Begin marketing plans at the STEM

Over the past few weeks, as 2015 ramps down, many marketers are deep into 2016 planning. I’ve had the chance to see many plans, large and small, from companies that are household names to companies you’ve never heard of. A fair number of those plans have the same flaws, the same lack of structure that could take a decent plan and make it great.

What structure could take a good plan and make it great? I use the acronym STEM (not to be confused with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, the educational initiative). STEM in this context means Strategy, Tactics, Execution, and Measurement:


Strategy is the why. Why are you doing this at all? What’s the goal, what are the big picture methods? For example, if your plan is about lead generation, then the why could be because pipeline growth needs to be 3x next year without spending more hard dollars. There’s a goal and a general method.

Tactics are the what. What are you going to do? What are you not going to do? As I’ve said in the past, strategy is the menu and tactics are the cookbook, so what recipes are on or off the table for consideration? Recall that time and resources limit our strategy and inform the selection of tactics. In the lead generation plan example, the what could be organic search boosting and increased email marketing, since you can contain hard dollar costs on those channels more easily than on, say, display ads.

Execution is the how. How are you going to do the things you said you’d do? How will the “what” happen? This is where you determine budget breakdowns, personnel assignments, editorial calendars, orders of operations, and all the things that make a program work. Execution is when you set up objectives, milestones, scrums, etc. In the lead generation plan example, the how would be the editorial calendar of keyword-focused content and cadence of email marketing.

Measurement tells you what happened. A measurement plan ensures that you can showcase your successes and mitigate failures quickly. Measurement means setting your KPIs and diagnostic metrics and the cadence of your measurement cycles. In our lead generation plan example, KPIs would include increased inbound links and clickthrough rates in email, since both of those numbers going to zero means the plan fails immediately.

This structure, this framework, can be used for nearly anything in marketing and business. You can make it the skeleton of your strategic business plan. You can make it the foundation for your marketing plan at a big picture level or on a campaign basis. It’s well suited for sales proposals because it cleanly answers the major questions a prospective customer will have. Feel free to use it in any part of your business!

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Gatekeepers must become curators

Storm damage

A number of industries are predicated on the idea of a gatekeeper:

  • Education is predicated on the idea of the teacher as the gatekeeper of knowledge.
  • News media is predicated on the idea of the news outlet as the gatekeeper of news.
  • Information technology is predicated on the idea of the IT department as the gatekeeper of technology.
  • Human resources is predicated on the idea of the HR professional as the gatekeeper of talent and open jobs.

There are many more examples of gatekeepers in many different industries. You can likely think of a few of your own.

Yet look carefully at your lists of gatekeepers. How have those gatekeepers been foiled?

  • Google is the gatekeeper of knowledge. No teacher can make a respectable claim that they can provide more raw knowledge.
  • Social media and new media are the gatekeepers of news, to the point where some news outlets simply read Tweets on the air.
  • BYOD and the democratization of tech and mobile have allowed people to sidestep IT and corporate security at every turn.
  • Personal and social networks allow people to network directly with hiring managers for the best jobs.

So what’s a gatekeeper to do? How do these professionals, these people, pivot in their roles to still be relevant in a space which has become highly democratized?

The answer is curation. For each democratization has brought its own troubles:

  • What knowledge is valid? The idiocracy of false science and science denial are examples of democratization gone awry.
  • How truthful is news? In an environment where anyone can report anything, lots of things are misreported or outright lied about.
  • BYOD also means bring your own viruses, your own security problems, your own lost device problems.
  • In increasingly fast pace environments, hiring managers don’t have time to read hundreds of resumes and return emails.

The curator role solves all of these dilemmas. Imagine how these professions change their roles and responsibilities when they become curators:

  • The teacher helps the student to think critically, evaluate sources, do primary research, and determine what is valid knowledge.
  • News media no longer sources the news, they validate it. They do their research to ascertain what is true news.
  • The IT department no longer dictates, but guides and enables by helping users understand their devices better.
  • Human resources aides and assists by stemming the flow of raw talent or jobs, freeing managers’ time once more.

While an interesting exercise, what does this have to do with marketing?

In case it escaped notice, marketing is democratized. Social media lets any employee or customer speak as authoritatively as we, the marketer can, and in many cases more credibly. Anyone can set up a landing page or web page in a CRM or marketing automation software. Anyone can boost a social post or run an AdWords campaign. It’s incredibly easy for someone to set up rogue marketing initiatives.

Thus, marketing and marketers cannot be, and are not, the dictators and gatekeepers of marketing any longer. We must become the curators, the influence managers, the conductors of a marketing orchestra in which we welcome everyone to play, but we cannot compel them to do so.

Are you ready to shed the mantle of marketing gatekeeper and become your brand’s marketing curator?

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The danger of hard selling during your conference presentation

Few things irritate me like a conference session that turns into a sales pitch for the presenter. I don’t mind a quick plug at the beginning or the end, or a relevant case study that shows how you accomplished something as long as I can learn from it, too. I get it; I work for a company that I promote in my talks. But when a session is just a long commercial? That’s just irritating.

Conferences have tried to handle this in the past to different degrees of success. PodCamp was founded on the BarCamp principle of the Law of Two Feet: if something isn’t working for you, just walk out. It’s a principle that has served unconferences quite well, and will continue to do so. Other conferences try to vet their speakers carefully or mandate that speakers also present with a neutral third party co-presenter. But what about being at a conference where your options are more limited, or group dynamics requires you to sit through a sales pitch?

#MPB2B Photo by Steve Hall
Photo credit: Steve Hall

The mental game I play with such sessions in order to pass the time is reverse engineering. I’ll listen to a sales pitch session carefully, taking notes not about the talk itself, but its structure, the structure of the solution. From there, I daydream how to engineer something better, how to take the solution as presented, improve it with what I know and what I can Google, and possibly make a new, better version of the product being sold.

For example, I was at a conference last year that had a disguised sales pitch session (much to the organizers’ chagrin, as they later told me, and that speaker has been disinvited to future events as a speaker). The session was about some radical new social media analytics tool. The demonstration was on the light side, as these pitches tend to be, but once you dug past the sales hyperbole (“unrivaled social tracking capabilities for only $2,500 a month!”), there was a kernel of something useful.

Once I had the basic idea of what the product did, I hit my usual development resources (like GitHub) to see if anyone else had created something similar. While no one had, there were enough pieces laying around that, with a little bit of coding glue, I was able to craft something better, something that better suited my needs, while on the plane ride home.

That was almost certainly not the intent, not the desired outcome of the sales speaker, but it’s a consequence of not speaking to the audience and serving them first. Had he instead just talked about social analytics in general, and added the customary plug at the end, I would have been far less bored and far less inspired to craft a competing product.

This is the hidden danger of a boring sales pitch to an audience that has hackers and makers in it. If your pitch is blatant and boring, you just might inspire them to make your greatest competitor.

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