The true definition of a successful marketing campaign
The word “campaign” is one of the most overused terms in marketing and has come to mean just about everything marketers do. How many times do you hear people say, “Let’s do an email campaign?”
First off, one email is an activity, not a campaign. Secondly, if you have something you need to communicate, you don’t start with the marketing channel. Choosing the channel comes after you know what you want to accomplish and with what audience.
So why has “campaign” blossomed into this catch-all term that basically means marketers are doing some work? Blame technology vendors. Most marketing technologies were created by engineers who did not hold marketing positions. They needed to call activities executed in their software product something, so “campaigns” became the term of choice. Now two decades worth of marketers use the word loosely, and it has resulted in a significant amount of bad marketing.
A true marketing campaign
A campaign is a message or set of messages to be communicated to a specific audience through a variety of communication channels in order to achieve a goal. When you build your campaign plan, you need to start with what you are trying to accomplish and who you want to reach. If you don’t know what you want to get out of the campaign and you don’t understand the audience and their needs, then it’s likely your campaign will fail. Although if you don’t have a goal, then what is failure?
In an effort to understand what a campaign is in familiar terms, we turn to politics. No, we are not going to get political in this blog, but we just want to use an upcoming presidential campaign as an illustration. A presidential campaign is basically one big, long, very expensive marketing campaign. Let’s use the upcoming 2020 campaign as a modern example. The candidates have a goal, they both want to be president of the United States. Their target audience is the American people. There are a set of messages that they want to communicate to the American people regarding issues such as healthcare, homeland security, and jobs. They both have a campaign theme. Then they will use a variety of marketing channels to push their messages and theme out to the American people. Those marketing channels include press, events, advertising, social media, direct mail, telemarketing, bumper stickers, billboards, word of mouth, etc. They have a clearly defined timeline of November 2020. They both have marketing budgets in the hundreds of millions to work with to get their word out (marketers imagine the damage we could all do with that budget). And lastly, they have a measurement of success, votes.
We’ve only included the campaign plan essentials in order to simplify the presidential campaign example above. That said, there is a lot more detail you can add to a marketing campaign plan that will organize your strategy and tactics to ensure success.
Before you start writing your campaign plan, ask yourself or your team the following five questions:
- What is the goal you are trying to accomplish?
- Who is the target audience?
- What are the messages you would like to communicate?
- What are marketing channels that would be most effective in communicating the messages?
- How do you measure success?
If you can answer these questions first, then you can test the feasibility and determine the best approach. Once you do that, you are ready to build out your campaign plan.
Commonly confused, but campaigns
Campaigns are always goals-based, but larger campaigns could satisfy multiple goals. A perfect example of this is a new product or service launch. The primary goal is to sell the new product or service. But in order to do that, you must create awareness and perception so that the buyer can make a purchasing decision. For this reason, campaigns can be multifactorial and complex.
Campaigns are a combination of marketing goals, strategy, and tactics. For example:
- Goal - lead all competitors in share of voice
- Strategy - leadership (assess the competition and invest in overperformance)
- Campaign - thought leadership (unique ideas and content that differentiates)
- Tactics - investment in a PR agency and writers to create content and create a cadence that outpaces the competition
Below are some common campaign types:
Now, someone might ask, “Where is the trade show campaign?” A trade show is a marketing channel, a place where potential customers congregate so you can reach a large target audience with your message. Marketing channels are a critical part of campaigns, but they are not campaigns. What about ad campaigns? Ads by themselves are of no value without thinking about the goals you are looking to accomplish, what you want to say in the ads, and where you are going to place the ads. Also, is advertising the only thing you plan to do? Or are there other vehicles that you plan to leverage after your target audience responds to the ads. If you are not thinking beyond the ad for your campaign, then you should go back to the drawing board.
Below is a list of channels so you can see the difference.
As you can see from the list, channels are the way to reach the target audience. They are an empty vehicle until you put messages in them and you give them a destination—the target audience. Your marketing will improve if you implement this approach.
The ultimate campaign template
To help you think through your campaign in its entirety, below is a comprehensive campaign template. Not all of these fields need to be filled out for every campaign you do, but if you are running large scale integrated campaigns, this framework should help you pull in all the detail.
Below is an example of the template filled out with a Plannuh product launch campaign.