For most marketing organizations, not just small-to-midsize ones, time and resources are finite and scant. Despite that fact, the number of activities that need to get done generally pays no heed to the time available to do them.

Which is why it’s important to know what not to do. In fact, what you don’t do is as important as what you do.

There are several reasons for this. Firstly, being strategic is all about making choices about your actions – as Michael Porter says, the essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.

No consumer or customer ever sees your strategy, they only see your actions and activities – so spending time and effort against activities that don’t forward your brands story, address its challenges, or achieve its goals takes time away from your efforts to accomplish them, and dilutes your overall brand message. In a world where most teams don’t have the bandwidth to do everything they want to do, it’s even more critical to stop doing things that take time away from core programs and efforts.

Secondly, although most organizations begin with an overarching strategy and an annual plan, the activities and programs that are generated often happen piecemeal, in real time, and reactively (e.g. “the CEO wants us to do X”…) and are not always connected to the formal strategy. When marketing teams become more and more consumed with tactical doing, and less connected to “why” they’re doing things, they aren’t able to proceed with enough intentionality.

Finally, omni-channel marketing can increase complexity, quantity, and the cross-functionality of activation. This creates the conditions for additional pressure on teams’ finite resources.

So, it’s more and more critical that organizations find ways to control their activity. They must work towards identifying actions that aren’t connected to their strategy or must-win battles that can and should be de-prioritized so they take less effort – or be dispensed with altogether.

Here are some ways to ensure you do more by doing less:

  • Brief all assignments in order to confirm their role in your brand’s strategic goals: As I’ve written before, briefs help clarify objectives before work starts, ensuring you’ll be working toward an overall strategic goal. Without a brief, work moves forward regardless of its importance; with one, teams have an opportunity to decide not to do something (or at least put less effort against it). In the resource “zero-sum-game” we all live in, less important or un-strategic work gets in the way of teams getting to or focusing on more important initiatives.
  • Create a prioritization system to help align resources and effort with impact and/or strategic importance. Consider creating a rating system that sets an appropriate resource allocation on projects based on their strategic importance and their expected ROE – that is, return-on-effort. While it might seem a positive when teams put everything they have into every assignment – it’s actually not a good idea.
  • Ensure process and operational rules are in place to minimize inefficient work and promote simplification/repeatability. For example, identify and group similar programs and activities across marketing that are highly repeated, and create templates and playbooks for them. Starting each project with a clean piece of paper takes a lot of extra time – time that could be spent better elsewhere.

In a world where we are all asked to do more, it’s especially important to do less, too.

  • Originally published in MediaPost’s Marketing Insider 3/2/22

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