I’ve been in more situations than I can count where a company does far too little in the way of proactive marketing and far too much reactive marketing. The difference between the two is fundamental.
Proactive marketing is marketing where the outgoing message is controlled by your own company. “But aren’t all outgoing marketing messages controlled by the company?” you might ask.
Unfortunately in most business-to-business environments, marketing strategies and their inter-related advertising messages are actually driven by their competition, making for reactive marketing, which necessarily guarantees a marketing message that is both late to market and no longer relevant to the conversation.
I once had a software client who, upon looking at a creative presentation that involved bees and a beehive, commented that her competitors were sure to joke that the product had ‘bugs’. She was more concerned about possible sarcastic comments from competitors than articulating a clear message in her ads – as if the campaign – even a ‘killer campaign’ – would stop competitors from saying things that were, well, competitive. In Marcom, this is also seen in the rationale to participate in industry events, where companies continue to invest money with declining returns just to ‘be present’, or ‘support the industry’. Often this is further complicated by ever-increasing investments in clever and complex booth themes, as if the Griswolds from the movie Christmas Vacation were event planners.
Yet while marcom is most obvious, sometimes the reactive approach encroaches in ways far less obvious. Strategically, it happens when companies look at a competitor’s recent success in product, promotion, or distribution and attempt to copy it outright, opting for guaranteed also-ran status instead of taking chances to find niche differentiation.
The reactive element is often even more insidious than marcom or strategy. Often it is organizational. Many companies do little to discourage employees from entering into a habit of self-effacing navel-gazing, lamenting their opinion that the company is the least among competitors; and yet, whenever a hire is made from another company, it is surprisingly discovered that the other firm deals with the same issues. Proper leadership stems the natural tendency toward corporate self-flagellation and encourages morale and confidence – in employees, customers, and investors.
Competitive actions are part of the environment in which your marketing must operate, not the sole driver for its strategic direction. Other considerations, including, importantly, customer needs, are the real drivers. Anticipating these needs, then marketing to them proactively and confidently will always make you the lead dog. And as the bumper sticker slogan says, “If you aren’t the lead dog, the view never changes.”