Building marketing plans is a fun, albeit consuming, exercise for strategic marketers. At that stage in the partnership, it’s a lot of deep-dive research into a new client’s industry, competition, and offerings. Then we create a new growth marketing strategy and chart an exciting journey. After we deliver the plan and agree on our course of action, we build a timeline and hit the ground running.
Then we’re off to the races, right?
I’m going to level with you. It’s not always that easy.
The critical shift from plan to action is full of promise and excitement, but it’s not always an easy transition. Let me shed some light on three realities that you should know about the first year of growth marketing.
The move from growth marketing strategy to operational reality can be bumpy.
It’s no secret that plans have a funny way of going wrong. Some quotes spring to mind:
- “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” (Robert Burns, translated)
- “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” (Dwight D. Eisenhower)
- “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” (Mike Tyson)
At Marketri, we put a considerable amount of time and energy into ensuring the high-level concepts in the strategic marketing plan are fundamentally sound. However, implementation isn’t always as easy as following along and checking off the boxes.
The key to a successful first year in growth marketing is working through the nuances of implementation while maintaining a course toward the long-term goal.
Implementation will bring unforeseen hiccups, potential disappointing discoveries, and proactive adjustments. That’s why it’s important to find a marketing partner who can push through difficulty, adapt to the challenges inherent in execution, and come through the first year having built a foundation for marketing growth.
The first year is typically an investment year.
“When will we see the results?” ask the consumers of marketing services.
“It depends,” reply the providers of said marketing services (probably infuriatingly).
I sense it. You’re whiffing the cop-out aromas of that particular response. But it’s a smart reply for any strategic marketer who’s spent summers at Camp Under Promise & Over Deliver.
The fact is, a multitude of known and unknown factors drive ROI in marketing. Every company presents a unique combination of industry, service offerings, competition, budget, audience, resources, and goals. If that company is a Marketri client, we also throw in our four foundational pillars of growth marketing:
- Strategy: We need a strong strategy to be able to kickstart and drive revenue growth.
- Technology: Every company needs a specific set of technologies and tools to achieve scalable growth.
- Talent: With strategy and technology in place, the right people have to be in the right seats to execute.
- Processes: Clear and documented processes must be in place to generate and nurture leads at scale.
That alchemy of factors leads to a complicated sort of success-math that I refuse to try to illustrate in a blog. (Or even outside of a blog, as I do not like ruminating on complex, abstract math problems or being a bore at parties.)
But in the interest of setting realistic expectations, it’s smart for company leaders to think of Year One as a break-even year. You’ll put budget against strategy, technologies, talent, and processes to drive revenue generation. And given a reasonable pace of execution and a commitment to the plan, you should be able to track enough revenue through marketing effort to recoup those annual expenses.
Some companies will outperform against that break-even benchmark, and some will underperform. But on average, breaking even is a reasonable expectation. It’s Year Two when the company should expect greater ROI and expect scale.
Keep the faith—and people—as you roll into Year Two.
This funny thing happens at the end of Year One, when it’s possible to forget many of the early struggles of implementation and discount the progress of the marketing program over the last year. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The cognitive and emotional distance signals the end of early implementation and a newfound ability to drive results.
If you find yourself in such a frame of mind, be careful not to confuse it with a need to change things up. Consider the marketing program at the onset of the journey and compare it objectively with the marketing program after Year One. Are the marketing foundation and the growth pillars built? Are there trackable returns (or at least a newly built ability to track returns)? Is the strategy still sound? Does the company have the right people in place to drive revenue? Is there a clear path forward?
If the answers are “yes,” then it’s best to ride things out.
From our experience, there are intangible returns on working with a company over the course of a year that are harder to measure than revenue. These include:
- Visibility and Rapport: Part of the difficulty in implementing a growth marketing strategy is garnering the support needed from internal staff and subject matter experts. Year One can involve a lot of introductions, conversations, and identifying who is responsible for (or knowledgeable about) what. Over the course of the year, the role of the strategic marketer and the company’s commitment to the program becomes clearer. This creates an advantage in Year Two, when increased outreach occurs and the marketing function becomes more integrated across the organization.
- Knowing How Work Gets Done: It’s impossible to know the process behind building a marketing material for a company until you’ve done it. Over the course of the first year, a strategic marketer will play a role in creating many different types of materials (e.g., case studies, service sheets, blogs, infographics, social media posts). That first-hand knowledge means faster production and avoidance of pitfalls in Year Two. It also means better understanding of go-to resources and how to nudge stakeholders in the event of stalled progress.
- Operational Awareness and Shorthand: Just as strategic marketers teach their clients about marketing, clients teach strategic marketers about their businesses. From our experience, this means learning about everything from internal acronyms, service definitions, and decision makers to sales processes, budget approvals, and priorities of leadership.
- Marketing Momentum: This benefit is a bit all-of-the-above, as it relates to each of the intangibles we just reviewed. But over 12 months, the company will have put considerable effort and budget toward getting the marketing ball rolling. If the growth marketing strategy is sound, progress has been made, and there are no concerns about the strategic marketer, then pulling the plug on the strategy would be disastrous to achieving ROI. Year Two is a better time frame in which to assess the marketer’s ability to generate revenue, as it’s less buildout and more leveraging the refined marketing foundation.
As I’ve noted, it’s important that company leaders remember their long-term marketing goals and maintain realistic expectations in Year One of the growth marketing journey. Marketing programs built with focused effort, in environments with a years-from-now mindset, will perform better over the long haul.
And aren’t we in it for the long haul?
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