True Marketing Strategy: We’re Consultants, Not Tacticians

If you asked me to start a restaurant and I’m a pub specialist, guess what? I’ll immediately start looking for local craft microbrews, expensive food, and a repurposed old building. If you’re a “grown up” businessperson, my tactical pub approach probably raises a red flag. Why?

You’d want me to backtrack. Where is the restaurant located? What kinds of potential customers live nearby? What’s the market opportunity? Could it involve possibilities other than pubs?

Those questions come from a consultant mindset. But we’re not thinking like consultants when email marketing agencies see every problem as needing an email marketing solution; or paid search agencies think every problem can be solved with paid search. And for organizations that hire these agencies to solve actual business problems, it’s frustrating as hell.

That’s why it’s important for marketing agencies to think strategically first.

How? The key way to evolve our roles as marketing agencies is to serve as business consultants. What does that mean?

  • We need to analyze an organization’s marketing challenges holistically—first. That means not necessarily selling your own services out of the gate and sometimes making recommendations that go against what you offer.

  • We need to talk business, not tactics. Is your marketing agency asking questions about margins on product sales? Details about the average customer lifecycle? Or are you sticking with tactical questions that don’t get to the heart of a business problem?

  • We need to make specific recommendations that directly impact business goals and the bottom line. In other words, what best drives sales, optimizes conversions, and increases operational efficiencies?

Long ago, I heard Robert Scoble tell a story about working in a camera shop. He often sent customers to other camera shops when he couldn’t offer a customer the best solution. That seems like the worst sales and marketing strategy ever. But guess what? His customers kept coming back—and yes, they bought from Robert Scoble’s camera shop. A lot. More than even his competitors where he often sent them.

Similarly, we get the big strategic questions from clients about major business decisions related to marketing—even when these companies work with dozens of other marketing agencies. Why do we get those calls? Because they see us as the experts—the business consultants who happens to be marketing specialists—who look at marketing holistically like a businessperson.

This is what a marketing agency is supposed to do. And we challenge our industry to start acting like consultants. We need to up our game. Get rid of your fear about selling a specialized service and start asking the questions no one else asks.

It’s okay to remain tactical marketers—as long as you’re upfront about it. But if you bill yourself as a true strategic marketing agency, you need to aim higher.