I’ve grown incredibly tired of hearing about the next big thing in marketing. Almost everyone seems to have their own version of snake oil that will magically increase ROI, increase customer engagement, grow consideration levels overnight, or improve the overall image of a brand in just three short weeks. Bad news friends — there is no magic bullet, no tonic or single tool that will fix a brand.

Social media won’t do it, digital won’t do it. Neither will print, mobile, TV, emerging media, gaming or whatever comes next. All those things are tactics. And while brands will toss millions on one or a combination of several of the above, most of them fall short on the most important part of their execution … the strategy.

Instead of simply patching the holes with tactics, wouldn’t it be better to eschew the promises of salvation made by individual practitioners and start thinking more skeptically in regards to your marketing/advertising campaigns? As a content strategist, my favorite question to ask any person in a meeting that brings up a creative concept or suggests the use of some sort of tactic is, “What does that mean to the consumer?”

It seems so simple, but 9 times out of every 10, no one thinks of how creative will ultimately be interpreted by the consumer. Perhaps our biggest challenge as strategists is attempting to persuade a client that we need to talk about our audiences and messages – and ultimately whether we have product or service that satisfies those audiences – before we get anywhere near a tactical discussion.

My recommendation to brands and the content strategists and content planners working for those companies, is to place the greatest amount of initial emphasis on finding out who the customer is.

What do they do? Why do they need your service or product? How do they consume media? What do their activities in social media look like? Develop personas for consumers you’re likely to encounter given the economic and product landscape and then figure out what kinds of messages need to be created to satisfy those minds.

Once we know who they are and we know what we need to say to them, we hopefully have something in our wheelhouse that they give a damn about. Then we can take those learnings to decide what we can do to creatively satisfy them, but whatever we come up with better execute against the strategic thinking we spent all that initial time on.

Social media and emerging media may be all shiny and new, and I’m sure brands have every ‘media expert’ that’s blogging in his or her basement telling them that they need a “Twitter-Strategy” or a “Facebook-Strategy.” That’s a farse.

All the “strategy” in the world won’t mean a thing if your customers aren’t looking for you to be there. Be skeptical, be like Socrates or like your 4-year-old. Ask these so-called experts “Why?” Ultimately, both strategists and brands should be asking the same question, “What are you trying to accomplish?”

“Why do I need to build a Facebook app that lets you change the color of my product and then gives me a badge to annoy their friends? What does this tactic accomplish and how does it support my strategy?”

“Why do I need to ‘tweet’ about my guys who drain septic fields? What does tweeting about that accomplish?”

“Why should I make a mobile game for my family sedan? What does that tactic accomplish?”

Brands get to where they are for a reason. They either have a service or product that satisfies a need or they don’t. All the tactics in the world won’t help boost profitability if they don’t have skeptics to make sure that the tactic is being executed to a strategic umbrella that ultimately influences brand consideration.

It’s time to stop being creative for creativity’s sake and time to start communicating with consumers in the ways they choose.

In short, brands shouldn’t steer away from delivering messaging in print because it’s percieved as a dying art, or put all of their eggs into digital and social baskets because many people access their information in that fashion. It’s about being accessible to all, being strategic with your messaging platforms and spending less and less time focusing on your campaign creative or tactics that may not even be appropriate. What are your thoughts?

Photo: Billie Hara