Programs, not campaigns

July 13, 2020

Many marketers think in terms of campaigns. A campaign is a one-off marketing push around a specific initiative, or idea, or theme, or product release – and it usually has a pretty specific goal to drive a certain number of conversions, or a certain amount of engagement1.

If a campaign is successful, you see an increase in interest in your brand, at least for a while. But often, most of that boost is temporary. That’s particularly true in the case of campaigns that have a significant paid component, where the exposure goes away as soon as you stop spending money.

With a few exceptions (launches), we’re not big fans of campaign-driven marketing. Instead, we urge clients to think in terms of programs, rather than campaigns. Programs are:

  • Ongoing, both in execution and in the results they provide.
  • Iterative, meaning that you’re constantly learning from the results and improving them.
  • Value-focused, meaning that you achieve marketing success by constantly increasing the value you provide to people who come into contact with you.

Why programs work

There are a few reasons programs are more reliable:

1. Data is key to effective marketing

For any program to work well, you need lots of data. Click-through rates, visits, time on site, email open rates, conversions and so on. (Ideally, we also get data about revenue, to make sure that the campaign led to increased sales.)

All of this data, particularly revenue data, can only be built over time. Which makes it really hard to learn from one-off campaigns.

2. Evergreen content rules

If you consider everything that goes into producing an asset — strategy, copy, graphics, production, and so on, it’s a significant investment. Rather than thinking about a whitepaper or a blog post as something you work on once and put away, think about your content as something you can improve over time, so you’re constantly making incremental investments in something that might already be working, rather than brand new investments in things that are untested.

And meanwhile, since most website visits come from organic search, your content can be much more effective if it has time to accumulate backlinks and traffic. One compounding post creates as much traffic as six decaying posts.

3. Iteration is key

In the days of direct mail or print ads, you had to launch a campaign, and you couldn’t change it. People still think this way about digital content. But digital allows (and requires) constant iteration and responsiveness. You can always:

  • Update an instructional post with new features of your product that support what you’re explaining in the post
  • Consolidate posts that aren’t performing well with other posts that are getting traction
  • Make adjustments to a post as you improve your knowledge of what you’re customers are looking for, and what problems you solve for them

4. The scale of modern marketing requires a systems approach

This is a little more philosophical, but: today, your content can reach billions of people. It can reach everyone on the planet! It can (and does) reach all of your target prospects, at the same time.

In order to interact with everyone at the same time, you have to create assets that don’t require lots of intervention from you in order to encourage conversion. You have to create assets that are always present, always reachable, and that stand on their own with your prospect.

If you think about your content library as a product, everything you add to it has the potential to make everything else in the library more valuable. And if it’s valuable, it’s out there, working all the time, but you have to think about your content as a system that requires constant maintenance rather than as a bunch of stuff you write.

Conclusion

In general, think of your marketing as a system for building trust with your prospects and customers. That means one-off campaigns are not what you rely on – high-quality information, consistently produced and delivered – is. And you should think about that content as a system that works together, where everything that gets added improves the value of the content library as a whole.

  1. (We at Ercule are not super-enthusiastic about using military metaphors in marketing, of which “campaign” is one, but we’ll come back to that in another post.)