Fundamentals first: Why getting your house in order should come before innovation
The advertising and media industry create amazing work every day for brands. Yet, it’s a little like your friend who goes to Las Vegas a few times a year: You only hear about the wins and celebrations. Our industry has plenty of awards for these great “Vegas nights.” But we often don’t see the struggle and dedication behind the closed doors that create "amazing." Many times, these successes are never recognized publicly. That is because there aren’t many (if any) meaningful awards for scopes of work that are focused on the core fundamentals; many are only focused on the creative output.
By "fundamentals," I am speaking of the in-the-trenches work — the market research, analytics tagging, insights reporting and tracking standards that define performance. These core fundamentals (and there are many more) allow the "amazing" to have a chance to happen.
For example, let’s focus on something as singular as tracking standards: how digital ads and website key performance indicators are organized, grouped, tagged and strategically designed to roll up to an insight or business goal. I’ve seen many times a brand that has had subpar tracking standards and, therefore, misses opportunities — or worse, double-counts KPIs. This leads to false outcomes in media measurement. In short, a campaign can seem successful when it is, in fact, just average.
These fundamentals are akin to athletics and entrepreneurship. You see the game-winning shot or the company that sold for $500 million, yet rarely do you get to see the guts of the glory or the sacrifice. You don't see the consistency and isolation of the athlete practicing, studying film and putting in the late nights, nor do you see the early mornings and shortcomings the entrepreneur has to endure and figure out in order to succeed.
Our industry does great things, but focusing on the basics is typically not one of them. By and large, that’s not attractive enough for most. But we need to get back to, and get into, loving the fundamentals. I believe we must remove our focus from “disrupting the industry” to doing things that are a bit more clean and simple, at least initially. Without doing all the little things well, innovation and great creativity are extremely hard to find. Without it, it simply becomes luck, like that of a Hail Mary in football.
So, where do you start to get your house in order? A few of these items include:
1. Commit to an intentional focus.
To do this, you must separate needs versus wants. Every football team does this at the beginning of every training camp. They start with the fundamentals: running routes, catching balls, blocking and tackling. This all leads to defining the needs of the team versus the wants of the team. A team is built around this process.
The same holds true in advertising. Take stock of your assets and the organization of these assets, and define what you have and what you don’t have.
2. Create an action plan.
Your plan could outline the next 90 days or 120 days. Just ensure it provides consistency. Take the time to develop this clearly and in a well-organized fashion. Now that you have assets accounted for and know the needs required, you can start creating a plan that organizes these needs and defines a sound execution road map.
At the end of this action plan process, you should have confidence in what you will execute in the market. Again, this will all ladder back up to business goals and KPIs. It’s critical to accomplish this in order to have the answers to the question you or others will certainly ask later.
3. Develop the strategy.
Your strategy includes content, analytics, media, search engine optimization, email, etc. There are a lot of moving parts, so give them all deeper context. This can be simultaneously created while the action plan and road map are being developed.
But rather than simply saying, “We need to develop content,” define the context and categorization of the content. Give it specific context to the customer, the brand and the industry segments in which you operate. This builds on the focus, as well as the action plan, and gives meaning to all you intend to accomplish. It also allows for others to visually understand what is happening and why.
4. Activate the plan, and see it through.
This isn’t a one-week-and-we-are-done approach. It’s every day. You’ve done all the work and heavy lifting to get to this point. This step is all about execution. This is not the time to launch, sit back and see what happens. You will be actively engaged in the launch and the daily or weekly outcomes by making tweaks to content, media, KPIs and other aspects of a campaign.
Over time, you might revisit this entire process and modify it based on learnings. Think back to middle school science class: You have an independent variable and a dependent variable in everything you do in this process. Measure them to the best of your ability. Make decisions based on those measurements, and keep running. Gameday is every day.
So, here’s the bottom line: You don’t want to approach your marketing strategy with a Hail Mary at its core. However, many brands and agencies do this, and the result of consistent success without a strong commitment to fundamentals is near impossible to find. From my perspective, most teams and creative campaigns never perform as well as they could because someone overlooked these basics.
The beautiful thing about a commitment to fundamentals is fundamentals never die; they never hide, and they are waiting for you each and every day. Improve these, and your brand can win. Without them, I believe you have only a small chance to win (or you have a lot of money to burn). That makes for a tough game.