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How to make the time to solve marketing problems

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How to make the time to solve marketing problems

Hey, thanks for stopping by to read my latest article here on MarTech. But before I share my advice for this month, I’m going to make you do a little work. It should take you no more than five minutes, and it will help you apply my advice to your daily work. That’s always been my goal with this column. 

Here’s what I want you to do:

Grab a piece of paper and a pen or pencil. Minimize distractions. Put all of your notification settings on “Do not disturb” for a few minutes. Silence your phones. 

Now, write down everything you need to do for your email marketing program from now until the end of the year. Set a timer for five minutes if you need to. Don’t come back here until it goes off or you complete your list. Turn off your screen and… Go!

(Hey, no peeking until the five-minute alarm goes off. Get back to work.)

Okay, great. You should have quite the long list — and if you were still writing when your alarm went off, go back and finish it and then catch up with us when you’re done. 

I just did this exercise. If you’re like me, your list is probably scaring the crap out of you right now. No way are we going to get all this stuff done before Dec. 31, right? Well, don’t panic. Now, go back and circle everything that looks realistic. 

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What’s left should be a pretty realistic list of goals to achieve in the next three-plus months. Now, here’s the next thing to think about: How will you get everything done?

You have two answers to choose from: “I’ll find time” and “I’ll make time.”

Finding time versus making time

If you answered, “I’ll find time,” I’m sorry to tell you that you’ll probably never get to the end of your list. If you said, “I’ll make the time,” you need a plan to accomplish that. I’d like to help the “find time” wishful thinkers transform into “make time” doers. 

In my days at a big-box international retailer, we barely got a break from the Christmas music before we had to start planning again. But this is not practical for most companies, like some of my clients and probably like your company. We all have so many different things going on, and most of my clients are focusing on what’s in front of them right now.

Trust me when I say that you’ll never find the time in your day to do the extra work that growth and innovation require if you try to fit it in and around everything else on your project management list, annual plan and daily to-do list. Been there, tried that.

You have to make the time

If you don’t, you won’t have time to do anything but look at what you did last year, update it for 2022, launch it and hope for the best. However, hope is not a strategy, as email legend Loren McDonald says.

Besides, this year we are facing a fresh new challenge that we didn’t have last year, with its pandemic upsets and supply-chain issues. With everything else on your plate, now you also have to factor in inflation-shocked consumers and a potential economic recession, no matter where in the world you are marketing. (More on that later.)

3 tactics to achieve your goals

Here’s how you can whittle down that to-do list and maybe tackle a few things you didn’t think of (like strategizing for a recession).

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1. Discipline your time

This tactic always works for me: I block off time on my calendar every week, so I have the space to do what needs to be done, whether that’s working on a client project, catching up on industry news or thinking through strategy for my company or clients. That means nobody can call me or schedule a meeting then. When I finish that particular project, I just delete the block.

You’ll have to fend off requests for your time from others. Maybe you need to come in an hour earlier or stay an hour later. Maybe even block out the entire day due to a doctor appointment (wink, wink) to hide out and work.

(By the way, isn’t it funny that when you have a doctor appointment, no one bugs you, but when you need personal time for work you get pulled in several directions?) 

The important thing here is to have the discipline to prioritize what’s important to you — most likely, doing what you have to do to make your revenue goal. You have to stand up for yourself because you can’t count on anyone else to do it for you — unless you ask for help, which I will address shortly. 

Saying “I didn’t make goal because everybody else wanted my time” will not appease your boss. 

Dig deeper: 20 ways to make your marketing team more productive

2. Ask for help

When I was still laboring in corporate America, I was in your position. I had a hard time protecting my time. Learning to fence it off and defend it didn’t happen overnight. But one thing helped — I went to my boss, and sometimes to my boss’s boss, and asked for help.

We all want to be superheroes who can be counted on to get the job done. But Captain America and Wonder Woman are comic-book characters. Out here in the real world, the responsible thing is to ask for help so you can achieve a goal. Your superiors should help you because, as the saying goes, they succeed when you succeed. 

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That probably will take more than a simple request. Your boss has to understand what’s at stake. Host a lunch-and-learn to get people outside your team on board. I recently hosted a client’s lunch-and-learn session about journey mapping and its importance. Our next conversation about that topic will be easier because our presentation greased the skids.

These two tactics can give you enough space in your day to add another item to your list for Q4 and then come up with a well-thought-out solution. 

Next up: Here’s where all that planning time will pay off — when you have to deal with something unexpected. 


Get MarTech! Daily. Free. In your inbox.

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3. Plan for the worst-case scenario — inflation and recession

As I mentioned earlier, these two problems affect markets worldwide. Too many retailers try to solve both problems with one solution: discounts for everybody.

Email is considered a recession-proof channel because of its low cost and wide reach. When times get tough, companies look to email to bail them out, as we saw during the pandemic. But your recession plan needs to be more nuanced than just mass discounting.

A study I worked on years ago for Acxiom examined and categorized different kinds of fashion buyers and what motivated them to purchase. Our findings apply throughout the retail world, and they illustrate why mass discounting can backfire spectacularly.

Some buyers will pay full price no matter what. They don’t worry about inflation or recession like other shoppers. Gratuitous discounts for these shoppers won’t increase your sales — they just eat away at your profit margin. Your strategy is to move these people to purchase without random discounts or other incentives.

So you can understand how complex your customers are as buyers, here’s a list we used to classify segments of our consumers: 

  • Full-price buyer
  • Impulse buyer
  • Occasional discount
  • One-time purchaser
  • Category specific
  • High-value loyalist
  • Low-value discounter
  • Brand motivated
  • Full-price seldom purchaser
  • High-value consideration
  • Perception based 

Does your inflation/recession strategy center on maximizing your margin based on these segments? If not, right now is the best time to get aligned.

Instead of reaching for the 20% off button, do more segmentation. Look at your customer data now to find buyers like those premium fashion buyers who have never used discounts, coupons or other incentives, and who regularly buy at full price. Who are your high-value loyalists and occasional discounters? 

Aim to go into your holiday marketing with a plan that rides on segmentation and not come into the holiday with a blanket discount.

Dig deeper: No matter the time of year, there’s a holiday you should be planning a campaign for

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Wrapping up

Making time to improve your marketing is hard. I’ve been doing this for more than two decades, and it’s still hard for me. 

Right now I need to review a white paper draft that has been sitting in my inbox for weeks. It’s difficult to make the time because of every other project that demands my time, but it’s also important for my agency. So, as soon as I finish this post, I will move on to that one. 

This highlights why you must prioritize what’s important — especially if you are facing economic uncertainty in Q4. The meetings will never stop. People won’t respect your out-of-office status on your intranet. They’ll keep screaming down the hall for you. 

But I know this much is true: Making time is mandatory whether you want to achieve great things or just knock the next must-do project off your list. 

Now, go back to your calendar and schedule a few “doctor” appointments.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.


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About The Author

As the co-founder of RPEOrigin.com, Ryan Phelan’s two decades of global marketing leadership has resulted in innovative strategies for high-growth SaaS and Fortune 250 companies. His experience and history in digital marketing have shaped his perspective on creating innovative orchestrations of data, technology and customer activation for Adestra, Acxiom, Responsys, Sears & Kmart, BlueHornet and infoUSA. Working with peers to advance digital marketing and mentoring young marketers and entrepreneurs are two of Ryan’s passions. Ryan is the Chairman Emeritus of the Email Experience Council Advisory Board and a member of numerous business community groups. He is also an in-demand keynote speaker and thought leader on digital marketing.

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