Performance marketers know their verticals inside and out. They continuously study their competitors’ investment strategies, ad messages, keyword bids, and product pricing to find ways they can differentiate themselves. 

But performance marketers are often their own biggest competitors.

Looking at what other companies do is necessary, but when you’re overly focused on the competition, you may overlook internal improvements of greater significance. 

The effects manifest in a variety of ways. The most common is a non-converting user experience. When upwards of 90% of people leave your site without converting, you know something is wrong. In the world of digital marketing, small changes make huge differences to the bottom line. My team, for example, has seen regular UX changes boost returns by 50 – 100%. 

Inadequate tracking is another consequence of externally focused strategies. Too often, marketers rely on tracking provided by publishers or siloed, channel-specific sources. You need to go after the most reliable and insightful data – even if it requires a little extra legwork. Trustworthy, actionable numbers will always benefit you more than trying to discern your competitors’ next strategies. 

It’s all too easy to miss these problems if you’re always looking at other brands. Self-improvement trumps reactionary strategies when it comes to long-term growth. 

No silver bullets 

Accountability is a blessing and a curse in performance marketing. We feel good when an investment pays off and outperforms other strategies. It may also be appealing when a competitor suddenly pours money into a new tactic. It’s tempting to go all-in with the channel that appears to be bearing the most fruit. But that approach concludes prematurely that only one investment is needed. 

My company once went through a pitch with a brand that wanted to attract new customers. Halfway through the process, our contacts became seduced by Facebook. They had heard good things about marketing on the social media platform, and it became their sole interest. 

As with retirement portfolios, going all-in on a “silver bullet” asset is incredibly risky. Sure, someone who invested 100% of his portfolio in Apple in 2003 is going to be happy with that decision, but those situations are the exceptions; it takes discipline and a long-term perspective to realise that the safest and most effective way to achieve results is to diversify. 

Not merely a marketing problem 

Organisational cultures strongly influence how marketers approach their jobs. If the c-suite fixates on the competition, that attitude obscures the importance of internal optimisation. We all want to beat our competitors, but reacting to their every move only works if they fail on their own. 

Silos are also performance killers; when decision makers and budgets are divided by channel, product, or customer touchpoints, resources go to waste. For instance, a marketer who is managing media investments might develop an extensive strategy for generating more revenue. Little does she know that a colleague in another department could achieve the same result with an improved checkout process – and do it for less money, but because their departments don’t collaborate, the marketer doesn’t have a full view of the situation. Neither one can address the problem in the most effective way solo. 

The most insidious corporate obsession is the “quick fix” that CEOs demand from their CMOs, who demand immediate action, in turn, from their performance marketers. That immediacy requires strategic compromises and an emphasis on silver bullets and short-term gains. 

Restructuring your mindset 

If your company has fallen into these traps, there is a way forward. Hiring a performance marketing agency to execute the change effort brings in fresh perspectives and provides your in-house team with powerful allies. An investment in an agency also raises the level of priority and accountability given to performance.

You also want to think beyond short-term wins. Any marketing strategy should include milestones that are more than two years into the future. Driving immediate sales with a dysfunctional checkout process may be the best immediate solution, but you need to allocate resources for fixing that system in the future. 

Keeping an open mind is crucial as well. Clients often come to us with specific problems, which is good. They then tell us what they think the solution should be, and it’s usually something they heard about at a conference or through industry peers. But that option may not solve the root issue or account for every factor. Getting third-party input helps you see the bigger picture and avoid getting hung up on a sub-optimal solution. 

When you’re used to looking outward for clues about your next strategy, turning the focus inward can be challenging. But a strong internal compass is a better bet than playing defence against whatever your competitors are doing.