than average). It’s not just about removing lower scoring vehicles, but the strategic decision to focus on and be better at those that matter most.

As an example, here's our previous list, now with a narrowed focus:

Table with the following communication vehicles listed down the left hand side: Print Ads; Blogs; Website, Public Relations, SEO/SEM, Digital Tools, Sales Collateral, Video Content, Tradeshows, Mobile. Each communication vehicle is scored on a scale of 1 through 10.The total average score has improved from 5.2 to 7.3, based on hypothetical scores for each unique communication vehicle.

If your plan and blocking chart are larger than ever, you may have fallen into the trap that more is better. Being progressive in today’s marketing environment does not mean you need to add something new everyday. It means you strategically switch out and focus more on things that elevate your overall performance. Diversification for the sake of “staying current” is a slippery slope to mediocrity and something we’ve committed to helping our clients avoid.

In his Working Wisdom series, David Lazarenko shares insights and inspiration gathered throughout his 15-year agency career. Through real-life examples and an analysis of industry trends, he offers up practical advice and actionable strategies for marketers.

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