What is marketing strategy?
People love to talk about strategy. Marketing executives especially love to tell people that they focus on marketing strategy, as if understanding and perhaps even executing to that strategy is somehow beneath them. And therein lies a sneaking suspicion I have, based on decades of experience: the same people talking about strategy don’t really understand its full power and the importance of alignment and execution.
And so, one of the most effective ways to answer the question of “What is marketing strategy?” is to debunk what it definitely is NOT.
Myth #1: Our marketing department nailed down our strategy, so now, we can start executing.
This sounds harmless enough. Marketing proposed a strategy, the CMO approved it, and everything is harmonious in marketing strategy world… right?
The glaring problem with this pristine marketing strategy is its creation in a vacuum. Without collaboration and input from the rest of the organization, the strategy is flawed at best. Don’t do this; it never works.
And worse than it not working, too many think it will. Take a look at PipelineMarketing.com’s latest report, where 50% of marketers state they are either misaligned or somewhat aligned to the broader business’s goal.
What You Can Do Instead
Instead, every department’s strategy must stem from the organization’s corporate strategy. That’s right – it must trickle down. Try these questions to get started:
- What are the companies growth goals?
- How is the company approaching growth (e.g. market penetration, market expansion, market exposure)?
- What markets best fit, and don’t fit, your product or service?
- How much growth is expected from new customers versus existing customer?
- What is the competitive landscape in your market/s and how are you positioned against them?
- Is the company’s product in a steady state or is there heavy R&D investments being made?
Once the corporate strategy is clear, each departmental leader must validate ways their department can best support it. This validation requires collaboration from the organization’s executive leadership, as well as other, interconnected departments.
An Example of Marketing Strategy Aligned to the Corporate Strategy
Let’s say your company’s objective is: to be the leading software for accounting firms in the U.S., with at least 60 percent market share. This is a significant increase from the starting point and therefore, the corporate strategy must be built to drive and enable sales volume.
In collaboration with the rest of the organization, you decide that marketing’s most effective role to achieve the corporate objective is to develop and execute a strategy that focuses on driving opportunity volume into the sales organization. Now, you love the idea of account-based marketing (ABM) and even had success with that tactic in your previous job, but guess what… it doesn’t matter. ABM is a tactic for a different strategy and likely doesn’t have a role in the strategy you need today. Let it go.
If you can’t rattle off how your #marketingstrategy aligns to your #corporatestrategy, ask questions. Trickle down strategy is a thing.
Myth #2: Frequent communications across departments equal strategic alignment.
This is a ‘part two’ to the point above. I don’t have enough fingers to count the number of times a marketing leader claimed to be “in lockstep with the sales leader,” only to go on to uncover wild misalignment in both strategy and process. Talking regularly with other departments does not strategic alignment make.
True strategic alignment – the kind that helps you achieve aggressive revenue goals and great success – is built intentionally, through more than simple chatter.
What You Can Do Instead
If your various teams are meeting with each other often, and openly talking about what they’re working on, that’s awesome. Many companies can’t claim that, and it’s a healthy step toward better morale and, yes, even strategic alignment. But notice I said a step – it does not mean you are now strategically aligned. To reach that illusive categorization, all your leaders must work together to define and align every department’s strategy, in accordance with the corporate strategy. Only then will you really be strategically aligned, and holding each other accountable to results that actually matter.
Try tying the agenda of your next cross-functional meetings to the joined (and mutually agreed to, because of #1 above) strategic goals of both departments. If the topics of the meeting don’t impact those goals, you must ask, “Should we spend any time on them?”
Myth #3: We don’t really need a strategy; our business is pretty straightforward.
After working with countless brands and CMOs, let me reveal this: Companies with a strategy (even a flawed one) are better off than they would have been without one. The real tragedy, and danger to your company, is not having a strategy at all. No business is that straightforward and even the most tried and true businesses benefit from the development and maintenance of a strategy.
In many cases, the lack of strategy is actually just a bi-product of misalignment or lack of effort. In almost all cases, the idea that the business never really needed it to begin with is simply a copout.
What You Can Do Instead
If you can’t agree between your teams and leaders on the strategy, then the the CEO might just need to step in and make a decision (while taking into account everyone’s input as much as possible). Even if it causes some initial heartburn, it won’t last forever. You have to keep your objectives in mind, and the fact remains that you will get nowhere (or to the wrong place) without a strategy. Better to decide on one, and then spend your time and resources pursuing it, rather than wasting that same time and those same resources aimlessly executing.
Myth #4: We’ve agreed on our strategy, so there’s no need to formally document it.
Finally, there’s this. Again, I can’t tell you how many CMOs and CEOs I talk with who vehemently agree with me about the power of having a strategy, and strategic alignment across the organization, but then fail to show me a strategy in any tangible way. “Oh, we all agreed on it and we know what it is” is often the excuse I’ll hear. But this won’t work.
Maybe all your execs and team members remember your strategy right now, in this moment, fresh out of a strategy meeting. But in a day, a week, a month or a year – do you still think everyone will retain that level of understanding and clarity? There’s no way you can expect people to remember important details over a period of time without making a record of it.
What You Can Do Instead
While you’re in your strategy meeting, designate one person as the owner of documentation. After the meeting, have them share this document among the key stakeholders and let everyone chime in on whether or not the strategic direction and initiatives have been properly captured. If so, great! Share it freely and regularly with your entire team. If not, workshop it among yourselves until it reflects everything you discussed. This is the only way that strategic alignment can take place across an entire organization, and actually last.
If you’ve already missed the boat, take thirty minutes and just do it now. Yeah, like, right now. Don’t even bother with this last paragraph, write up your strategy instead.
So, where do you stack up in terms of strategy myths? Were you holding onto some of those misconceptions? Are you even guilty of saying some of them?
Wherever you are in the strategy journey, just remember this: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” – Sun Tzu. You need strategy, and you need the real kind, not the buzzy impersonation that’s so common today.
Meet JT Bricker
As a strategic marketing leader, J.T. leads teams in helping clients design and execute actionable marketing and sales strategies and impactful execution that drive revenue growth and profitability. He works closely with organizations to develop a strategically grounded approach to marketing and sales with a blend of strategy, analytics, technology and creative to achieve growth objectives. J.T. works with the LeadMD team in advising clients on best practices in revenue growth strategies, strategic sales and marketing alignment, account-based strategies, demand generation, marketing technology, marketing operations, analytics and sales management. Prior to joining LeadMD, J.T. held a variety of marketing leadership and strategic consulting roles including management consultant, marketing operations, pricing and offer management, demand generation and analytics in multiple enterprise organizations.