Why mindset matters for SME digital marketing

Sponsored post by Steve Brennan, CEO, Bespoke

Over two decades I have worked with more than 1,000 SME business owners, marketing directors and marketing managers to help organise their digital strategies. In that time, as explained in my book, Build Your Marketing Strategy: The Mindsets and Methods of Businesses that Dominate their Sector Online, I noticed five mindsets amongst the people we meet. Realising which best describes their business’s approach often seems to be a lightbulb moment for in-house marketers, and one that helps them recognise changes they want to make.

The Lottery Mindset

The Lottery Mindset is all about wanting to be in the game: You can’t win if you don’t have a ticket, right? We meet a lot of people who have literally tried every marketing tactic they’ve heard about, who are frequently changing direction, without mastering any channel or any tactic. Where marketing is concerned, they have shiny object syndrome.

When we started our digital agency back in 2001, almost everybody who contacted us had a Lottery Mindset. We’d expect them to, because simply having their business visible online was a step in the right direction and, essentially, everyone has to start somewhere.

But today, almost two decades later, many still present this mentality. They want to spend some money on X or Y because they’ve heard it’s going to be big, or because they’ve heard somebody else is doing it. Equally, they are closed to certain digital tactics because they didn’t work once before, or because they’ve heard somebody say they don’t work. Lottery Mindsets are about rolling the dice and taking some risks to have a chance of winning.

Sometimes those with the Lottery Mindset get lucky and win for a while but more strategic approaches always outperform them in the end, and they inevitably end up seeking a more structured approach.

The Agency Mindset

When a business’s first attempts at digital marketing fail to deliver and its owners see others gaining ground their first reaction is to look around for help. Common ports of call are local digital agencies that appear in web searches for ‘websites’, ‘digital marketing’, ‘SEO company’ and so on. This is often a leap of faith and most businesses don’t get their first agency appointment right and many take several attempts to find the right agency partner.

But the Agency Mindset feels like a step up because it at least provides the possibility of good outcomes for a period of time, and it means there has been some acceptance that digital is important to the business. On appointing an agency, there is often a feelgood factor and optimism about what can be achieved. There may even be monthly visits to the agency’s smart offices and that feels good for a while too.

The problem with the Agency Mindset is businesses often choose a poorly-matched agency, or don’t know how to engage with the agency effectively. They see the agency as a supplier that should just deliver rather than a partner that should be integrated into their business.

This approach often leads to disappointment, and losing faith in the agency approach, so a different approach is sought.

The DIY Mindset

As a business accumulates understanding about digital marketing as it works with agencies, contractors and freelancers, and as it hears about new developments in digital, the business often asks: ‘Shouldn’t we just hire somebody and do all this in house?’ This is the DIY mindset.

But many businesses don’t have the experience to hire, train, organise or retain the best digital marketers internally, and often the best digital marketers don’t normally want to work in smaller digital teams. So the DIY Mindset often doesn’t result in an immediate uplift in success because the spread of skills and cross-sector experience an agency brings is replaced with a narrower internal skillset. The energy also switches around – external suppliers are always motivated by contract renewals but internal staff are not.

Building internal teams is often a steep learning curve and takes a few attempts to get right. Though that process is often costly, it certainly helps a business to move closer to understanding what a thorough and balanced long-term approach to digital marketing looks like.

The Strategy Mindset

The Strategy Mindset is the structured approach where a business’s approach to digital marketing has matured. The first step in the Strategy Mindset is to assess:

• what is the most important goal of the marketing?

• who is the ideal customer?

• what is the value proposition?

• are the right digital assets in place to support the marketing?

• what are the key tactics (and which can we stop)?

A key indicator of a business with the Strategy Mindset is that the digital strategy is published in the same way as the broader business plan. The business knows who needs to be around the table each month when results are reported and tactics are reviewed. Goals are common to internal and external stakeholders, all of whom are experts in their area, and there is eye-to-eye accountability. Leadership and ownership are clear, and all parties working for the business are fully invested in nurturing strong long-term relationships, with deep sector and product knowledge.

The Mastery Mindset

There is a fifth and final mindset that is a level beyond the Strategy Mindset and can only be accessed by those who’ve practised the Strategy Mindset for some years. It’s called the ‘Mastery Mindset ’and fewer than one in ten marketers we meet through our digital agency work have it.

The Mastery Mindset occurs when the Strategy Mindset is so embedded in a business that it has become second nature. The digital team achieves predictable success almost on autopilot – there is unconscious competence. The business knows how to run different types of campaign, even for a new product or service, and can report back to senior management with near-certainty on what results will be possible for whatever the future marketing objectives happen to be.

In organisations with a Mastery Mindset, the weekly activity is about keeping skills up to date by following training programmes, attending events, planning new campaigns or hiring in specific expertise to help in areas where a skills or resource need is identified or predicted. Leaders of teams with a Mastery Mindset are invited to speak at events or train others. They’re respected in their field.

The best digital marketers aspire to work for businesses with a Mastery Mindset because it provides a chance to learn best practice first hand, and they can more easily contribute to the success of the organisation and they can progress their own careers as a result. A business of any size can achieve the Mastery Mindset in-time but it can only do so once it has practised the Strategy Mindset successfully for some years.

The first step in moving towards the Strategy Mindset is to recognise how your marketing operates currently. Which of the five mindsets best describes your current approach?

More on Bespoke here