It’s interesting working as the sole marketer in a small/medium business, as my role encompasses all kinds of activities from the traditionally described ‘strategic’ such as setting goals, market segmentation and deriving messaging to the ‘tactical’ Tweeting, ordering collateral and creating flyers.
As an experienced marketer, I’m guilty of complaining about how ‘the rest of the business’ doesn’t understand the rigour behind what I do, and thinks marketing is just the tactical activities they see (I was unkindly described in one of my past lives as the ‘colouring in department’). But there’s a reason it’s seen like this, and it’s to do with how we as marketers communicate.
Far too often, there’s a gap between the strategic marketing goals, the tactical plan, and the rest of the business. In a single-marketer team like mine, we often don’t make time to explain the goals we are working towards or to report clearly on our KPIs and how they relate to the wider business’ success. Furthermore, as we want to be helpful, it’s too easy to just say yes to requests like ‘We need a flyer, can you just create one for us?’ or ‘Let’s do this event, we do it every year’. Eventually this approach leads to maxing out your tactical activity plan and executing at high volume, but it’s all output, not outcome – these choices aren’t the ones that will help you hit your strategic goals, they don’t push your KPIs forward, you are busy and stressed and your colleagues are frustrated at the apparent lack of marketing results.
It’s hard to push back and say no, especially if you are new and/or a team player by nature, but it’s so important not to get distracted and to stick to the activities you have planned. Equally it is vital that you frame any discussion in terms of your strategic goals, and about the opportunity cost – for example, ‘If we take on this big trade show, we won’t also be able to deliver the new content track that’s specifically aimed at our key vertical, and as the demographics for last year’s show leads were very light on that vertical, attending is unlikely to help us drive the leads we need’. Not only does this empower everyone in the team with a real understanding of the strategy, removing the feeling that ‘marketing doesn’t help me’, but often you’ll find they can add context that may make you rethink, or can help you come up with a creative solution that allows you to benefit from both the suggested activity and hit your original KPI. In the example above, we didn’t do the show, but we sent lots of speakers and delegates and used this presence to make an impact for our recruitment brand and drive sales conversations, whilst still delivering on the content plan we needed.
When you are part of a large marketing team, this disconnect can still raise its head. When I first became a marketer, I was definitely guilty of ‘asking no questions’, carrying on with my tactical execution without really taking the time to understand the business goals and the strategy behind the plan. Partly this was sticking to what I knew, as I didn’t feel confident enough to ask questions about the ‘senior management stuff’, but in the long run it’s pretty harmful. Working blind to strategy stunts your professional development in two ways; firstly, you lose the ability to show your creativity and efficiency by suggesting new ways to achieve your goals, getting stuck in that ‘colouring in department’ mode of constant execution without reflection. Ultimately you can become a bit isolated from your team, in your own silo of expertise without really connecting with the shared direction.
Secondly, this mindset prevents you easily making the jump either up the ladder or across into a different business area; even if you are expert at social, design or PR, you can’t truly bring value (or articulate your value!) if you don’t understand how your skills help your business. If you think of an agency, they can be full of the most awesome specialists, but they have to continually demonstrate to the client how they meet the briefed-in goals to keep their contract – when we work in-house, it can be helpful to take the same view.
Meanwhile as a manager, it’s easy to think you have to keep the strategic ‘to yourself’, either from insecurity about your value, feeling that you have to keep a tight hold on the ‘senior level’ activities as that’s all you bring to the table now you are no longer a subject expert (I’ve definitely been guilty of this) or from a desire not to overload your team. I’d argue that the strategy is there to guide and direct, and clearly communicating and steering a team through it is a key management skill and one that will empower you and your colleagues to have a shared outlook and achieve great things, so it’s worth taking the time to ensure everyone has the whole picture.
What’s your view on strategic vs tactical marketing in your business? Do you see similar issues with disconnect and how do you solve them?
(This post originally published on my LinkedIn page)