Marketing moves fast. The onslaught of new technologies, channels, consumer patterns and cultural activity continues to be rapid and significant. If you don’t stay ahead of the marketing curve, well, you’re dead.
It’s not just our practices and perspectives that we need to rethink, rework, and sometimes even reject. The language that we use to talk about our business can also be a trap.
I hate the word “tactics.” It minimizes and underplays our work. I cringe every time I hear, “That’s the big brand idea. Now let me show you the tactics.” In this scenario, “big ideas” and “tactics” sit on opposite ends of the marketing value chain.
“Big ideas” refers to strategic, long-term ideas and experiences that help brands build meaningful relationships with people. “Tactics,” by contrast, connotes small, disposable and ephemeral executions. By labeling our ideas as “tactics,” we devalue and undersell the work even before we show it. You’re saying, “Now let me show you some small thinking.”
It’s inaccurate and outdated. This matters in an industry that must always stay in touch with current consumer and business realities. From the consumer perspective, everything is about the brand, especially in this multi-channel era of digital engagement. Why do we talk about our business in a way that ignores the consumer journey — the engagement, persuasion, participation, purchase and continuing relationship process?
I’m personally passionate about this because it’s an insult to the talented people that I work with, especially in my most recent agency experiences.
Believe it or not, “digital” ideas are still often called tactics. That is misleading. I work at an agency that integrates digital into the entire consumer relationship. I spent many years at “brand agencies,” where I was often annoyed at how we perceived “digital agencies” as tactical. I actually heard someone say once, “Let’s write the TVC and get the digital agency to do the tactics and banners.”
Unfortunately, I’ve only heard antiquated language like this to describe website experiences, apps, social media and digital products or services – all of which do not get the same level of appreciation as a film. And no, I never heard anyone call a commercial a “tactic.”
The reality is that yesterday’s so-called tactics can be today’s big ideas. Digital and technological innovations have been big drivers of change in how we market, communicate and sell. So why is digital a “tactic” when the relationships between businesses and consumers continue to be rewritten?
Let’s look at how the concept of “tactical” has changed in recent years.
- Point-of-sale and product distribution support used to be called tactical. But today, there is no longer the same hierarchy between the brand narrative and the shopping experience. The way a brand speaks and behaves must be one and the same. As Amazon and the e-commerce field have demonstrated, brands and retail are no longer neatly separated. The shopping experience has changed dramatically, and along with it the ways in which brands are perceived.
- Customer interaction is no longer an activity before or after a purchase. Chatting with a rep is not just for complaints. Because of apps and online chat, interaction figures into the purchase in real time, and the nature and human quality of the interaction become part of a brand’s identity.
Change in our business is like knocking over a line of dominos, and language is one of those pieces. It’s archaic to categorize marketing as just “brand” or “digital.” Any agency that isn’t both will soon be obsolete.
At MRM, brand and digital are at the core of everything we do. TVCs are not where we start every idea. We are never channel-led. We put people and our clients’ businesses at the center, and then develop creative platforms, solutions and experiences that bring them to life. We’re not tactical.
So we have banned the word “tactics” to describe creative ideas. Seriously. We declared this at a recent global town hall meeting and it has been embraced across 3,500 employees globally. Nobody misses the word. It’s interesting how much you gain when you remove the right things.
Have things changed since the ban? Absolutely. We think bigger. We are creating work with greater potential for end-to-end human experiences. As a result, we are creating our best work, winning new business and morale has never been better.
Words matter. So, let’s not devalue our hard work and powerful ideas anymore. Join me in rewriting the marketing vocabulary. Cut the word “tactics” from your vernacular. We have the unlimited potential to grow business and make the world a better place.
But we can only succeed if we are not “tactical.”
Ronald Ng is global chief creative officer at MRM.