The word strategy in the context of marketing is used ubiquitously by most of us. We are all prone to its overuse and indeed misuse.

So, we thought we’d take a look at what strategy is in the context of marketing given the digital disruption we all living through. 



Strategists in the world of marketing these days need to have multiple personalities, be ambidextrous, be multilingual and be able to transition from research, data, product, sales, creative, media, account, digital, and execution on a dime. Wow! That’s a challenge in anyone’s language. The biggest challenge, however is the many hats a marketing strategist is often expected to competently wear which is often an unrealistic expectation and delivers less than ideal outcomes.

Strategy defined – A reminder

Strategy is the discipline that is applied in how to get from A to B with the constraint of limited resources. Ultimately, strategy is about the choices we do or don’t make on the journey to achieve your goal. Success for the strategist is seeing the finite resources they have carefully selected deliver the achievement of a goal. 

Given this definition seems so simple, what is the biggest impediment to successful strategic development and execution?

In the marketing world, strategists are often seduced by the allure of tactics (particularly new ones) and overlook the most important resource they have at hand - their budget. The best strategists are grounded in commercial acumen and they consider commercial realities early on. They have conversations with their colleagues and clients upfront about financial resources and make their strategic moves based on that.

The new triangular nature of marketing strategy

The landscape for every business is in transformation and the same is true of marketing strategy. What was once a top down approach via annual marketing plans according to the theories of Malcolm McDonald and Phillip Kotler, is now becoming less effective as the pace of change across every aspect of business and society increases. With the increased focus on ROI, the disaggregation of media and proliferation of new technology platforms it is not surprising that a greater emphasis is now placed on executional strategy. This new agile marketing world is then resulting in lots of doing with very little time for reflection and resetting.Triangle-02 copy 

What is Peak or Top-Down Strategy?

Peak or top-down strategists work out the foundational, long-term strategic aspect of marketing like the desired final positioning for the brand. They may work on innovation strategy as well, identifying and prioritising the key initiatives that achieve the long-term growth objectives. They will often project into the future and work back to where the brand is today to aid executional planning. Typically they cover a 1-3 year timeframe.

Marketing or brand strategists traditionally were surrounded by mystique similar to that of the creative director and often sought out for their sage and contrary advice. They start with a blank piece of paper and source information in the form of survey research like segmentation and positioning studies or customer behavioural data like scan or Google Analytics to come up with the final strategic direction.

What is Executional or Bottom-Up Strategy?

The executional or bottom-up approach commences by looking at the current environment (budget, media, assets, competitors) and builds forward to the final desired outcome.

These type of strategists (i.e. creative, content, communications strategists) work best when they’re responding to a brief or a concept as they’ve often emerged from the executional ranks of content or digital development. They are experts in joining the links that need to be connected. Ideally, it should be in sympathy with the peak or top-down strategy.

As the famous military saying goes, ‘all planning fails contact’ and it’s no different with marketing strategy and planning. This is particularly so with the proliferation of media – in particular digital media. Thus, executional strategy has emerged as a must have discipline as it is highly measurable and has real time impact.

When executional strategy is missing, more often than not, the strategy lead can present a smorgasbord of executions that don’t meet budget, don’t align to the media plan and technically can’t be implemented. Does this sound familiar?

Creating a winning strategy team by combining top and bottom strategic expertise

Clearly, the two planning approaches should complement each other in the marketing planning and executional development process. Creating a triangular shaped strategic team isn’t only for the biggest creative agencies in the world. Smaller agencies and even clients can create teams with top and bottom up specific strategists from freelancers and partner specialist agencies.

Like any team creation situation, it’s important to create an engaging environment where all strategists respect that the language and customs are very different from a digital strategist to a creative strategist. When a strategist understands the new language, they come together and they will thrive in this new ‘triangular’ environment. 

Practically, these strategists will still be silos of expertise, however the benefit of having a search strategist in the same workshop as a brand strategist is hugely beneficial as each other’s insights are shared early in the piece leading to a better informed ‘whole of marketing strategy’. The outcome? A greater chance of success!

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