I’ve never been a fan of New Year’s resolutions. They tend to be artificial promises to ourselves that are rarely kept, either from lack of commitment or the unrealistic expectations they require to make sudden, transformative changes. The reality is that change takes time. It does require immediate action—a crucial first step—but forming habits to achieve a long-term goal is a process, not a one-time event.

As we take our initial steps into the 2020s, a new decade full of promise (we hope), business leaders everywhere are promising themselves that this will finally be the year they take marketing seriously. That means everything from adding regular content posts to their website to maintaining ad campaigns and generating greater social media engagement. Some will make the necessary investments to achieve these relatively rudimentary objectives—4 to 7 per cent of a company’s gross revenue is the widely accepted marketing expenditure target, although it’s usually much higher for consumer-facing brands such as fashion or beverage companies.

Most will start with a flurry of creativity and drop off after six months (maybe sooner) as they get busy and their attention is required elsewhere. Those that outsource marketing or have internal resources assigned to do the job will usually achieve long-term success, but that’s a discussion for another day. Because I want your focus in 2020 to not only be on ‘doing marketing,’ but doing it effectively and in a way that drives meaningful business results.
A lot of organizations—and that includes many knowledge-economy businesses and professional services firms—will write blogs or post images to Instagram or create white papers, only to become disillusioned when they decide it’s all been a seeming waste of time. Where are the new client leads? What about the sales? Nothing materializes and the initiative is scrapped.

Most fail because they forego effective strategy design and implementation in favour of creating work similar to that of their competitors who may be marketing more effectively. In other words, they engage in ‘random acts of marketing,’ as the saying in our industry goes, without putting much thought behind their endeavours. It’s easy to assume that a copycat approach will deliver some results—and sometimes it does—but those organizations that are both strategic and highly creative are the ones who are bound to glean the most substantive business benefits over those merely following the crowd.

So, let me be brief in these recommendations as we’re all still trying to emerge from our holiday daze and get organized for the year ahead:

  • Define your organization’s business objectives for the year. Maybe the goal is to build brand awareness, drive sales or position as an employer of choice. Maybe all of the above. Whatever the case, having goals is the only way to know how to develop an effective marketing strategy.
  • Design a marketing strategy that helps you achieve those business objectives. In other words, take a holistic approach and ensure that your sales and marketing strategies are intertwined and complementary. If you’re developing content, for example, think about it from your client’s perspective. What information do they need/want to know, and how are you uniquely positioned to deliver it? What can you add to the conversation that’s timely, relevant and informative?
  • Develop a sustainable plan to ensure that marketing work keeps getting done and distributed to your target audience. If senior leaders are tasked with rolling out creative, the initiative is bound to fail—not necessarily due to lack of ability, of course, but due to time pressures. They’re simply too busy to blog, tweet or, in some cases, even approve content or designs. Others will want to be involved in the process, but only at the final approval stage.
  • Think long-term. Again, this is a process, not a one-time event. You will likely not ‘go viral’ with a single Youtube video (if ever). Blogging won’t suddenly cause a stampede of new clients to your door. Effective, strategic, purposeful marketing that delivers quantifiable business benefits takes sustained effort. For professional services firms, that usually only comes over time given the often highly targeted nature of a firm’s clientele.

Expect more on this topic in the months ahead, but for now, may your strategic marketing initiatives bring your organization great success in 2020. And remember that your only resolution this year should be avoiding random acts of marketing.