Old Way or New Way “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” is perhaps the worst justification for investment in a marketing tactic, yet it’s one that I bet the vast majority of marketing professionals have used before (although maybe not out loud). Whether it’s an annual trade show, a recurring media buy or a process for launching new products to the public — it’s easy to fall into the trap of simply doing what has worked in the past. Change isn’t easy, but by being complacent, your company runs the risk of falling behind the competition. But fear not, 12-year-old me can help you adapt.

There are four essential steps you should take when evaluating whether your past marketing efforts are still appropriate for today’s business. Start with some self-reflection and questioning:
1. Look in the mirror.
2. “What am I trying to achieve?”
3. “How have things changed?”
4. “What are the consequences?”

To best demonstrate the necessity of being adaptable, let’s imagine what I would be like — present day, at age 32 — if I were still doing things the way I did them at age 12.

1. Look in the mirror.
Hypothetical present day, I look in the mirror. Nothing has changed since 1995. I still sleep on the couch in my dad’s basement. I bleach my hair blonde. I shop in the “big and tall” section for OshKosh carpenter pants with a 40-inch waist — despite being neither big nor tall. I emanate an overpowering stench of Nag Champa incense as a result of burning it inside my closet, engulfing my unnecessarily big-and-tall wardrobe. I survive on Fruity Pebbles, Pizza Lunchables and Surge, often going many weeks without a single sip of water.

In 1995, these personal habits were apparently pretty acceptable — cool, even — for a seventh grader. Present day, as a 32 year old … not quite so cool. In a sudden moment of clarity, I decide to ask myself those three questions.

If you look in the mirror and realize you’re still implementing marketing tactics from years past for no other reason than “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” you should be asking yourself these questions too.

2. Ask what you’re trying to achieve.
At 32, my goals look a lot different than when I was 12. When I was 12, my goal was to spend as much time skateboarding and playing video games as possible — and perhaps getting decent enough grades to avoid getting reprimanded by my parents, all while putting forth the absolute minimum amount of effort. The aforementioned 12-year-old tactics worked fine enough to help me achieve those goals. As a 32 year old, my goals are to have a good job that I enjoy, a nice home to share with my wife and daughter, and plenty of time for recreation with friends and family. Hypothetical present-day me — chugging a sixer of Surge and crying into a bowl of Fruity Pebbles because my dad says I need to get a job — has not achieved my 2015 goals with my 1995 tactics. It’s probably time to re-evaluate my approach.

When evaluating a marketing tactic, you must ask yourself the same three questions. If your current goals do not reflect the goals you were hoping to achieve when initially implementing that tactic, it’s likely time to re-evaluate your approach.

3. Ask yourself how things have changed.
A lot has changed in the last 20 years for hypothetical 32-year-old me — not just my age and my goals, but also the world around me. It’s gotten harder for people to get a hold of me since my dad canceled his landline. I haven’t changed since 1995, which means I don’t have a car or a cellphone, and I don’t use the Internet ever since America Online went away. It’s been pretty hard on my social life, and the fact that I’m a weird man-child isn’t helping either. It might be time to re-evaluate my approach to better fit with the world around me.

Just as it became harder for hypothetical 32-year-old me to connect with people, it can become harder for you to connect with your prospects if you do not take into account how things are changing in your industry. What was the top trade show or the top publication five years ago may have since seen a sharp decline in attendance or readership as new venues and websites have arisen. What was your bread-and-butter market segment five years ago has since hit a cyclical decline as funding has diverted elsewhere, creating potential in emerging markets. What once was a sales channel made up of relationships between good ol’ boys has now given way to a younger generation of less-loyal decision makers who prefer to be communicated with differently. If the world around you has changed significantly while you remain stagnant, it’s time to re-evaluate your approach.

4. Ask yourself about the consequences.
When I think of the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality, the most common excuse for resistance to change is related to worry over what type of consequences could result from suddenly breaking tradition. For instance, imagine that you’ve been exhibiting at the same trade show in the same booth for 15 years. What if you suddenly pulled out? Would you lose respect and be viewed as a company in financial trouble? I prefer to look at it the other way around. What are the consequences of continuing to do it the way you’ve always done it?

Go back to what success looks like for you. Is your idea of success to not be viewed as a company in financial trouble? Then by all means continue this tactic. Or is success getting 250 qualified leads each year at the show, which is enough to achieve a positive ROI on the $50,000 annual investment? If it’s the latter, and you’re not achieving this success, then it’s time to re-evaluate, because $50,000 can go a long way toward obtaining 250 qualified leads via new tactics.

The agency’s role
Working at an agency, it’s sometimes easier to be agreeable than to question a client’s approach. It’s easier to be an order-taker than a strategic partner. The “that’s what the client asked for” excuse is an agency’s version of the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” excuse. They’re both ways of avoiding using our brains, and they’re both unacceptable.

The agency-client relationship should be one in which we challenge each other to always do things more effectively. That’s what we strive for. And if we work together, hopefully we’ll never be in the mental state that tells us burning Nag Champa on carpenter pants is a good idea.

About John Krantz

Creative and strategic don’t always go together. John Krantz, a public relations director at Two Rivers Marketing, is an exception. He honed those skills while capturing monkey calls in the Costa Rican jungle. For the last six years, he’s utilized his talents for PR strategy, copy writing, media relations and video production. John’s wild about creating videos for clients and local film festivals. Swing into his inbox at jkrantz@2rm.com