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How to gain focus for your Marketing strategy

Author's avatar By Danyl Bosomworth 23 Jun, 2014
Essential Essential topic

 5 problems that block strategic marketing planning and strategic thinking

Michael Porter sums up the focus of strategic planning best for me:

“The essence of strategy is choosing what NOT to do. Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it’s about deliberately choosing to be different".

I love this Porter quote - in marketing planning (any planning) we have to make decisions - there is not endless time and resource available to any of us, there is always too much to do.

This lack of time to focus on strategic planning and thinking was shown in our research on Managing Digital Marketing. Many organisations we asked did not have a marketing strategy to align their digital strategy against... So the question is, how do achieve focus? How can we avoid the common problems that limit strategic planning?

Marketing Strategy Plan


The central premise of Porter's advice is to develop ‘focus’ to enable filters for decision-making. Simple and difficult... Strategic thinking is about deciding on which opportunities to choose and focus your time, people, and money on, and which opportunities to starve, this time.

“In order to concentrate superior strength in one place, economy of force must be exercised in other places.”

Napoleon Bonaparte

It’s so obvious, yet why don’t we see people exercising strategic thinking very often in marketing? The tactical focus, of spend in channels, erodes at this logic. On a practical level, strategy simply means deciding to move some initiatives to the back burner in order to concentrate the bulk of your resources in a single key area, for a moment in time. Re-read that last bit - moment in time - we can always change the strategic course if data tells us we’re not getting the result that we want or expect.

Sounds simple enough. Yet, several myths continue to make strategic thinking an elusive skill - these need to be tackled since it doesn’t have to be this way.

Problem 1: No direction, vision or problem to solve

We can’t provide a strategic solution to something that isn’t defined. The number one issue in marketing departments (my opinion) is the lack of direction and leadership from the commercial business to provide context for marketing. Worse, there is no bigger vision, no BHAGs, and so no objectives.

This creates bottom-up thinking that is not scalable. Led by those responsible for channels and making them pay more. There’s a good reason to have focus on optimisation, and let’s remember that the question shapes the answer - “How do we get more clicks / followers / leads / shares” - great, but these questions are the antithesis of strategic marketing planning.

“There’s a fundamental distinction between strategy and operational effectiveness.”

Michael Porter

Problem 2: Getting things done

What’s wrong with being productive? Nothing. But, strategic thinking is about getting the right things done, well. Marketing is so often plagued with by a task-based approach of getting lots done - strategy requires leaving some things undone, eeek. It’s hard since many organisations reward and encourage deliverables today over results tomorrow. We have to fight through the emotion of parking a more creative project, the social pain of rejection that comes from telling some people on your team that their big idea or entire functional area has been demoted this quarter, or year.

“There is nothing quite so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”

Peter Drucker

The key then, is having process to capture and decide that which is worth doing.

Problem 3: FOMO vs a fact-base

FOMO (fear of missing out), or shiny object syndrome is common for us creative types. Of course we want to run a new Instagram campaign and try out how a Vine might work for us - the list will now forever be bigger than what we can afford to test in reality. But, let’s park emotion and work with facts, with data, to reveal what we’d best focus on.

I believe that FOMO is responsible for so much distraction, too many perceived choices, after all there’s so much cool stuff we could try, tactically speaking, that we could fill our task list with a plethora of ideas (see Problem 2, above). To plan properly we have to overcome the hyperbole and use clear objectives, good questions and data to build a fact-base and provide strategic focus. It’s the same in wider marketing, FOMO comes in many forms, whether it’s personal drivers to ‘be creative’ and win awards, or execute on an idea or that we’ve being dying to try and are emotionally attracted to and that we hope will work.

“Change is not a destination, just as hope is not a strategy.”

Rudy Giuliani

Coke 70–20–10 is an interesting process for the considered trailing of the new without throwing out what works today, a simple way to allocate resources to encourage innovation. But who is is figuring out which things are the right things?

Problem 4: “Important” is defined by the leader or boss?

Every project your team is working on is “important” to someone somewhere in your team or business. We have to accept that. They all “add value” in some way, subjectively or objectively. That’s why debating about what’s important is impossible and leads to stress. Strategic thinkers must decide where to focus, not to define what’s “important.” Planning requires that we consciously park some important projects and opportunities.

Where productive teams log overtime hours in order to knock over important project after project on a ‘first come first served’, ‘who shouts loudest’ or ‘highest paid person’s opinion’ basis, strategic teams decide which projects will contribute most to the vision and objectives of the team or organisation, the “important” projects get held for review next time around.

Problem 5: Strategic thinking is about thinking...

Strategic planning must yield marketing action. We’ll never have enough data and information to make the choices obvious. In spite of the uncertainty, complexity, and the ever-present possibility of failure, a strategic leader must eventually step up and make the call about what the team will and will NOT focus on.

“The biggest risk is not taking any risk… In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.” Mark Zuckerberg

Is this why the precious ability to decide is the defining feature of those deemed worthy to hold the highest leadership positions? Maybe so - please do share your thoughts in the comments.

Author's avatar

By Danyl Bosomworth

Dan helped to co-found Smart Insights in 2010 and acted as Marketing Director until leaving in November 2014 to focus on his other role as Managing Director of First 10 Digital. His experience spans brand development and digital marketing, with roles both agency and client side for nearly 20 years. Creative, passionate and focussed, his goal is on commercial success whilst increasing brand equity through effective integration and remembering that marketing is about real people. Dan's interests and recent experience span digital strategy, social media, and eCRM. You can learn more about Dan's background here Linked In.

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