The Confusion Surrounding the Word "Campaign"

Mike Gospe
September 2, 2010 — 1,308 views  
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I often ask marketers to tell me about the integrated marketing campaigns they are running.  Here are a few common responses:

 

  • We’ve been running a Google Adwords campaign for the past 2 years.
  • We’ve got a new PR campaign kicking off next week.
  • Our print advertising campaign has been reduced to 3 insertions due to budge cuts.


These answers highlight a common misunderstanding of the word “campaign.”  Is the “campaign” a singular tactic?  Or, is it something more?   Are there lots of campaigns, or only a few?  When it comes to integrated marketing, there are strategic as well as tactical connotations concerning this key word.  When the context of the word “campaign” is misunderstood, it can lead to some heartburn.

The strategic “Campaign”

If I were to use a military analogy, the general would direct his troops in a Campaign (with a big “C”).  ”Troops!” he’d say, “I want you to take that hill.  Figure out how we can do it.”  In this context, the strategic implication is regarding a central objective — a major initiative; a big deal with a lot at stake.  To achieve the objective a variety of tools and actions need to be coordinated and executed.  All of the activities and actions ultimately add up to accomplishing this central objective. Overlaying our marketing framework to this analogy, our integrated marketing “Campaigns” are driven by key sales and marketing objectives, such as capturing market share, squashing a competitor, establishing a foothold in a new market. The marketing activities and offers are then coordinated and timed so they reflect a common/consistent set of messaging that engages prospects in the desired dialog as they move through our sales process.

The tactical “campaign”

Unfortunately, to complicate matters, marketing automation tools like Eloqua and Marketo use a more tactical definition for the word “campaign” (small “c”).  So does Salesforce.com. In fact, Google Adwords can be mapped as a “campaign” into these, and other tools.  This is unfortunate because it may suggest to some that isolated, random tactics can be effective without understanding their role in the larger marcom mix (i.e. the strategic “Campaign”).  When marketers fall into the trap of silo’d thinking, we lose sight of the larger Campaign.  Tools like Eloqua and Salesforce.com are incredibly important to our marketing efforts — but they are tools to help us execute the tactics, not for driving strategy.

To avoid unnecessary confusion, here are a few tips:

  1. Create a marketing glossary, defining key words like Campaigns, Programs, Activities, and Offers.

  2. In practical terms, the use of the word “campaign” (small “c”) will continue to be used in Eloqua, Salesforce.com, etc.  We can’t change that.  So, when speaking with executive management regarding  the big picture, use the word “Campaign” in the strategic sense.  Don’t confuse it by including the word “campaign” as a tactical element.  (In other words, if you tell your CEO you’re running a Google Adwords “campaign”, you’ll likely confuse her.  She thought the “Campaign” as about squashing competitor X.)

  3. The reverse is true when communicating to the rank and file.  In the context of Eloqua or Salesforce.com, it is appropriate to use the “campaign” (small “c”) word in a tactical sense.  However, make sure to acknowledge how each “campaign” adds up to reach the “Campaign” (big “C”) objective.


It can be a bit tricky, but it’s nothing marketers can’t handle.  After all, we’re messaging experts.

Mike Gospe <http://www.kickstartall.com/about.html#mike>  leads KickStart Alliance's marketing operations practice where he conducts team-based "practical application working sessions" to improve the effectiveness of lead generation campaigns and product launches.

Mike Gospe

Marketing Campaign Development Blog