Marketing: Focus LESS on campaigns, MORE on adding real value

“I don’t have time for that! We’re launching a new marketing campaign this week”. I’ve worked in a bunch of different marketing departments and capacities at companies in different industries and verticals, and I’ve always seen — especially from middle managers in marketing — a hyper-focus on “campaigns,” and especially “campaign launches” or “rollouts.” It’s always funny to me, because it seems like there’s a lot of attention paid to a campaign up until about the 25th hour it’s out in the world, and then everyone rushes around getting organized for the next campaign. I feel like this is misguided!

Logically, why do we focus so much on campaigns in marketing?

I’d argue there are two basic reasons:

  • Campaigns are controllable events with specific goals and deliverables
  • We’ve been taught about marketing in terms of campaigns

In terms of the first bullet point, it’s very similar to the confusion people have at jobs about products and processes vs. people. Most of your co-workers (and especially your superiors) will tend to over-focus on the value of products and processes, because those are sacrosanct to most in an office. “People,” i.e. “talent strategy,” tends to be a lip-service concept.

In terms of the second bullet point, many people working in marketing have ‘come up’ as professionals deifying stuff like this:

Don’t even get me started on how this muddies the water between ‘marketing’ and ‘advertising’ — I’ve written about that before as well.

What’s the danger of an over-focus on campaigns?

This is a major thing that people miss. They tend to think of ‘campaigns’ almost only in terms of the creative, i.e. the copy, the designs, the branding, etc. Most research has showed that ‘great campaigns’ are tied to business results, though — not ‘great creative.’ 

That’s only logical: if you see a beautiful thing and you click it, then say “Oh, that’s beautiful!” and go somewhere else? Well, I’m sure we can record that as a ‘branding impression,’ but it does nothing for ‘business results.’ It’s the same way we think ‘likes’ matter, when a ‘like’ on Facebook is pretty much the most passive thing people do in their modern existence.

The problem here is that, when we focus too much on ‘campaigns,’ we’re focusing too much on ‘branding,’ and that concept is legitimately in decline.

We need to be thinking of marketing less as event-to-event ‘campaigns’ and more about ‘what would benefit the customer here,’ because the value of a product/service for the customer is everything these days.

When we focus on campaigns, we narrowly focus and spend a lot of time in meetings discussing the positioning of a logo on a PDF. That’s why when we talk about ‘branding,’ what we really need to re-brand is the whole concept of ‘brand.’ In short? Your ‘brand’ isn’t a bunch of logos and guidelines on a CMO’s hard drive. Your ‘brand’ is the value customers/clients see in you.

‘Campaigns’ gloss that over by turning the whole thing into a series of ‘check-this-box’ deliverables, which moves marketing away from driving value externally and towards attempting to prove the validity of everyone on marketing’s payroll internally.

That’s bad.

How can we fix this over-focus on marketing campaigns?

It’s hard, because you’re talking about changing the psychology of how a marketing department works and what its leader focuses on. Here are a couple of quick concepts, though:

The most basic thing, though, is having a hyper-focus on what your customers and clients actually want or need. “The Era of Customer-First!” It’s probably going to be terrible for employees because execs will totally ignore them and focus on potential ‘whale’ clients, but this is the flow you need to understand. No matter how important you believe your job to be, it all fits together like this:

  • Marketing exists to drive sales
  • Sales exists to provide revenue
  • People at the top of an org are mostly chasing revenue and growth

As such, all that really matters about marketing is its ability to drive sales, not its beauty or how dynamic a campaign is. None of that matters when you’re looking for a new job because your company didn’t have revenue to pay you. The focus of marketing departments essentially needs to be:

  • Explaining the value prop
  • Finding ways to turn the nuts-and-bolts crap all companies do into a story
  • Finding ways to target those who need the information
  • (Not just sending the same shit to everyone)
  • Finding ways to work well, and support/contextualize, those who do sales

You can think of all this in terms of ‘campaigns’ if you want, but that tends to get people bogged down in design details. What really matters is value back to the customer and customer understanding of that value. That drives sales, and that drives you to continued employment. Right?

Am I missing aspects here?


My name’s Ted Bauer; I blog here regularly and you can learn about hiring me for freelance and contract gigs as well. You can also subscribe to my newsletter.


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