Don’t Skimp on Strategy ...


By Mark Pinsent, Managing Director Europe, The Hoffman Agency

Breakfast: the most important meal of the day (they say). But often the easiest one to skip as a shortcut to the goal of weight loss. Too many marketers treat a proper investment in strategic development in the same way. But as skipping breakfast is only likely to make you overeat at lunch, skimping on strategy will be as counter-productive.

You know how, sometimes, you feel compelled to shout at your computer screen? If you did the research, I’m pretty sure that social media advertising would index higher than the average on the digital frustrations scale.

That was certainly the case for me this week, when presented with this promoted tweet from Nestlé UK’s cereal business:

Nestle Cereal Tweet

Firstly, I thought it was disingenuous. Secondly, as a marketer, it reminded me how often we fail to properly understand and apply marketing fundamentals.

Allow me to explain.

Nestlé’s goal isn’t to reduce sugar. That’s baloney (mixing my meals). I’m not privy to Nestlé’s business plan (though funnily enough, have done work for its cereal business in the past), but the company’s goal, in simple terms, is to sell more cereal. On that I think we can all agree. Certainly, that’s what the company’s shareholders would want its goal to be.

Which brings me onto my second point — the misuse of marketing terms, like goal, strategy and tactics.

A definition I’ve seen for goal, which I like, is “a broad primary outcome.” So, in our Nestlé example, “sell more cereal” might actually be a little simplistic. It’s probably something more like, “become the market leader in cereal sales by revenue” because that sounds, well, a bit more like commercial goals are supposed to sound. But, either way, it sure as hell isn’t “reduce sugar.”

We gotta get us a strategy

To achieve a goal, we need a strategy. In the marketing lexicon, “strategy” might be the word more incorrectly used (and overused) than any other. It’s almost as though by using the word “strategy,” you automatically become more strategic (an analysis of marketing pros’ LinkedIn profiles would support this, I’m sure).

When I was a junior agency staff member, I’d hear the word used all the time, but never have it properly explained to me. People would call themselves strategic, but it wasn’t clear how that came to fruition. People would describe a strategy, but what they then talked about seemed, at least to me, like a list of tactics.

Broadly speaking, the strategy is the “how” we’re going to achieve the goal, while the tactics are the “what” we’re going to do. But I’ll admit, even that’s not crystal clear.

Here’s a basic example. You’re in London, and you want to get to Paris. That’s your goal. Your strategy, therefore, will be to use one or a number of available transportation options to achieve the goal. Other factors will affect the ultimate mix of tactics: time, cost, convenience and specifics, such as a starting point and ultimate destination. While riding a bicycle from London to Paris is both possible and can be pleasant, if you need to be there tomorrow lunchtime, it’s not the best approach.

Gut-feel isn’t good enough

In marketing, the most effective strategies are almost always based on insight into the people you’re ultimately looking to reach and influence.

If we’re all honest with ourselves, too many marketing and communications strategies are based on assumed insight, which often manifests itself as, “my gut feel is …” or, “we’ve asked a few people in the office and …” or, “my mate’s sister works in IT and she reckons …”

I guarantee it, if you can get hold of and analyse genuine data specific to your target audience, strategies fall out like ripe apples from the tree.

So, back to Nestlé. I know for a fact — because this is what I helped them with a few years ago — that Nestlé does a ton of research into consumer attitudes, and it does it all the time. There’s little doubt that, over recent years, research will have been showing an increasing awareness and concern amongst consumers (and particularly the principal purchaser of food for the household) about the amount of sugar in processed food and its effect on health.

There will have been other factors too, such as slowing sales and government legislation forcing companies producing such foods to reduce the amount of sugar they contain.

(As an aside, and for another post, these factors can often be bucketed as political, environmental, social and technological, which is why tools such as PESTs and SWOTs are so useful in developing strategies.)

So — and this is may be what annoyed me more than anything else about Nestlé’s post — its goal isn’t to reduce sugar. It’s being forced to reduce sugar in the face of commercial pressures, consumer demand and government regulation. The strategy it has landed on in light of these issues is to try and make a virtue of the fact!

Developing a strategy can be hard, and takes time and resources. Which is why people get lazy, falling back on assumed insight and well-worn strategies that allow them to jump straight from goal to tactic (like, I dunno, advertising during the Super Bowl …).

When all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail …

Hands up here, the PR industry is as guilty as any. There’s an implicit strategy in what the PR discipline has become in many people’s eyes, this being: “Use the credibility of the press to influence the audience.”

Bit lazy, that.

If we think about a more traditional definition of PR (building relationships with the public to mutual benefit), this points to a far broader set of potential strategies. We should be taking that opportunity, and convincing our clients to apply the appropriate rigour, time and resources to strategic planning. The return in a more focused, impactful and measurable campaign will be worth it, I assure you.

But back, one final time, to Nestlé. It will be executing on its strategy through a number of marketing and communications tactics: TV advertising, point of sale, on-pack information, web-based content, media relations, public affairs, digital advertising, SEM, and, of course, social media marketing, such as promoted tweets, all highlighting its efforts in sugar reduction. That’s what a clear strategy does: it gives a focus and framework for all your creative marketing efforts. Which is bloody valuable.

But I’m not sure targeting me was the best idea. Not only did it cause me to shout at my screen, I clicked on the link three times out of spite, which will have cost Nestlé a couple of quid.

Anyway, I like eggs for breakfast. Bon appétit!


  • Daily PR Brief - Wed 08/02/17 - ITK Blog

    […] 1, 2017) Selecting the Right Celebrity Ambassador (SHIFT Communications – August 2, 2017) Don’t skimp on strategy (Ishmael’s Corner – The Hoffman Agency – August 2… Why you should seriously consider hosting a company retreat (PR Couture – August 1, 2017) […]


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