The case for a long, mid and short-term view in sailing and marketing

Working within an organization’s annual financial process means you are likely to be either preparing, or have just finished, your annual planning and budgeting. In fact, it can often feel that just as you complete one round of planning and budget setting, the next round has arrived before you have really got into implementing your plans.But there have been major changes over the past decade, which have had significant impacts not only on the marketing planning process, but also on the role of marketing strategy. Instead of setting a long-term marketing strategy and implementing the tactics to deliver it over the year, marketers are often finding themselves so focused on delivering the short-term tactics to deliver the immediate wins that often the longer term strategy is forgotten.

Even that most traditional and strategic of marketing categories, Consumer Package Goods, is focusing on short-term tactics to reach and convert customers to drive revenue and market share expectations. And retailer marketers, who plan out their marketing a year or more ahead to leverage seasonal retail events, are finding themselves competing with online e-commerce, which appears to be able to create sales events almost overnight. What has caused these changes in the role of the marketing strategy? What is the emerging trend we are seeing across a wide range of categories and markets where growth is a strategic focus but continues to prove a challenge? In his book “Good strategy, Bad strategy”, Richard P. Rumelt writes “Strategy is at least as much about what an organization does not do as it is about what it does.”

In developing a marketing strategy, the marketer is mapping out a plan of action to optimise successfully achieving the marketing objectives for the organization. It is aligned to delivering the business objectives (usually growth-related) and takes a medium to long-term view of achieving the same, based on the resources at hand (products/services, distribution channels, budget etc), the competitors’ positioning, activity and strategy, and of course the customer. Traditionally, the marketing strategy was developed either at the launch of a new product or service or when it was deemed the current marketing plan was not working and a new one was needed, often with the appointment of a new CMO or head of marketing. The implementation of the marketing plan, developed from the strategy, would often take a year, and therefore by the time the plan was executed it was time to review and do the same again.

The role of the marketing strategy was to set the direction for the foreseeable future (12 months to up to five years in some cases) and inform the marketing plan on an annual basis to define what marketing should do and more importantly what marketing should not do to deliver on the organizational objectives.

Fig 1: While Marketing Strategy is aligned to the strategic objective, the marketing plan is the plan of action to get there. Both are needed to assess progress in the lifts and knocks of the market.

More than at any time the marketing function, within most organizations, is under pressure to deliver or at the least contribute to measurable growth to justify the marketing budget – which has been under downward pressure for most of the 21st century. At the same time, the rise of social media, digital media channels and marketing technology, such as programmatic and real-time media bidding, provides marketers with a means not only to position brands, products and services against the competition in the mind of the customer, but also help fill the euphemistic ‘online sales funnel’ with leads to be converted by sales or even, in an e-commerce world, convert those leads to sales themselves.

Enter the concept of Agile Marketing, inspired by the process of agile software development, and adapted to the marketing discipline. Agile Marketing is about testing and learning, using the results to adapt in real time and go back to the market to optimise marketing investment and deliver measurable Return on Marketing Investment (ROMI). In this world the measures are customer acquisition, cost per lead and acquisition and revenue growth. The focus is on the short-term sales results and optimising the lead and conversion rate. But what about the longer term marketing strategy and market positioning of the brand? An online insurance company we work with embraced agile marketing as a way to maximize marketing budget and ROMI. This included in-house creative and media buying, so they could respond to the market in real time with all agile marketing processes managed totally within the organization.

Fig 2: Traditionally marketing plans laid out a planned route to market. In uncertain and changeable times a more agile approach allows marketers to deliver short-term wins while delivering on longer-term strategic objectives.

But while the marketing team was driving terrific acquisition results in the short-term, there was a realization within the marketing leadership that their agile response to the market had caused them to drift from the core marketing strategy that had built their competitive strength and differentiation. As Richard P. Rumelt had stated above, the marketing strategy defined what they would do and just as importantly what they would not do. But with a short-term focus on driving sales results they ended up doing whatever it took to continue or improve those results, without consideration of what the strategy told them not to do, and therefore were compromising the marketing strategy.

This is easy to do. After all marketers face more choices than ever. There are more channels and more options than there ever have been. Marketers are also facing greater levels of unpredictability, competition and complexity. But out of this complexity and unpredictability comes more opportunity, and therefore a greater need for the agility to take advantage of opportunity as it arises. However, there is also a need for a framework to inform the decision on which opportunities should be taken and how you should take them. This is the emerging role of the marketing strategy in an agile marketing process. I like to think of it as being like sailing. Not the cruising type sailing – a lazy afternoon in the sun, sitting on the deck, sipping champagne. But the racing type of sailing, with an ultimate goal – the finish line and a fleet of competitors in changeable conditions.

A good skipper knows the strengths of the boat and the crew and will have a strategy to play to those strengths and maximize performance in current conditions. The skipper also has tools at his or her disposal to provide updates on the current situation and changes in the surrounding environment. The skipper should know something of the competitors in the fleet – their tactics, strategies, strengths and weaknesses. As with agile marketing, the crew will hopefully have practiced and become incredibly efficient at changing tack. As they sail up to the starting line, the skipper will position the boat to get the best opportunity on the wind and the fleet. From before the start to the finish line the focus of the skipper and crew is on the ultimate goal, which is crossing the line ahead of the rest.

Fig 3: In varying and changing conditions do you stick with the plan and the fleet or strike out and search for immediate opportunities while maintaining a view of the longer-term strategic objectives?

The skipper will stay on strategy to ensure the maximum performance of the boat and the crew, but will constantly be looking for opportunities to take advantage of changing wind and weather conditions and the tactics of the competitors, only reacting when there is a clear opportunity to take an advantage or avoid a disadvantage. After all, simply following the fleet means if there is a knock from a wind change then the whole fleet gets knocked back, but the skipper who decides to stay the course when everyone else tacks is looking for the wind lift that will put him or her ahead of the fleet. What does this mean for marketers? There is a business objective, which is the finish line. Aligned to this objective is the marketing strategy, which defines the best use of the resources available to position the brand, product or service successfully to deliver that objective. There is a marketing plan derived from this strategy, which is the race plan, based on the current weather conditions, the competitive set and the resources available. But then throughout the race there is a constant need to monitor changes in the current situation that might deliver opportunities. Whether these opportunities are taken, or not, depends on the marketing strategy and plan.

This is a short, mid and long-term view of a marketing strategy. The long-term is set within the marketing strategy. And while they say you should always review that strategy, tactics never drive it. Instead, the tactics are assessed against the strategy to make sure they capitalise on the short-term objectives while building the long-term marketing strategy. The marketing plan is the medium-term review where strategy and tactics meet to achieve short, medium and long-term objectives. While the organization may be interested in this quarter’s sales results and marketing’s contribution to those results, marketing must remember it also plays an important longer-term value creation role, ultimately to win the race. The role of the marketer today is to use the marketing strategy to assess short-term tactical opportunities, but to ensure the organization stays on track to deliver the agreed medium- and longer-term objectives of the organization as well.

Darren Woolley is the Global CEO for TrinityP3 Marketing Management Consultants: www.trinityp3.com.

TRUMP: the influencer President?

In 2016 I wrote an article about how then candidate Donald Trump had used the influence and reach of social media to bypass the media and create a movement of followers online and in the community. In 2018, now President Trump has applied his social media acumen to foreign policy with shocking results. So what precedent has Trump set for the next generation of leaders?

On January 2017 the world witnessed the swearing-in of a billionaire real-estate mogul and reality TV star as President of the United States of America. Trump was the first President in the history of the United States to have neither served in the military or held political office.

Love him or loath him, Donald Trump has had an enormous influence on the political and media landscape by utterly devastating the status quo.

Pundits that derided Trump as a ‘celebrity president’ had failed to see the almost decade-long strategy he and his team implemented to grow his online following that propelled him into the political stratosphere. Take for example the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), a popular event for republican presidential hopefuls held every year. Except in 2016, Trump has addressed the CPAC faithful every year, finetuning his messaging and growing his conservative followers. It’s important to understand that in his 2011 CPAC address Trump first road-tested a version of the ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan to rapturous applause from the audience. Less than five years latter he’d use that same slogan to galvanise the Republican base and take the White House.

Since his first CPAC appearance, Trump, knowingly or unknowingly, has disseminated his key campaign messages by adopting the same social media playbook that many young so-called ‘social media influencers’ have used to build enormous followings. Those who can remember the early days of YouTube will remember how young, relatively inexperienced ‘YouTubers’ were able use their social media platforms to directly engage their followers in ways that hadn’t been seen before – growing their influence and reach among many young people to such an extent their fame began to rival some of Hollywood’s movie stars.

By adapting this raw and direct method of engagement, Trump was able to completely flip the old, out-dated media business model on its head. Political pundits and opponents were left scrambling to adjust to this new form of direct messaging. Many of Trump’s GOP primary foes were still caught in the past. They were utilising cookie cutter campaigns which bogged them down with the same romanticism of West Wing style presidential campaigning that the public had come to view as manufactured and fake.

Trump on the other hand opted to use Twitter and phone-in media appearances to get his message out. Long-winded press statements were replaced by short, sharp and often grammatically incorrect tweets that cut to the point. Trump was communicating in the same way many Americans had become accustomed.

Before Trump, Barack Obama was hailed as the first social media president. But was that true? Obama’s team were the primary drivers behind his digital strategy. Each Tweet or Facebook post was carefully crafted and vetted to ensure no particular electoral demographic was offended. This left Obama’s tweets sterile and unengaging. After becoming president, Obama rarely tweeted or posted directly to social media. Unless it was campaign season, most Americans could only hear from the president through mainstream media outlets or via scripted YouTube videos encouraging them to signup for a healthcare plan. Direct tweets from Obama became so infrequent that engagement via the @BarackObama and official @POTUS Twitter accounts fell off a cliff. Now compare that to the tweets coming from the @RealDonaldTrump account. For better or worse, I doubt anyone would argue those tweets aren’t authentic.

You can certainly question the substance of the online messaging coming from Trump, but you cannot ignore that fact that he has set a new standard for leaders to directly engage with their followers. From Hollywood to Wall Street and to Washington D.C., leaders are waking up to the new notion of ‘digital influencers’. Picking up where Trump left off, movie stars like Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Will Smith and Kevin Hart have invested heavily in growing their online influence. Smith for instance has dived headfirst into social media by launching his own YouTube series to compete with the new breed of young internet stars. To-date he has amassed over 4 million followers on YouTube alone. In the world of business, titans like Elon Musk and Gary Vaynerchuk have been able to leverage their own online influence to outpace their competitors and establish trust in the market.

We are now witnessing the rise of the political and industry influencer: individuals who use social media to build an audience of followers capable of being mobilised online and in the community to achieve an objective.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not necessarily endorsing the use of Twitter to conduct foreign policy. Trump’s untested foreign policy social media tactics are certainly a highwire act with enormous consequences. However, ignoring the substance, the strategy he is implementing is sound. In today’s world of influencers, it isn’t hard to imagine an Oprah Winfrey or even Will Smith leveraging their online influence to leapfrog establishment politicians in order to run for high office.

Matt Versi is the Chief Digital Strategist for digital media group, ImpaQmedia. Matt has worked across both the government and private sector advising organisations and industry leaders on their digital strategy, influencer branding and content creation capabilities. Find out more by visiting impaq.media.