Balancing inspiration and perspiration in marketing and communications

Balancing inspiration and perspiration in marketing and communications

Christian Sharp

Christian Sharp

They say that the secret of success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration – and that’s certainly true for any one campaign – but when you’re facing a new financial year and taking a more strategic view, you can’t keep sweating the same propositions over and over, expecting to achieve great results.

This is particularly tough in the marketing world where it might feel like the industry moves fast, but new developments and channels can be relatively few and far between. So, when you’re considering how to promote existing products and services, how do you choose between existing, tried-and-tested tactics and new, innovative services?

It goes without saying that the first step is to know your audience and understand your micro and macro environments, conducting proven methods like SWOT and PEST (or PESTEL) analyses to learn or re-evaluate where your company and its products sit. This understanding should influence any and all tactics and campaigns you embark upon.

But after this, you’ll still have a mountain of choice. One model we’ve often adapted for strategic planning is the Boston Matrix, which is generally used for product marketing but can nonetheless be used for more general communications and PR.

Cows, Stars, Dogs and Children

The Boston Matrix splits propositions across two axes – growth and market share.



In general, the matrix looks at products – for example, at one stage, the humble iPod was a problem child – new to the market, incapable of using USB, only working with Apple computers. But as it gained ground, it became a star performer, and then a cash cow as the market saturated.

However, we’re going to apply this grid to marketing tactics, from eDM to press releases, webinars to roundtables, as well as using emerging channels like Snapchat and Houseparty.

And of course, your first reaction might be – no doubt conditioned by looking at too many Gartner Magic Quadrants – that you don’t want to be anywhere near the ‘low market share / low market growth’ category, but it’s not necessarily a terrible thing to have some presence there. In our experience, it’s more that everything should be in the right proportions and the right mix. You don’t make a cake with just one ingredient.

So, how should marketers split their time between innovation and perspiration?

Problem Children:  It’s usually impossible to chart which tactics will grow like crazy – and everything, even social networks – started somewhere with a low market share. But problem children are risky – they smoke, drink and need firm discipline if they are to grow into mature adults. In the case of marcomms, these may include unusual channels and growth tactics like mixed reality experiments, new social networks like and Houseparty (And even, some might say, Snapchat!). However, this kind of experimentation shouldn’t take up more than 10 to 20 percent of your marcomms mix.

Star Performers: Every brand loves to have a star performer tactic, but it’s vital not to make assumptions about what constitutes one. For example, many brands have seen a resurgence of success by using ‘old’ tactics like physical direct mail. This may be relatively expensive but provides a great brand experience and great returns in select sectors like women’s fashion. However, star performers can also include areas like search marketing, because Google is ubiquitous for finding new products and services. Star performers have usually been tried and tested for a year or more, but can often be cash and effort intensive. We’d recommend that these tactics form around 30 percent of your mix – if you’re lucky enough to have some.

Cash Cows: These are your absolutely tried and tested, guaranteed tactics that reach your audience time and time again. Of course, most marketers would love to invest all their time and effort in star performers, reaching the dizzy heights of success but, in our experience, it’s simply not feasible to do so. Cash cows deliver at an acceptable cost, are comfortable, reliable – but shouldn’t be over-relied on! We usually find that half of marcomms tactics are ‘cash cows’.

Old Dogs: These are old, potentially shrinking tactics delivering smaller and smaller returns. We find that many large tradeshows fit into this bracket – they are sprawling and expensive, with little focus and almost no chance of helping your brand stand out. No more than 10 percent of your marcomms budget and time should be spent with old dogs. In fact, being completely candid, there’s only one thing to do with old dogs: hug them, thank them and let them move on to the great kennel in the sky.

So why not chart out where your marcomms tactics fit in the Boston Matrix? Be warned – if all of your tactics are cash cows and old dogs, your campaigns are probably getting old and dusty. But similarly, if you’re always focusing on innovation – laudable but inherently risky – then you’re probably not delivering enough predictable value for the board to justify your budget.

Like any department in the business, marketing must never put all its eggs in one basket, and must walk the fine tightrope of propositions and innovation if it is to be successful. Simply sitting down and waiting for success won’t get you there, and you also don’t want to be landing on the crash mat with egg on your face! So take the time to run through the matrix now, see where you are, and make a change before the new financial year starts in earnest.



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