6 Reasons “No” Will Save Your Marketing Strategy

We live in a culture of YES. Positive reinforcement abounds. Grade school kids get awards simply for participating. Everyone is special. Encouragement is great, don’t get me wrong. Accolades are a big part of what motivates us in life.

In the business world, however, this can translate into dangerous decision making. Fear of killing creativity, squelching ambition, and being perceived as an office meanie has caused countless managers to green light projects that never should have seen the light of day.

NO can be incredibly powerful and effective as a means to pause—to force everyone involved to stop, evaluate, and ensure all the pieces are in place. Here are just 6 situations in which NO will help you run a successful marketing campaign.

1. No goal, no go

This might seem obvious, but it’s amazing how many projects fail because the parties involved have different understandings of what success looks like. Consider a conversation like this one:

Client: We want more traffic.
Account Strategist: Great! How much? And in what time frame?
Client: Well… I dunno… my VP just says she wants to see more.

Yup, it happens more often than I’d like. But herein lies a great opportunity. As the project lead, it’s your responsibility to ask the direct questions and get direct answers.

What kind of traffic? What kind of visitors? What do you want them to do once they arrive?

Bottom line: Until all the key stakeholders of a marketing project agree on its Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), do NOT give it a green light. As a bonus, your team will recognize your leadership and respect you for demanding clarity.

2. Your goals are not supported by user behavior

Say you sell kitchen knives and you’re embarking on an SEO effort to increase organic traffic to your website. Getting more search traffic seems simple enough—rank well for “kitchen knives” and related terms. But you completely ignore the most highly searched phrase in the category: “cutlery.”

Chart of Cutlery Search Volume

Instead of saying NO or asking for supporting data, like the above from Google’s Keyword Tool, your web manager changes all instances of “cutlery” on the site to “kitchen knives.”

Instead of the millions of searches you thought you’d garner, you are suddenly cut down to thousands. Ouch.

Bottom line: Do the research before you start an SEO effort and build your plan of action based on the data. If people on your team are making decisions based on their “gut” or “common sense,” put on the brakes and demand a review of available data sources.

3. Your team is chasing shiny objects

Your plan is set. You’ve got a budget and individual tactics lined up and in motion. And then your CFO forwards you an article about how a competitor acquired 10,000 Facebook followers by giving away free stuff. “We gotta do that too,” he says. “Get with the product team and figure out what we have in excess inventory that no one will miss.”


Say YES, and your marketing resources will be diverted into chasing the new project. Here’s what could happen:

  • Your previously stellar, high ROI PPC campaigns sputter out. Revenue gone.
  • Your creative team is tied up making a shiny app for your Facebook page, so, alas, your lead-nurturing emails are nurturing no more.
  • In the weeks that follow, you watch your sales drop off precipitously, despite leading into a seasonally strong time of year.

Say NO, and you can keep doing what’s working, while establishing a timeline for testing Facebook campaigns for increased social engagement, search visibility improvement, and potential lead generation. Because those are all excellent goals. But not at the expense of your core marketing tactics.

Bottom line: Red herrings are everywhere. Beware. And don’t be afraid to manage up. Your boss wants to hear you say NO when it means you’ll make more money for his business.

4. You can’t measure your efforts

Over the last several years, you’ve seen solid—not amazing, but steady—growth with a diversified Internet marketing campaign. Your PPC campaigns are driving a positive ROI. Your organic traffic has doubled in the last year.

But your CMO thinks the online space is tapped out. He is convinced that a billboard campaign in your five biggest markets is going to be your company’s saving grace this year. So you pause PPC, allow SEO and content to stagnate, and buy up all that highway signage.

You’ve probably figured out where I’m going with this. Billboards are great for branding and getting a message out to the legions of distracted, texting, cell-phone-yammering, yelling-at-the-kids-in-the-back-seat road warriors. They’re not great for measuring ROI.

Bottom line: Never put your eggs in one basket. Or into a black box even. So many cliché expressions apply here. High spend and no way to measure results? Just say no.

5. There are too many cooks in the kitchen

You’ve been there—a giant conference room with an appropriately giant conference table and 17 people seated around it. Marketing is there. Creative services is there. IT is there. The guy from accounting is there (what’s his name again?). Don’t forget about the intern (aka your boss’ nephew) your boss forced you to hire. The meeting’s topic: the name for your upcoming Pinterest promotion.

Oh, how I wish this was an exaggeration.

Committee-based decision making has its time and place. It’s often essential when creating a long-term roadmap or discussing a major strategic shift. It’s how you ensure the right goals are set (see #1 above) and get buy-in from your team. But in marketing, it very rarely makes sense to have representatives from multiple departments providing input on tactical decisions.

Bottom line: Everyone’s opinion does not count equally. Identify task owners and give them the authority to make (informed) autonomous decisions.

6. There’s no long view

Your CFO wanders into your office and demands to know why you’re spending $100,000 on SEO over the next year. The work started two months ago and the result? Minimal growth. “Why aren’t we spending more on PPC?” she wonders. “It’s much more scalable.”

Oh boy.

You could easily agree to the change. SEO isn’t reaping benefits now. In the short term, you’ll almost certainly make more money on PPC.

But she’s dead wrong. PPC doesn’t scale the way SEO does. Even with optimally-structured campaigns and ad groups and quality scores in the 8s and 9s, you’ll still pay for each and every click. And you’re playing in a much smaller universe. One August 2012 study claims that an astounding 94% of UK searchers click on organic results. At Portent, we subscribe to a 75/25 split on organic vs. paid. So, conservatively, if you’re focused on the short term and investing more time and money into PPC, you’re only competing for 25% of potential search volume. Yikes!

Bottom line: Don’t let the fear of losing in the short term get in the way of long-term success. Just ask any Red Sox fan and they’ll tell you waiting 86 years for a World Series title was painful, but sooooo worth it. Of course, your SEO campaign won’t take quite that long to bear fruit.

When it comes down to it, we all want to see our projects succeed. And that can be so much more rewarding than temporarily placating those around us through misguided agreement. When have you said NO and lived to tell your tale of achievement? Tell me all about it in the comments below!

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  1. Hey Aviva,
    Thanks for the insights. SEO’s have a tough time convincing upper-management to get on the SEO band-wagon because of the delayed results. When you’re flush out of money, I bet your boss will consider SEO more often.

    1. Hey Michael – glad you enjoyed the post! And I imagine you’re right, though SEO does present a cost, even if it’s just resource based. My point is more about having a well-researched plan and the patience to see it through. Where things often get derailed is in losing that patience in favor of a quick win.

  2. Well said! The hardest problem I’m dealing with our SEO company is keeping the focus and not running off when they see a shiny object. This article was very refreshing 🙂

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