Strategic marketing vs. marketing as a service

Marketing is an interesting discipline in today’s world. In some companies, the team ends up relegated to service status, playing a reactive role in supporting sales. I’ve started referring to it as marketing as a service, or MaaS, since everything as a service is all the rage these days. For larger organizations, I’m not a huge fan of this approach since there’s usually significant investment to salaries of qualified individuals who understand the business strategy and build plans that help move it forward.

Relegating those people to reactive roles isn’t the best way to get a return on that investment, though there are times it can make sense. Sadly, this structure means marketing doesn’t have the impact it could if it was given a place at the table to have more strategic influence in the business.

Why should marketing be a driver of strategy?

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This may be an oversimplification to some, but marketing can’t effectively communicate to market what your organization has to offer if it’s always jumping every time sales or a senior executive says jump. When this happens, it’s a possible sign that there’s a lack of understanding or respect for the true impact marketing can have in helping businesses grow.

Instead, broadly speaking, marketing needs to develop messaging, validate it with the appropriate input from other departments and then manage how that message is disseminated so it’s compelling, cohesive and consistent.

But it can’t just be compelling. It has to be compelling to the right audience and meet them where they are. The cohesiveness and consistency should flow through pre- and post-sales touch points, a gargantuan effort that requires working cross-functionally across most of the organization. Marketers have to become adept jugglers of objectives, audience and message to inspire action.

If your marketing is fluff, you’re doing it wrong

Someone once made the argument to me that we should be getting subject matter experts (SMEs) to write content instead of marketing so the content isn’t fluff. My experience with marketers is that the good ones become experts in their particular discipline (content, product marketing, digital marketing) and they work hard to learn as much as humanly possible about the industry as well.

The marketing team that works together well is its own SME. We combine the message we need to communicate with valuable thought leadership to create compelling, useful content. Any team that can’t do this without constant oversight and involvement from SMEs outside of marketing is offloading their job to others. This may sound harsh, but it’s much harder to take something written through a different lens and make it marketable. It’s easier to get SMEs to validate content that was written for marketing purposes.

The marketing team isn’t fluff either

I alluded to the lack of understanding of marketing’s role earlier. We have a reputation of being the fun, social, wine-drinking folks who spend all their time taking selfies and tweeting, but this not-entirely-wrong-but-rather-superficial view doesn’t account for the hard work we’re celebrating on these occasions. It also doesn’t recognize the continuous learning good marketers do to maintain a depth of knowledge about business, marketing trends, best practices, and what’s going on in our industry of focus.

Marketing, despite popular belief, is  not exclusively a lead-gen machine. Generating a high volume of leads isn’t the goal. Generating high-quality leads isn’t even necessarily the goal. After all, there needs to be a robust process in place to leverage leads that come in. If the infrastructure and process aren’t there, that may be the priority over generating leads in the first place. This is why choosing the right marketing approach and activities is a natural extension of knowing what you want to accomplish. Then marketing can and should have a powerful impact on business results.

The challenge? Many marketing orgs are still reporting on leads generated but since that isn’t a metric that shows on the financials (thank goodness), it’s important for the work of marketing to be tied to revenue in reporting to reflect their true importance to the business. Speaking the language of revenue can get us there.

The most important question a marketer can ask

I firmly believe we have to ask why. Always. If there isn’t a clear purpose, especially with out-of-the-blue, one-off requests, the activity doesn’t pass the smell test in my book. Yes, there will be occasional times when you do a thing just because. But if that’s the status quo, there probably isn’t much strategic marketing going on. Here are a few answers to the “why” question that need further exploration:

  • Sales needs it. (Why? What’s the business case for doing it if it’s not in the plan? Is there a critical gap in our existing content/collateral that needs to be addressed?)

  • We’ve always done it. (Why? Do you know it works? What results did you get from it before? Any leads? Sales? Show data that support the decision.)

  • Exec X asked for it. (Why? What’s the impact of doing it and diverting resources from the plan? If something has to be dropped or delayed, is Exec X okay with that?)

I’m not saying the answer is no when marketing is asked to go off plan. But the answer shouldn’t automatically be a resounding yes. We have to be flexible and provide support, but we can’t lose sight of the work we have to do to achieve our goals in support of the business objectives because we’re accountable for the goals we set, even if we spend all our time in a reactive state. And we need to make data-driven decisions rather than relying on instinct whenever possible.

The fun part of marketing

Working in a team that practices strategic marketing is this perfect blend of creativity (coming up with all the ideas), strategy (building plans that lead to results), execution (getting stuff done and delivered), and learning (business, marketing, and industry). It’s a machine that runs so beautifully when you bring the right people together. And we love when a executing a plan generates the results we expect. That’s well worth celebrating. For the business that has a strategically-minded marketing team, they’ll see the benefits of those people and their contributions in the bottom line.