Do not be fooled by my accolades! I wingwalked at 700 feet, co-piloted the Goodyear Blimp, swam with sharks, AND managed to obtain paperwork declaring me legally sane - all while racking up national acclaim in publishing, editing, writing and photography.

A friend of mine who has been having real issues with his marketing program asked me if I could figure out what was going on. To make matters worse, his problem wasn’t obvious: Solid product, catchy creative, multi-channel message that includes radio, print, Internet and social marketing. Despite excellent effort from each stakeholder, there is a clear and obvious disconnect, and it has been dragging down the whole program.

The problem, he told me, is that his team doesn’t see the problem.

(Given my love of football and my penchant for analogies, fate would dictate a collision course sooner or later. I love playing Monday Morning Quarterback. All the thrill of victory with none of the bruises.)

I suggested to my pal that a marketing program is like a football game. You’re on the one-yard-line, and you measure success in terms of first-downs (benchmarks achieved). Your program is a success when you score a touchdown. (Duh, right?) The playbook is your strategy. Each play is a tactic. Each team member has a specific job to do in the execution of each play. (I like my analogies simple.)

Using this framework, I then suggested to my friend that he examine the plays being called. While I’m sure the radio spot was memorable, did it support the overall strategy? Would a newspaper ad have moved the ball toward the goal line more effectively?

My friend’s program (his playbook) is chock full of great ideas (big plays). But calling a hail Mary pass on 3rd and inches makes no more sense than a QB sneak on 4th and 12. Neither has the best chance of moving the ball forward. In fact, in both cases, the probable outcome is a punt. (Rather than stretch the analogy to the breaking point, let’s just say that punting, in marketing terms, is not something to which we aspire.)

Often, newcomers to the game will take a “ready fire aim” approach, calling plays as their mood dictates, relying on their skill and flexibility to razzle-dazzle the defense and move the ball forward one lucky break at a time. Nearly as often, experienced pros will design creative gadget plays only to unveil them (read: waste them) at inappropriate times.

While we can’t always follow our script more than a few plays into the game -- life has a funny way of surprising us -- we need to keep our eye on the goal. We must be sure to call each play not because it looks good on paper, or has a nice ring to it, but because it has the best chance of gaining the most ground.

Sometimes -- often, really -- that means shelving your favorite ideas until the time is ripe to use them.

In my buddy’s situation, he was right. Because his team didn’t recognize the situation, they were in fact making bad calls. In the game analogy, their misfires were keeping their QB pinned deep, leaving no alternative BUT the hail-Mary plays, which worked just enough to give them hope in their “strategy.” (It never ceases to amaze me how those key interceptions are ignored!)

I recommended to my buddy that he and his team take a bird’s-eye view of the game (study the film, if you will) and ignore the big lucky plays. Instead, I suggested that he focus on the tactics that forced them into big-play situations in the first place.

OK, setting the analogy aside, I asked my pal to look specifically at his marketing spend, on a platform-by-platform basis. When real dollars are on the table, this very much becomes an either/or situation, and making a good decision tomorrow means understanding yesterday’s bad one.

Was the full-page metro ad the right call when four quarter-page community ads would have provided targeted visibility at a fraction of the cost? Was every marketing effort cross-supported with web and social? Speaking of web - was the site’s landing page fully search-optimized BEFORE spending cash on Google ads?

In retail marketing, the only thing that matters is ROE - your Return On Effort. Whether the goal is reaction, likes, sign-ups or warm bodies in the shop, you have to measure the result against the effort and know if your goal was met. Otherwise, you’re stuck making wild throws and praying really hard that your receiver is the one who makes the catch. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

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