ARE YOUR STRATEGY AND EXECUTION OUT OF BALANCE*

It seems like every marketer I meet and team I work with says that they are working 12+ hour days just to keep up with the day-to-day. They’re buffeted by project after project and don’t feel in control of their work. Their marketing feels reactive, mechanical, transactional. And God forbid you mention a new idea or approach. They don’t have the mental bandwidth to even consider it, whether it’s a good idea or not.

When marketing teams feel so busy that they don’t have time to think, that’s a problem. They’re acting without asking the right questions, just spinning plates and juggling balls all day. Doing without thinking or purpose is a waste of effort and can burn your teams out. And it’s likely you’re not deriving maximum value from your marketing effort.

Why is this happening? One big reason is strategy and execution – the two parts of the marketing whole – are disconnected and out of balance. So many marketing organizations, even large, established ones, are creating strategies, and then moving on to activation, as if they were discrete and separate endeavors. Strategy is treated as an academic exercise, which is engaged in and completed. And execution –the activation of marketing – becomes transactional and reactive, without the strategic rigor of the more thoughtful, academic part of the model.

So, assuming you’ve developed a good, smart strategy, how do you keep execution from becoming disconnected with it? Here are some tips:

  • Brief all your work. Briefs help clarify objectives before work starts, ensuring you’ll be working towards an overall strategic goal. They also require a moment of thought before work begins – ensuring that execution isn’t mindless or reactive. And briefs create team alignment before work starts. So, while creating a brief requires some additional upfront time, it will create efficiency – with fewer missteps and faulty assumptions along the way, saving time from re-work, do-overs and course-corrections.

    And a brief doesn’t have to be a tome or treatise. It just needs to have the core “W’s” – why are we doing this, who is it for, what are we looking to do, and how will we know it worked. A single page word doc is all you need.

  • Keep asking “Why?” Separate from a Brief, regularly asking the question “why?” helps you ensure your work has a purpose to achieve a strategic goal. Asking “why” requires that you have consumer insights to make your work relevant and add value. And it helps dig below superficial observation and “just because”…

  • Create strategic frameworks for your execution. Marketers may assume that execution is not strategic, but activating your strategy requires a tremendous number of strategic decisions and planning. That’s why it’s crucial to develop rigorous plans, frameworks, models for your programs. Create formal marketing strategies and plans, codified content strategies and calendars, messaging architectures, etc. This helps put a real plan in place, built off your strategic decisions.

  • Set KPI’s and measure them. One sure-fire way for execution to get disconnected from strategy is by not measuring it. So, make sure to identify your marketing KPI’s that track back to the achievement of your strategy – and then measure them regularly. This will drive a continued level of strategic execution around what’s working and how to continue to optimize it.

  • Prioritize work to allocate resources appropriately. Without strategic prioritization, all activities appear to be equally important. Thus, resources get allocated equally.

    However, it’s important to identify which activities are more valuable/tied to achieving strategic objectives, vs. which are more the “get-er-done” type. Develop some type of system that is part of a project scope or brief which identifies the prioritization level of the assignment – and then allocates the appropriate amount of work to achieve it. 

Finally, the best way to keep strategy and execution in harmony is to view them as two sides of the same coin. I always like to say the best approach is to view strategy through the filter of activation – that is, make sure your strategy is executable – and view execution through the lens of strategy. It makes no sense to spend your team’s efforts against work that won’t help your organization deliver on its strategic goals.

* Originally published in MediaPost Marketing Insider February 3, 2022

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