Pump the Brakes! How to Avoid ‘Check-the-Box’ Marketing

A lot of brands today are doing what I call “check-the-box marketing.” They say to themselves, “We need to be on Snapchat. We need to be on Meerkat. We need predictive marketing. We need connected tech and an app.” They get caught up in wanting to be involved in every new tool or concept they hear about so they can “check the box” that yes, they’ve got that one.

Sometimes brands get so drawn to the shiny and new they forget to think about who their audience is right now and — more importantly — who their audience will be tomorrow. They’re not thinking deeply enough about their customers’ wants and needs. They’re grabbing onto social media platforms or other marketing tools without any real strategy or purpose to guide them.

Consider Apple, arguably the number one brand in the world but, when you look closely, one of the least social. You won’t find any links to social feeds on their homepage, and you cannot reach Apple customer support on a social platform. But they’ve been doing just fine in a retail world surrounded by social commerce.

Yet, many companies approach creative agencies like mine with a punch list of digital marketing tactics they want to check off. They’re trying to do 20 things without any real focus, lucky to move one step ahead with each one, when they’d better off moving a mile with one initiative.

Checking Off Boxes Ticks Off Customers

I’m a big believer in the potential of all those tools and I’m in recovery from shiny new object syndrome myself.

When the deployment of new tools is under planned or poorly managed, the effort isn’t just unsuccessful. It does more harm than good. Sometimes you go on a company website to see, “Join us on . . .” followed by a plethora of social media buttons, but if you follow any of those links, you arrive at a ghost town, risking the integrity and authenticity of their brand.

Or worse, customers can’t tell that the brand’s social account is a ghost town and they start asking questions that never get any response.

One of my favorite check-the-box blunders is how brands use QR codes on in-store signage. As an obsessed marketer, I’m one of the few people who actually use and test QR codes wherever I find them. More often than not, they take me down a long road leading to a pretty small house — either an underwhelming site that adds no value, or a non-mobile site. Encouraging people in your store to use their phones to go to a site that isn’t optimized for mobile isn’t really thinking about your customer. It’s checking things off a list.

When brands cut corners in their marketing, somebody has to bear that cost, and in most cases, the consumer bears the cost in the form of a worse experience with more frustration and friction. And with the many choices consumers have today, you can’t count on them to stick around when they’re not satisfied.

Starting With “Why” and Dropping the #FOMO

One of my biggest inspirations professionally is Simon Sinek, the author of the book Start With Why and of a famous TED Talk with the same title. He challenges us to think about the purpose, idea, or belief at the core of what we want to do.

Starting with why is something brands and marketers really need to be disciplined about, especially when it comes to digital marketing. Why is Twitter important to my business? Are customers on there? Why would your customers want to download a native app? Will that align with something meaningful at your company’s core?

The #FOMO (fear of missing out) is a powerful force in a fast-evolving business climate with shiny new tools emerging every day. But responding to the fear of missing out is like starting with what rather than why, and it can drive you to check-the-box marketing tactics with no real strategy behind them.

If You Buy It, Be Ready to Use It

Another check-the-box behavior I see is when companies acquire expensive digital marketing software platforms. For instance, based on the goals defined we’ll often recommend a particular data analytics tool or business/marketing automation platform when they can benefit from it. But I warn them to budget time to learn and implement the tool internally. If they don’t train their people how to use it effectively, then they are checking off items on a shopping list rather than being strategic.

Rather than allowing themselves to be lured by the latest new platform, businesses need to stop and ask why they need the tool. And once they know the why, they can ask what and how. What digital marketing tools will help us connect with our customers’ needs and passions? How will using this tool effectively make a difference for my customers?

Pump the Brakes

Rather than just checking the box, sometimes marketers need to pump the breaks so they can wait until a new tool can be implemented properly, or something better suited comes along. The biggest mistake they make is trying to become a “me-too” brand. They think they have to do something, but they’re not aware of the time and financial investments required to do it right until it’s too late.

I understand that’s not necessarily what an executive or brand manager wants to hear. They’ve got board members and investors to answer to who may want to see the boxes checked off.

But we’re not paid to tell people what they want to hear, we’re paid to deliver results.

If your creative agency isn’t helping you connect digital marketing tools with your business strategy, then they’re not helping garner the KPIs you’re after.

So when you are thinking about a new opportunity in digital marketing — or when your creative agency is recommending one — remember to ask yourself why. Break down the impulse piece by piece until you get to the core of your business and it makes sense for your customers.

Originally published at blog.hubspot.com.