9th September 2018
Before I went off on my August holidays I explored in greater depth the first of my 3 enduring fallacies of B2B marketing – that over the past few years marketing has fundamentally changed. In this post I delve deeper into the 2nd of those 3 fallacies and focus on developing B2B marketing strategy, exploring the difference between marketing strategy and plans.
We B2B marketers love words and phrases that sound important and weighty. So we create our marketing plans and call them strategy. We constantly use the words strategy and plans interchangeably, incorrectly, and (even better) blended together – as in our ‘strategic marketing plans’. Because, of course, we all want to ‘do’ strategy and appear ‘strategic’.
But a B2B marketing plan is NOT marketing strategy. And a marketing plan cannot be ‘strategic’ if there is no marketing strategy in the first place!
I call this pyramid my hierarchy of marketing.
Strategy sits at the top of the pyramid because strategy should inform everything we do as marketers. It articulates the approach we take towards our markets and the choices we make, providing both clarity and purpose around what we do – and 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 as well as our customers. And having a strategy that we can point to and articulate enables us to say No to activities that may seem pretty cool, but don’t actually help achieve what we’re trying to achieve.
The top half of this pyramid is about achieving outcomes.
Yet many of us – perhaps even the majority of us – operate solely in lower half of this pyramid, which is focused on outputs. And let me be very clear here: these outputs are not strategy. They are the tactics we implement that support and deliver the strategy, but they are not strategy.
So, what’s the difference between strategy and plans?
There are 6 basic questions we need to ask and answer when we’re developing our strategy and plans.
If you’ll bear with me for a moment, when I was little I loved Rudyard Kipling’s Just So stories. Even though these stories are now clearly of a different time and place, many of the core messages remain relevant. One of my favourites has always been The Elephant’s Child, because it’s basically about curiosity as essential for acquiring new knowledge, having new ideas and developing new abilities.
There’s a poem in the story that goes:
I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
What, Why, When, How, Where and Who. These are the basic questions we ask as we explore the world, gather information, invent stories and learn new things, whether as children or adults.
And these are the essential questions that separate our marketing Strategy and Plans.
Putting this into practice, developing Strategy is asking and answering the Why, Where and How:
Strategy must come first and only once we have clarity on the Why, Where and How, should we start to develop the tactical plans. Because strategy isn’t just words on a page; strategy is the touchstone that every marketer in the organisation needs to understand, and against which every single marketing activity must be aligned and measured.
Developing marketing strategy is certainly not easy but it doesn’t have to be complicated. These 3 questions form the foundation upon which a clear strategy can be built. But it takes more than tactical marketing expertise – it takes a deep understanding of our customers and our business, and a deep grounding in the marketing fundamentals. Because it’s 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.
Understanding the difference between strategy and plans – and the difference in how we develop them – is a critical distinction. Because if we don’t know where we’re going, how can we even begin to think about what needs to be done to get there.
In my next post I’ll explore the marketing plan and share my 8-step framework that acts as a catalyst for having different kinds of conversations with our businesses.
I hold ½ and full day workshops for you and your teams to develop marketing strategy and integrate subsequent plans that create impact and differentiation. Please contact me if you’d like to talk!
If you don’t have yours yet, check out my book B2B Marketing Strategy: differentiate, develop and deliver lasting customer engagement on my book page, and then buy it from Kogan Page publishers or Amazon everywhere.
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.