One of the most frustrating things I encountered in my life as a strategic marketer was management’s inability to create an overall marketing strategy. A strategic vision.
Instead of looking at the big picture, management was content with executing individual tactics for what they perceived as “small wins.” The phrase “you need to go after the low hanging fruit,” to this day causes me to cringe. The problem with this approach is you end up spending a ton of money with very little to show for marketing return on investment.
The Big Picture
Story: I come from a family of diehard Yankees fans, always have been. One of the most frustrating things for a Yankees fan the past few seasons has been Joe Girardi (who incidentally the Yankees fired after the 2017 season). One of the biggest gripes with Girardi’s management as per my father was that he played “small ball.” He wasn’t looking at the big picture. Same concept here.
Many companies run their marketing operations as individual silos. This means that each marketing discipline is separate from one another. For example, separate departments exist for digital marketing, marketing communications, public relations, events, etc.
All marketing is not advertising, but all advertising is marketing. Keeping your ad team segregated from your PR or events team doesn’t make any sense from a strategic standpoint.
In this type of environment, departments become completely paranoid and put such a tight grip on their incoming information and data that nothing gets shared. It’s common for one marketing silo to tell another silo seeking assistance that “that’s not my job.” A phrase we ought to banish from the corporate lexicon.
Budgeting without strategy
What you end up with are bloated departments where there is a dearth of information sharing. Marketing dollars are held hostage to ridiculous annual budgets. With each silo submitting their budget you run the risk of paying more for services that could be shared resources.
Alternatively, but just as screwed up are budgets that are based on the insane “scientific” strategy of “well this is how we’ve always done it before.”
“This is how we’ve always done it before,” the kiss of death to innovation. It’s the business equivalent of an ostrich sticking its head in the sand. Doing what you’ve done in the past forever in perpetuity without review is one of the stupidest budgeting strategies I’ve ever encountered. The kicker here is that no one from the CMO on down can tell you what all those sacred cows in your budget have produced regarding MROI.
At Strategic Tactics Consulting Group, LLC., we advocate a zero-based budgeting approach. All events, sponsorships, acquisition and retention expenditures, and general marketing expenses are presented for approval. If you cannot justify the expense, you don’t get the money. If the Marcom team and the PR team have a cross-over in resources, those resources become shared services under one corporate license.
Tactical Planning: How to do it right
Another thing that happens is each silo executes its own tactical plan without thought or consideration to what is happening in other business units.
Now, I love a good tactical plan as much as the next person. (I named my company “Strategic Tactics”). However, without having a big picture, an overarching strategy, a “strategic vision” if you will, companies are primarily approaching their target audience as something akin to a chicken running around without a head. Vision is lacking not only in many corporate marketing departments but also within the executive ranks.
On January 5, 2018, the UK trade publication Marketing Week published an article on “5 ways to make an impact on your career” by Thomas Barta. The subtitle of the piece was “The Best Marketers are masters of branding, pricing and communication. But pulling off a great marketing career is another story.” Tip 5: Aim High discusses how those with vision are more likely to achieve significant career success.
Defining your Vision
A frequent refrain I hear from clients is that they come to me because their teams lack vision. They cannot create an integrated strategy across multiple marketing functions in-house. They are unable to see how all the moving parts and pieces of marketing fit together in a big picture.
Companies become so paralyzed by fear of the unknown that they are afraid to move in any direction. So, they stagnate, and nothing changes. Your strategic vision doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be at 100 percent. Waiting for 100 percent perfection before launching a plan is like waiting for the rain in the middle of the Sahara. You wait. And wait. And wait some more. And nothing ever changes.
If you’re waiting for 100% perfection, for the timing to be absolutely perfect, be prepared for disappointment. Nike created a whole cultural revolution with the tagline “Just do it.” If you’re waiting for the stars to align you’ll never accomplish anything.
This is a major sticking point in most organizations. The paralyzing, all-consuming terror that you cannot make a change until everything is perfect. Until you learn to overcome that fear and accept that change can be a good thing, you’ll be completely stuck and unable to achieve anything of significance.
So, what does a strategic vision get you?
A roadmap. A guide. The freaking yellow brick road.
I may have mentioned a time or two in this blog how much I love Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC). It’s my marketing specialty. I love IMC because it forces you to have strategic vision.
At the starting gate, you have your brand standards guideline. The bible for your business. The holy grail. You do not vary from the brand standards guideline. This is non-negotiable.
Next, you look at each communication tactic (like branding, advertising, public relations, content creation, social media, SEO, and SEM) and wrap everything into one comprehensive go-to-market strategy.
This forces you to determine how content creation affects PR. How PR affects social media. How social media affects SEO. And on and on we go. Every communication is interdependent in another marketing medium that all ties back into the brand standards.
The beauty of IMC is that when working properly, your target audience knows who you are and what you stand for regardless of the medium where they encounter your brand.
One voice. One message. Multiple platforms.
Strategic vision can be applied outside of the marketing function.
I love Organizational theory for the same reasons I love IMC. There is a psychology of both marketing and management theory. Both revolve around the need for looking at the big picture at the starting point.
Creating a team that functions as a well-oiled machine takes planning and a bit of creativity. Avoid groupthink. You want to bring together a diverse group of individuals with different ideas and perspectives. The end-goal is that you are all working towards success (for more on organizational hierarchy, please visit our piece on The Seven Dwarfs Teach Team Building).
There needs to be a rhyme and a reason why your team does the things it is doing. And the reasons should all relate back to one simple truth:
Why does my target audience care?
How often has this happened to you? You’re sitting in a meeting and management is discussing a directional change and you’re trying to figure out why your target market gives a damn. Maybe you’re the executive at your wit’s end because you’ve exhausted your options and don’t know where to go next.
Just because management thinks something is a good idea doesn’t necessarily mean that your target audience will feel the same way. Case in point: New Coke.
Whether you’re speaking to clients, customers, shareholders, or employees you need to tailor your message to your audience. That message needs to follow the corporate brand standards. It’s like a loop. Every internal or external communication ties back to the strategic vision for your company.
You need to decide that you are ready to move your business forward. That you are ready to take that leap of faith into the unknown. Yes, you may fail, but at least you can say you tried. And if you succeed? Well, that makes all the difference.
Strategic Tactics Consulting Group, LLC. (STCG), is a consulting firm dedicated to helping marketing and management executives define their strategic vision. This is done through marketing strategy, strategic development, tactical planning, messaging services and executive consulting. Visit us today at stcgllc.com. Angela M. Insalaco is the Managing Director at Strategic Tactics Consulting Group, LLC. (STCG). She spent a decade observing and participating in the inner workings of corporate marketing departments. Many which lacked a cohesive go-to-market strategy. Her findings lead her to found STCG to help marketing executives and managers create a strategic vision for their businesses.
 Barta, Thomas. “5 ways to make an impact on your career.” Marketing Week 5 Jan. 2018.