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How Often Should I Change my Marketing Strategy?

This is a question I get asked a lot. People often get twitchy when things don’t seem to be working and they want to know when the right time is to make changes. There is a very simple answer. But to really believe in it you need to believe in what you’re doing first.

First things first: the biggest problem that most people have is that they don’t understand the difference between a strategy and a plan. At its simplest level, a strategy is what you want to achieve, and a plan is how you’re going to achieve it.

But then don’t get confused with strategy and objectives. A strategy is devised to help you reach objectives. I once heard strategy referred to as a blueprint and I thought this was brilliant.

One of the best examples I’ve ever been given is comparing a strategy to a destination. Your aim is to travel from one place to another. I suppose that’s what we do with growing businesses. Your destination will never change, but how you’re going to get there might have to if you keep hitting obstacles and closed roads. So your strategy or destination stays the same, but the plan or journey might need some rethinking as you go along.

When you think of it like this, the answer to the original question is simple. You change your strategy when you’ve achieved what you set out to. If you keep changing your mind on what you want to achieve, you’ll never achieve anything. Just as if you set out on a specific journey and kept changing your destination, you’d never actually arrive anywhere.

How Long Should a Strategy Take to Achieve?

The short answer is about five years, on average.

You might be thinking now that seems like a long time. Let’s look at the long answer to explain.

A strategy is a long game. It’s not something you should be achieving quickly. If you are then you’re not thinking about it in the right way. When you’ve achieved your strategy, your business should be in a different place to where it began. You should have made a difference. That’s not a quick fix.

One of my favourite examples ever of really good marketing is from Xero. You can read the full case study here. Xero set out to challenge the perception that accounting is boring, tedious and painful. They were selling to business owners who didn’t like accounting. There’s a massive market for this and they had a good product. But they were selling to business owners who aren’t interested in accounting, and that also means their customers had no desire to spend time reviewing new software. They were using Sage or QuickBooks and that was that. It did a job they didn’t like, so why bother any more with it?

What Xero did was amazing. They really did their research, they understood their market, and they tackled it all with emotion, something that is vastly underutilised in business to business marketing. If you’ve got 30 seconds to spare, I’d highly recommend checking out their advert. It’s short, effective, memorable and sends out a very clear message. What’s not to love?

Xero is now worth several billion dollars. But it began in 2006 and it’s taken its time to get there. Its owners recognised that accounting software needed updating. They knew from the start what they were doing and they stuck at it.

Another similar example is BrewDog. They wanted to transform beer from the traditional boring brands that were dominating the market. They wanted to shake things up and do something different, and they’ve certainly been controversial at times. But it’s really worked for them. However, yet again, it wasn’t an instant win. They began in 2007 and went on a journey to find success, never straying away from the foundations of the company and the mission to create something different. It was this long term focus and dedication to their brand thinking that has given them the success they’ve achieved.

If either of these companies hadn’t done their research, hadn’t honed their product and hadn’t stuck to their guns, they wouldn’t have been successful. It takes time for people to get to know you, understand what you do and make the change from what they’re currently doing. The more you persevere, the most people hear about you, and the more consistent and persistent you are, the better the outcome will be. But you can’t possibly do all that in a few weeks or months. Real success takes years.

That’s why a strategy should be about long term sustainable growth. Xero and BrewDog could have tried some quick snappy things to make a few quick spurts of sales, but they didn’t. Instead their hard work and long term focus has made them some of the most successful starts ups of the 21st century. You can’t cheat that.

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