Why is strategy so hard for B2B marketing?

10th April 2016

I’m not saying it’s simple, because it isn’t. But my blog post last month on the difference between marketing strategy and plans has been generating a lot of discussion amongst my peers and networks. Because invariably B2B marketing keeps getting stuck in tactical execution.

Strategy rift4

3 big obstacles we’re facing:

  • What is the role of our marketing leadership? I sat in a meeting at the beginning of the year with the marketing director of a good size B2B services organisation. And, of course, I asked about their organisation’s business strategy and marketing strategy. This very senior marketing person told me their marketing strategy was to ‘create and disseminate relevant content’. And they could not articulate their organisation’s business strategy at all.

Frankly, I was speechless. Yet this has not been a unique occurrence. I’m concerned that our senior people focus on managing the function – the marketing outputs – rather than providing the strategic thinking necessary for the marketing outcomes that are meaningful for the business.

  • Are we training our people how to think? I mentor a few younger marketing professionals across diverse industries. One of them is now looking for a new job, so I’ve been coaching them on their CV preparation and interviewing. This person used the word ‘strategy’ throughout their CV, yet when I pressed them for examples of their strategic work, they gave me numerous examples of tactics but could not articulate what strategy meant in the context of their current role, or what it would look like in the role they wanted.

I don’t necessarily expect junior marketers to be ‘strategic’, but I do expect them to begin thinking about what they do – the tactical execution – in the context of the wider marketing strategy. And how can they do that if we don’t even understand the difference ourselves?

  • Who are we listening to? Last month I was asked to contribute to an article for a marketing publication that’s one of my marketing ‘bibles’. They were asking a variety of senior marketing people across industries for their ‘top 3 strategies that work every time’. When I delved deeper into what the article was meant to explore, it was pretty clear that the article was intended to discover the most effective tactics used by the best marketers. And yet the article was clearly equating tactics and strategy.

I’m uneasy because I constantly see a whole host of articles, blog posts and so-called thought leadership on the subject of Marketing Strategy which are actually not about strategy at all.

And I wonder if this strategy disconnect is the real issue we’re currently facing in B2B marketing.

Because strategy is the foundation for everything. It articulates the approach we take towards our markets and provides both clarity and purpose around what we do – and perhaps more importantly, what we don’t do. A marketing strategy organises our thinking and thus our actions around what is most important for our business, enabling us to develop and execute marketing plans that actually make a difference.

Strategy may be hard but it is the one effort that will make the most difference in both how our businesses perceive the marketing function and the impact we make in our markets.

What are your thoughts?

Please email me with your comments. I’d really like your perspectives on what we need in order to think more strategically and actually develop marketing strategy our organisations can align to and believe in.

Heidi Taylor is an award-winning senior marketing strategist with 25 years' experience of helping organisations engage with their customers, creating impact and differentiation. She is a sought-after speaker at marketing conferences in the UK and internationally, and regularly contributes articles to marketing journals in print and online. You can follow her on Twitter @TaylorMadeInKew.

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