The Strategy Issue

Navigating the modern B2B marketing landscape

Volume One / Issue 4

First, a question...

Strategy – a familiar term to businesses and marketers alike. But do we really understand its importance and how best to apply it to our marketing campaigns? Let’s start at the beginning with the origin of the word itself. ‘Strategy’ finds its roots in Ancient Greece, a derivative of ‘stratēgós’ – meaning a general, the leader of an army. While, allegedly, the Greeks never actually used the word, its meaning transcends into many aspects of the modern world – even marketing campaigns! With a strong, strategic leader at the helm, businesses can assess the marketing battlefield, decide on a plan of attack and ensure the right tactics are deployed to give their brand or product the best chance of survival.

Which brings us on to the question at the core of this piece – where have all the thinkers gone?

In light of recent global crises, many industries have been scrambling to survive which, arguably, has led to too much doing and too little thinking.

Strategy requires ‘Take that hill’ clarity, while tactics require a Fitbit ‘10,000 steps a day’ focus. Never confuse the two.

Anne C. Graham

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Strategy is the big picture. When it’s side stepped in favour of quick, actionable day-to-day tactics, it’s easy for businesses, brands and their own internal marketing teams to miss out on the opportunity to make a real impact and drive growth – “marketing with a greater level of depth, targeting and purpose.” Adopting a strategic mindset is the practice of stopping to think before taking that first step – what should I be doing and why?

In a survey of 10,000 business leaders, 97% of them said that being strategic was the leadership behaviour most important to their organisation’s success. It remains, however, an intimidating feat for many and pens the question, do enough leaders remember to start with strategy and ensure it transcends down through their business into its every function?

A new Mindset

So, where do you start? Well, sticking with its military origins, we’re going to start with a quote from Sun Tzu, the author of The Art of War.

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory.Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

Sun Tzu

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Food for thought. Success isn’t found in what you do, it’s why you do it that matters. How do you get to the ‘why’ in question? By adopting a strategic way of thinking…

First up – understand your customer and their requirements – how can you offer relevancy without first getting to know the audience you’re selling to?

Then there are your competitors – know what they’re offering – do your research, dissect their positioning and find your point of difference.

With this in mind, determine your advantage – what can you offer that no one else can? Find your angle.

Research the market as a whole – once you have your niche, start thinking about where it fits in the market landscape, what are the opportunities you could tap into?

Do you need to adapt or mould to meet the current need?

And finally – a particularly pertinent one for 2020 – take a look back and assess if the demand or need for your services or products has changed. How does the current climate affect operations?

All of this – so you can create sustainable goals for your business, use you resources wisely, increase your overall reach, get to market faster and more effectively and ultimately boost sales.

meet the strategist

Before we get down to the logistics of formulating a winning strategy, we’re taking a sidestep – to look at the ‘strategic person’, their qualities, attributes and why they are a must-have for more effective marketing campaigns.

 

Strategic thinkers see ‘what if ’type questions before seeingpotential solutions.

Dorie Clark

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Strategic thinkers see ‘what if’ type questions before seeing potential solutions. In their brains, they map out a range of decision trees that intersect and connect by imagining how events will play out in the future.

Like a master chess player – the ultimate strategic mind – take the time to adopt a broader perspective and think of all the potential plays that can be made, anticipating the potential impact of the decisions you make. Remember to assess the bigger picture

on your business, its position within the market and your customers – ask the right questions and you can’t go wrong.

Which brings us nicely back to the most important question – WHY?

The WHY is a business' reason for being. And the WHY is why anyone should care.

Ameet Ranadive

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The power of why

Now we return to the all-important ‘why’ – a crucial tool in the strategist’s arsenal. Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle is probably the most commonly used model, placing ‘why’ at the centre – a business’ “purpose, their cause or their belief. The WHY is their reason for being. And the WHY is why anyone should care.”

THE WHY – Your business vision and the ability to describe an ideal future state. It should be simple to understand, motivational for your employees and act as inspiration for every decision made in the business’ interest. If you were in a lift and had 20-30 seconds to sell your business, what would you say? Why should stakeholders and customers invest in what you have to offer?

Don’t know where to start? Go back a couple of steps and use the questions from the strategic mindset section to start building your ‘why’.

At this point, it’s important to note that not all strategies have to be long term or cover off the entirety of your business offering. It can be broken into manageable chunks, business units or something similar and span a shorter period of time. Perhaps you split the year into quarters and have set goals or targets to reach at the end of each. Following a tumultuous 2020, businesses appreciate the importance of flexibility more than ever before – the ability to make a considered and purposeful pivot should it be necessary – all to be taken into account when outlining a strategic plan.

THE HOW – You have your ‘why’ but now it’s time to tackle the ‘how’ – the values and principles that guide your decision making on a day-to-day basis. How do you differentiate your products or services from the competition? What do you hold yourself accountable to?

THE WHAT – Remember the tactics we mentioned earlier? Well, this is where they come into play. Backed up by the ‘why’ and the ‘how’, this is the moment your strategy is turned into a reality. The day-to-day execution of a campaign or activity that helps you on your way to hitting those goals.

What a ‘WHAT’ is not, however, is a representation of “something to which we want to belong.” The belief system behind the operation. Which is why the why must always come first.

“If people don’t buy WHAT you do but WHY you do it, then all these things must be consistent. With consistency, people will see and hear, without a shadow of doubt, what you believe.”

In summary, authenticity is crucial. The why, how and what must work in harmony to effectively form the basis of any strategic activity.

The Why must be clear and easy to understand.
The How must be disciplined.
The What must be consistent and tangible.

CRAFTING A STRATEGIC APPROACH

The impact of strategic thinking should be that organisations spend valuable resources on doing the right things. They’re able to link a strategy to a future vision for a place, organisation or service, asking: are we doing the right things to make this a reality?

Remember right at the beginning we talked about how to adopt a strategic mindset? Well, now it’s time to put it into practice.

Start by understanding where you’re at right now
With the SWOT analysis method in mind, consider what your business does well. Its strengths, unique qualities and reputation.

Have a vision of where you’d like to be in the future
Devise a clear set of objectives and goals, look at the opportunities out there and make a statement on how you’re going to get there. Never lose focus on that. Go back and evaluate your performance against this vision regularly.

 

Assess what stands between you and your vision/goals

As per SWOT, look at the areas in which you may need to improve – what’s missing from your overall offering? Are there any weaknesses you need to resolve?

To support every decision in this process, get to know your audience. Go beyond basic demographics, away from the general and create buyer personas specific to your business. Learn how customers interact, what they’re looking for and identify areas with untapped potential. This will help you to position your business as the go-to place for tailored customer needs.

Alongside this comes more general research. Learn from the past mistakes of your competitors, assess what hasn’t worked and use it alongside your customer personas to truly understand what they think, want and don’t want. Never assume this will always be the same, so keep going back to it, collecting fresh data so you never miss a beat when it comes to your audience.

A company wanting to secure a certain share of the market should ensure they clearly identify their mission, survey the industry situation, define a specific objective and develop, implement and evaluate a plan to guarantee they can provide their customers with the products they need, when they need them.

Make a plan worth having

How do you take your SWOT analysis one step further and develop actionable strategies for your business? And what strategic steps should you be taking to amplify your strengths, eradicate the weaknesses, realise the opportunities and nullify the threats?

From SWOT to TOWS…

TOWS looks at external opportunities and threats and compares them to a business’s strengths and weaknesses.

Bring together internal strengths and external opportunities
Ask yourself, which of the business strengths you identified could be used to tap into the opportunities you highlighted?

Combat your weaknesses
As above, use the opportunities you’ve found to help eradicate any weaknesses.

Stand strong in the face of threats
How can you use your strengths as a business to ward off any of the threats that may appear?

Resolve weaknesses, reclaim strength
As a company how can you minimise your weaknesses in order to avoid any threats on the horizon?

Simple, but effective – with this you take defining a strategic approach to the next level and create actionable strategies to roll out across every area of your business.

Many senior leaders tend to focus too much on the formulation aspect of strategy and too little on cascading and operationalising it.

Steven J. Stowell & Stephanie S. Mead

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The Cascade

Before tactics come into play it’s important to communicate and implement your strategy at every level of the business – marketing, R&D, finance – the list goes on. All players must be engaged and on board for your new strategy, whether it’s brand or otherwise, to have true and consistent impact. But how do senior leaders and CEOs ensure engagement?

Leadership. Process. Consistency.
Once a clearly defined strategic vision has been determined, it’s essential to engage the senior leadership team, ensure they are aligned and thinking as one about how these overarching goals apply to each of their business areas and how they can contribute to meeting them.

The alignment journey continues within each department, with the division heads taking responsibility for breathing life into the strategy and creating relevant internal processes to make it happen. Keeping the lines of communication open is crucial at this stage to ensure consistency of message is maintained across the board.

With department-led strategic roadmaps in place, the wider team comes into play – setting out their objectives and showing how the company vision will be applied to everyday operations. An example could be within a marketing campaign and the tactics best suited to reflect the company’s identity, vision and offering.

This is when a review process becomes crucial. Remember the opportunities and threats of the SWOT method? As time moves on and new challenges surface, business leaders must have the means to regularly assess progress. The cascade turns on its head, and it’s up to the organisation or team members from each division to report up and share their experiences, results and metrics. Progress rests on regular check-ins and a clear line of communication from bottom to top and back again.

Why Strategy?

So, with all this in mind, we circle back to the importance of big picture thinking. Whether you’re taking a broad look at your marketing strategy as a whole or focusing in on one specific product line, it’s essential to take a step back and question ‘why am I doing this?’ Can’t find an answer? Keep asking questions until you do. It’s only then that you’ll truly tap into what your customers really want and need, cut through the industry noise and deliver marketing campaigns with true impact.

It’s time for the thinkers to return, don’t you agree?

Through insight and expertise we make the complex understandable. We help you identify your most promising opportunity and, by applying your strengths, set a clear path to win.

Minke Egling – Strategist

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