What’s the point of strategy?
- 11 March 2016
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If we want marketing strategy to serve any purpose, we’re going to have to reinvent it.
You may not be interested in strategy, but strategy is interested in you.
That’s because strategy is a way of managing what happens – and if you aren’t in charge of events, chances are that you’ll be reacting rather than acting, always on the back foot, stuck fighting fires. If you have an out-of-date strategy – or worse, no strategy at all – that could be your fate.
The trouble is that the speed of technological progress and the much-debated acceleration of social change, driven by the communications revolution, can rapidly invalidate a strategy document. It’s said that ‘no plan survives contact with the enemy’, and fast-changing circumstances mean new enemies (and allies) appear all the time, demanding constant reorientation from marketers.
Even the basic principles that used to underscore every marketing strategy can now rapidly come into question. For example, John Romero expressed a bedrock principle of marketing when he said: “In marketing, I've only seen one strategy that can't be missed – and that is to market to your best customers first, your best prospects second and the rest of the world last.” Good sense? It always has been in the past. But, as customer loyalty becomes increasingly difficult to keep hold of, and the customer journey becomes more dynamic, perhaps even this former truism could be called into question.
Paper to culture
The strategy of yesteryear was about creating a document, perhaps to feed through to a more detailed, ‘tactical’ marketing plan. In the face of constant change, it’s tempting to continue producing a strategy document every few years, in the old style – but to make it more flexible to ensure it can last.
The risk with this approach, however, is that the document becomes too vague to be useful. And marketers can still put the document in a drawer and forget about it in the day-to-day rush to deliver for customers.
Furthermore, a marketing strategy document can become a restricting exercise. It can encourage you to focus too narrowly on a few practical steps (like buying a set number of ads) rather than on the broader, more important work of a modern marketer – drawing people from across the organisation together to focus on the customer and work towards the business’s overall goals.
There is a better way, I feel. Keeping strategy relevant requires a change, a move away from the narrow documentary approach and towards something more cultural and agile.
The old kind of strategy is becoming less and less useful. If we want the whole concept to remain relevant, we’re going to have to reinvent it – marketing strategy needs to become part of the organisational culture if it is to be flexible, relevant to now and continually refreshed with new thinking and different ideas – more like a belief.
Practically speaking, it means people come first and business operations second. If your strategic goals involve reaching out to a particular demographic, the company culture should change to appeal to them – after all, everyone values authenticity, and simply running a few ads to try to meet the strategic goal of getting more sales won’t hide the real nature of your organisation from customers for long.
Or, if your goal is to cut the cost of your marketing activities, you could encourage everyone in the team to get involved by offering rewards for finding cheaper ways of meeting marketing goals.
And if you’re trying to become more digitally aware, encouraging a mindset where exploring new online options has become second nature is a superior approach to focusing on particular platforms and programs that happen to be popular at the moment.
A big advantage of this approach is that it ensures marketing is no longer out on its own – a few activities done by a discrete department – but becomes an integral and inseparable part of all customer-facing and internal activities at the organisation, whether those activities are performed by sales, operations, PR or any other team.
Strategy still serves a purpose, but if it’s thought of as a fixed set of rules for a single department, it’s redundant.
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