May 2012

Three Steps to Aligning Marketing Strategy and Execution

I see it all the time. Company marketing grinds to an inefficient halt for one simple reason–it starts with the last step first, execution. This happens when marketing is driven by a need, instead of a strategy.

In an era that rewards efficiency, execution sounds like a good skill to have, and it is. However, efficient execution is not the same as execution- driven marketing. Starting marketing with a need such as creating a brochure is backwards. It turns the focus to execution of a brochure instead of why or how a brochure will solve the problem. Execution-driven marketing is also a sure sign that you are not a marketer.

When Execution Reigns

The top four reasons that marketing starts with execution:

  1. The boss wants it (and will provide the budget).
  2. Sales says they need it (because it will close deals).
  3. The competition is doing it (a curse of following, not leading).
  4. The marketing leader or agency can’t explain the “why” behind a marketing tactic.

Unfortunately, most would-be marketers miss the science that fuels the marketing strategy. The science is the research, analysis and spreadsheets that inform marketing decisions. Wannabe marketers often bypass these details. Understanding what the marketplace wants, how best to reach buyers, and determining how to be unique is tedious work.

A strong marketing leader will set clear parameters so that ideas and brainstorming are strategic, framed by clear objectives and include a deep understanding of the buyer. Without research, marketing execution is random. This leads to higher expenses, chaotic operations and loss of brand identity through unfocused, piecemealed work. Given that no one in their right mind would choose these results, how can companies get it right?

Right Size the Strategy

Fortunately marketing strategy—the brains behind execution, doesn’t have to be debilitating. Strategy can be molded

or right-sized to fit any stage of a company. Start by scoping these three steps to ensure spot- on marketing execution:

Define and align goals: Marketing must begin by identifying the goals. When the

CEO or head of Sales starts a conversation with the need for a new website, uncover the why behind the perceived need. Refocus the discussion to define the goal. What are we trying to achieve? How will a new website reach that goal? Is a website the best way to tackle the problem? Are there other options?

Understand the target audience: This is less about defining a target and more about zeroing in on a bulls-eye. Describe everything that defines an ideal buyer. Seek critical insights into key categories that can shape how you market. With the right research, you will unearth what the buyer thinks, how they shop for your product and what features they value. This knowledge will guide your marketing strategy to the best place time, approach and way to communicate.

Develop a strategic plan: Most marketing plans cover the tactics—sales materials, online marketing, events, advertising,

social media and PR. However, a strategic marketing plan will synthesize the intelligence to clarify the why behind each tactical choice.

For example, once the target buyer is understood, tactical marketing decisions can be considered from their point of view. Fortunately, fueling the strategy with these insights doesn’t have to cost a lot.

For those with limited financial and time resources, the company sales team can provide a wealth of information. Likewise, current customers are often willing interviewees. Consider online surveys and crowdsourcing sites to capture an even broader point of view. Social media is a great tool for understanding how trending views, ideas and issues might influence your marketing tactics.

Together these research opportunities will help to refine what type of messaging is most appealing and believable; what buyers value most; how they make purchase decisions; where they get their information and what sources they trust.

Research will also keep others in the company in sync with the strategy. For example, if a marketing program is at risk of being derailed, facts and research can help to redirect thinking by explaining the why (or science) behind the strategy.

Although marketing strategy work isn’t expense free, the pay-off in terms of time and dollars saved by using the information to make the right tactical decisions at the onset, will ensure that real marketing needs are met, especially those of your buyers.