Many times when a new business launches or an existing business encounters a marketing challenge, marketing firms are engaged and the client organization is anxious to begin building or redesigning a website, launching an email, SEO or a display ad campaign in an effort to drive sales and increase revenue. However, whether it is a new business wanting to leverage its offer or an existing business working to overcome a problem such as diminishing margins related to competition driving prices down, strategy work should be the critical first step. Unfortunately many businesses and many marketing firms fail to recognize the importance of an explicit strategy, and considering that most people have a built in bias for action, strategy work is often neglected in order to begin marketing activities that have visible and tangible outcomes.
Albert Einstein is often credited (non-verified) as saying that if he only had an hour to save the world, 55 minutes would be spent understanding the nature of the problem and five minutes focused on the solution. As a strategy consultant for a Fortune 100 company, I was often asked: “What do you do?” When I was feeling mischievous and wanted to elicit a dazed stare I would simply say “I help executives think about thinking.” The truth is I helped executives and strategic business unit managers answer simple questions: (1) what is their business? (2) how do they accomplish it? and (3) who is involved? (4) where do they want to take the business and why? Gaining clarity on these issues is critical if the marketing firm is going to be successful in helping the client drive sales and increase stakeholder value.
Jay Forrester (1971) argued in the Counterintuitive Behavior of Social Systems that in any complex system, an attack (marketing activities), no matter how intelligent, on a single element or symptom, generally leads to a deterioration of the system as a whole. In other words, without a holistic approach to the problem, no marketing solution is going to achieve sustainable results. Strategy work insures a comprehensive approach and framework assuring that not only are marketing activities done right, but that they are the right activities to achieve the desired goals. This is the first in a series of blog posts that will examine the nature of strategy and its importance to the marketing effort. Future blog posts will examine the time for business strategy and the time for marketing strategy, the importance of alignment and the relationship between branding and strategy.