We often hear complaints about leaders from business and government “leading from behind.” Instead of getting out in front of issues and taking a proactive and preventative approach, they simply react to events.

Unfortunately, the same is often true for marketing, which should always be a strategic and proactive exercise. However, it’s not uncommon for many firms to operate in a reactive world. This approach won’t position your firm for long-term success and it’s likely impacting short-term success as well. So what does it mean for a firm to be marketing from behind? Here are a few thoughts.

Tactics and execution before strategy

It’s not at all uncommon for firms to skip past strategy and planning and jump right to tactics and execution. And while there may be sound reasons behind the tactics, there’s no true game plan for whom you’re trying to reach, what you’re trying to accomplish or how you’re going to measure success.  Marketing needs to be tied back to the business plan and aligned with the strategic goals and direction of the firm. A tactical approach is by nature reactive and shortsighted, failing to take a longer-term and bigger-picture view. On the other hand, leading firms have a clearly defined marketing objective, a path to get there and metrics to identify success and failure.

Jumping on the latest trends, not implementing best practices

Marketing as a discipline is in a constant state of change; there are always new tools, tactics and channels that grab marketers’ attention. But the latest marketing trends may or may not be worth your firm’s time and resources and may not even be relevant to your business or industry.  Instead of jumping on the latest marketing fad, leading firms identify best practices—those marketing trends that prove to be effective and investment-worthy.

Imitating the competition instead of creating a unique identity

One of the classic signs of marketing from behind is imitating the marketing of your competition as an ongoing practice. Whether it be their messaging, branding, advertising, website or content, reactive firms prefer to emulate the marketing of their competitors, rather than develop their own unique positioning in the marketplace. Leading firms are the ones whose distinctive marketing ideas are constantly being copied by the market, not the firms doing the copying.

Sacrificing long-term success for short-term savings

It may be tempting to put off needed marketing “expenses” or go the inexpensive route with a purchase or hire, but it certainly won’t produce the long-term results that today’s competitive marketplace requires. Marketing—at least the right kind of marketing—is not an expense, but rather an investment in a firm’s future success. Building the right internal team, hiring the right agency partner or financing marketing initiatives requires investment of a firm’s capital. As the adage goes, you get what you pay for. Leading firms recognize the bigger picture and are willing to sacrifice short-term savings for the long-term success of their business.

Ignoring the need for change

Change is not something that comes easily to many firms or their marketing departments. In fact, some firms are more comfortable maintaining a status quo they know isn’t optimal rather than making the changes that are necessary. It may be possible to coast along like this for a time, but eventually they will pay the price for their inaction.

Leading firms are willing to make needed changes and take a much more agile approach to their marketing efforts. Whether with people, processes or practices, leading firms recognize the need to continually assess their response to the market, and make necessary investments in anticipation of what is coming.

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Just as in leadership, marketing that is more reactive than proactive is not a recipe for sustained success. Regardless of your industry or business, marketing in today’s ever-evolving marketplace necessitates a proactive, strategic, agile approach.