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Sometimes, strategy just means knowing what to leave out

One of the reasons that I chose to leave the fast-paced agency life in favor of an in-house gig was the promise of getting a much deeper perspective on the business of marketing.

What I mean by that is while agency folk swear that they’re super strategic and 100% aligned with your broader business initiatives, the reality is that they must necessarily be focused on a broad number of clients and verticals. That can be a beautiful thing because it gives you tremendous perspective on how different types of business work and how that, in turn, impacts marketing strategy.

However, I remember from my last in-house stint – at CBS back in 2004-2005 – that working for a single brand requires a much deeper, integral understanding of the business and the myriad of key stakeholders that make that business go. Without that business acumen and counterpart buy-in your strategic approach to marketing for said brand is destined to fail regardless of which channel(s) you’re focused on (though in my experience, this is most evident when working with cross-functional channels like search and social).

So far, my experience at HSN has proven to be very much in line with that expectation. I’ve had to learn about all manner of brand and product assortments, from Dysons to dress shops. I’ve also had to build relationships with fellow marketing team members (digital and traditional) public relations staff, merchants, brand reps, senior execs, celebrity spokespeople, finance, legal, accounting, accounts payable, and, well, you get the picture.

And this has taught me a very valuable lesson about one of the fundamental elements of marketing strategy. Sometimes, being strategic simply means knowing what to keep in and what to leave out.

To help illustrate what I mean, I’ll pick one of the channels that I manage:

Every day (no seriously, every day) my SEO analyst identifies some interesting technical manifestation that prevents us from maximizing ROI for one of the thousands of revenue-generating keywords we manage (and that doesn’t even count that hundreds of thousands of potential revenue generating keywords that are on the back burner to a certain extent).

And every day, I must make a decision as to whether the day’s particular manifestation is worth fully exploring or should be put on that ever-growing back burner of opportunities. Mind you, it’s not that we don’t want to address every single one of these issues. It’s just that even with the help of a powerful SEO automation platform, several solid agency partners, and one of the most nimble dev staffs I’ve ever worked with we still don’t have enough bandwidth to tackle everything.

So instead, we started by writing down (and this is important, it can’t just be in your head) a fundamental strategic plan for 2012, and now it’s my job to make sure that my analysts, partners, colleagues (and myself) focus on the tactics and execution elements that will help fulfill that plan. Moreover, even though I created the plan in the first place, I often reach out to my boss for guidance and a fresh perspective, so that I can make sure that I’m on track and not veering of the path that was set several months ago.

For some of you reading this, the preceding advice will seem like a given. For others, it will seem way too rigid, bureaucratic, and for lack of a better word, corporate.

If you fall into the latter category, I implore you to take this strategic approach for a spin. You may just find that while ideas and opportunities are always abundant, the ability to properly decide which to keep and which to set aside can be a source of tremendous, measurable ROI.


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  • http://searchmarketingwisdom.com alanbleiweiss

    You’re so right Hugo. We’ve got to learn to decide when to pick our fights, which fights to pick, and when to move things to a lower priority bucket. It’s just wise business sense. Yet so many times, I’ve seen people become mired in stubborn attitudes.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for swinging by and chiming in, Alan! It’s just so hard to let things go, especially when you fill like just a little extra effort will lead to an immediate resolution. But that leads to rabbit-hole like tangents that ultimately result in straying from the primary goals that will move the needle the most.

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  • http://www.search-marketing.me.uk/ Tom C

    Awesome post Hugo. This is my first visit to your blog but I will be checking it out regularly now.

    • Anonymous

      Glad you enjoyed the post, Tom, and I look forward to interacting with you in the future!

  • http://yoyoseo.com DanaLookadoo

    WORD! In a recent 2-day strategy meeting at client site, our final takeaway was spot on to your conclusions. The Dir. of Marketing said, “Well, we just have to be realistic that given bandwidth and resources, we can’t do as much as we need or want to do.”

    So, the challenge is to decide what to leave out. Excellent post!

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for swinging by and sharing that anecdote, Dana! Good to know that seasoned pros like you can attest to the value of this mindset.

  • David DeMille

    Thanks for sharing Hugo, I really enjoy articles and discussions that address what we as Online Marketers should strive for. There are many opportunities within the Search Community for excellence, but they rarely are found within the confines of an Agency setting. Ultimately, in house Online Marketing allows for more growth, and better results.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, David! While personal experience has shown me that there is a ton of opportunity on the agency side (with the right agency and the right client, of course) I do agree that the in-house side of things seems to open up some truly fantastic possibilities.