The way marketing strategy is created is changing. So is the way it works, how it’s executed, and what’s expected.
For insights on how the role of marketing strategy is evolving, I asked Brian Gregg, a senior partner in McKinsey’s San Francisco office, to share a few insights.
Paul Talbot: The classic approach to developing a marketing strategy involves practices such as identifying the target customer, developing segments, identifying forces driving the market, and defining the desired position. Is this time-honored approach changing? If so, how?
Brian Gregg: The fundamental building blocks of strategy are unchanged. But how strategy delivers those fundamentals has changed dramatically.
Consider the speed, depth and precision of insight that can now be brought to strategy creation. And then look at the ability to develop new products, power new experiences, and personalize interactions in ways that never existed 10 years, even 5 years ago.
And yet with all of these changes, the biggest metamorphosis isn’t in marketing strategy – it’s in the role of marketing itself: moving from communications leadership to growth accelerant.
Talbot: Could you provide an example of ‘moving from communications leadership to growth accelerant?’
Gregg: The role of marketing is undergoing a metamorphosis. In many cases, marketing historically was viewed as the communications department – responsible for creating catchy messages, creative imagery, and brand logos to better connect with customers.
Now more than ever, marketing is owning the growth agenda across the C-Suite – responsible for generating customer demand, increasing engagement with the product/service, and ultimately driving loyalty.
Our most recent research, unveiled at Cannes Lions Festival last month, shows the most successful marketers in driving growth spend their time in much different ways than before.
They invest time working across the C-Suite, aiming to unify customer experiences across physical and digital touch points, versus staying in the communications lane only – what we call a unifier CMO.
It really matters for a company’s growth agenda. Our analysis shows that high-growth companies are seven times more likely to have a unifier CMO than their peers.
Talbot: If you were to help a client evaluate an existing marketing strategy, what are some of the things you would do?
Gregg: There are multiple components you’d expect anyone to look at – baselining marketing spend and returns, comparing brand equities versus competitors, assessing consumer sentiments across segments, etc. But often the real ‘mojo’ often comes from select inputs that many organizations forget to explore.
One is spending meaningful, in-person time with power users. A second is tapping insight sources along the consumer journey – call centers, front-line associates, and others closest to ‘in-journey’ experiences. There’s no replacement for the insights to be gained there.
Talbot: Should we look at marketing campaigns as strategic or tactical?
Gregg: The exciting part about this moment in marketing’s history is that the lines have blurred between the two – thanks to the power of digital and analytics. If you take a page from Silicon Valley – and take a start-up mentality – tactics and strategy fuse together.
This is in large part because the speed at which you need to operate requires it. Some of the most cutting-edge marketers are bringing agile techniques (invented by software engineers) to the marketing domain – enabling an intentional integration of strategy and tactics that makes each better.
Talbot: To what extent should strategy be informed and influenced by campaign results? How can this process be managed so short-term thinking doesn’t overwhelm long-term objectives?
Gregg: Campaign results are one form of consumer response – and a great input to strategy. But that’s only one part of the picture.
Over-reliance can create dangerous blind spots. It’s the combination of campaign results along with the insight and foresight that comes from external trend scanning, longitudinal consumer studies, and qualitative/observational approaches that ensures marketing has a clear view of where the growth is and how to get it.
Talbot: What needs to be in the marketing strategy to maximize its value and everyday usefulness to the organization?
Gregg: One of the biggest pitfalls of marketing strategies we see is the lack of clarity that helps the broader organization know what is in and out of bounds – and what are the markers of success. For example, is this about driving new consumer growth? Retention and loyalty? Overall brand expansion into new territories?
As a litmus test for sufficient translation, we often ask a simple question: by looking at how teams are organized, directed, and collaborating, is the strategy clear? Indeed, the worst place for a strategy to live is on paper. Translation into action is the currency that strategy thrives on.