Is marketing wagging your strategy? Top tips for ensuring strategic alignment of your marketing strategy

By Heidi Sundin and Hamish Anderson

Irrespective of the industry you work in, or the size of your organisation we believe it is critical that your go-to-market and indeed your marketing strategy, plans and initiatives are aligned with your business strategy.

Recently we’ve observed a number of clients and organisations present with a similar challenge – they are keen to build a new marketing strategy or go-to-market strategy, yet they wish to do so without having clarity on what they are trying to achieve as a business.

Why is this an issue?

Building a marketing strategy without taking the time to develop clarity on your business objectives, strategy and plans can lead to a number of issues, particularly for organisations in a growth phase. Some of the issues that result from this void of an overall business strategy when developing a marketing strategy are:

The risk of becoming master of none: When focused on growth it can be exciting to see so many opportunities – different customers, new product and service lines, and new markets and adjacencies to move into. Yet trying to be all things to all customers, when resources are limited due to management bandwidth, capital constraints, access to talent and the ability to recruit at the pace of growth can create significant issues. Making courageous strategic choices to prioritise opportunities and be selective in defining who you are, what you stand for, and which customers & markets you serve will allow you to be more deliberate and targeted with your marketing strategy.

Confusing your customers: With your business strategy missing in action the related risk that arises is the sending of mixed messages to your customers or perhaps worse – not reaching them because the channels you’re using are not suited to where your customers are. Without a clear customer segmentation strategy – you risk not understanding their needs, meaning it is more challenging to tailor and deliver your value proposition to them.

Confusing your teams: Creating an outstanding customer experience requires collaboration across all areas of the business. Alignment is key. Across the business; sales and marketing, operations departments, accounts and finance, IT and innovation, human resources all need to work together to ensure that the internal culture and all customer touch points are consistent in providing an excellent brand-true experience.

Often called omni-channel marketing, it is no longer the remit of the marketing team alone to implement this seamless customer experience, rather, it is the role of the marketing team to create demand and then provide internal support and education across the business. An overarching and aligned business strategy enabling the focus on customer related processes, systems and culture initiatives is also required.

Resources across the organisations, not only in marketing, need to be aligned to what your organisation is trying to achieve overall – otherwise you will see various teams across the business all running in different directions and potentially working against each other. Greater alignment will allow your teams to all work towards providing your targeted customers with your promised value and experience.

Missing your goals: Measuring the success of marketing initiatives should be focused on whether they are helping to achieve your business goals? How do you know if the strategy is successful if your goals have not been clearly defined?

Building a marketing strategy with your business strategy missing is like the tail wagging the dog – marketing has to ask the questions that the overall business strategy should be clarifying.

Our top tips for strategic marketing alignment

Here are our top tips to bring better strategic alignment for the development of your successful marketing strategy. 

Make it a two-way street: If your organisation has a strategy team or consultant – ask to meet with them to gain a central view as to what the organisation is aiming to achieve in the long run and the other core business priorities currently underway. Not all organisations will have a dedicated strategy team, particularly small to medium businesses – so in this case, talk to the MD or General Manager to understand what the priorities are. As a marketing professional your role is also to engage your leadership and colleagues on what the latest trends are – you can play a role in helping the leadership to stay focused on the market, be across the trends and provide data to help make some of these critical strategic decisions. 

Know your industry and influence strategic choices: Marketing plays a key role in not only supporting the business strategy, but also informing it. By using data insights, customer feedback and research marketing should play an active role in advising the leadership or strategy team on key markets and customer segments. Key questions to raise with the leadership may be: Is Pareto’s law at play? Should you refine your targeting? Where are the areas of highest growth and profitability? What is the lifecycle of the industry? Where are the knowledge gaps – what does your market not know they don’t know? The strategic marketing imperative lies not in telling the audience what the business wants them to know, but rather in realising what the market needs to know (which they do not currently) and delivering to it.

Know your why: Make marketing meaningful. You can’t be everything to everyone, clarity of what markets you are playing in and why is critical to avoid confusion with your customers and ensure targeted key messages. If your business or leadership have not clearly articulated your why – suggest a workshop or other activities to help crystallise the broader ‘why’. The ‘why’ of the organisation then becomes central to your messaging to customers.

Know what you mean by success: Define how marketing campaigns and other initiatives success supports organisational success. If the two functions are moving independently of each other, success will be accidental at best. Ensure the business is also set up to support marketing success. It is integral that you define what success looks like above and beyond the obvious – spiked sales, improved ROI, lower acquisition costs etc. It is just as important to mitigate negative ramifications from “success”. Consider things such as the safeguards you have or need to build in to ensure delivery times remain constant, or that customer service does not suffer due to increased demand.  

In many ways it surprises us that strategy can sometimes forget the customer, just as marketing strategies can be developed in isolation of a business strategy. For true success we encourage you to take a deliberate approach to ensuring alignment.

Let us know what else you do to ensure strategic alignment of your marketing strategy.

About the authors

Heidi Sundin is a management consultant working with businesses to drive growth. Her approach is to collaborate with leaders and teams to develop customer centric tailored solutions. Her experience spans creating transformational programs and change across corporate, professional services, academic, government and the non-for-profit sectors. 

Hamish Anderson is the Founder and Director at Mesh Consulting. Hamish is passionate about pushing the envelope and has a track record of success across offline & online marketing, strategy development, customer acquisition, web, SEM, social and content development.

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When one teaches two learn – tops tips to be a good mentor

By: Heidi Sundin

Over my career I have been fortunate enough to benefit from many great mentors, and I feel it is important to play that same role for others just starting out in their career or aiming to advance.

There are many benefits to being a mentor. For me, my greatest satisfaction comes from seeing others succeed. There are other surprising benefits as well. As your mentees start to develop in their career and become more senior they can often move out of the mentee role and into trusted friends and colleagues. Recently I had the experience where two of my former students reverse mentored me acting as a sounding board to provide a different perspective. I am also truly inspired by many of my mentees and former students, they often go in different paths that you could never have imagined and show talents and creativity that challenge your own assumptions.

In addition the simple process of routinely checking-in with someone and focusing on professional development shines a light on your own development. It keeps oneself in check – one of my favorite sayings is ‘when one teaches, two learn’ and this is very true when you’re mentoring.

So, what do you do when someone asks you to be his or her mentor?

Typically the mentoring arrangements as falling into three main categories: informal, formal self-managed, formal program.

Recently a colleague asked if I could mentor a staff member of his. She and I met and she expressed that she had never worked with a female manager before and had very few senior professional female role models. I thought I would share my top tips in how I approach being a mentor in a more formalised way.

Make sure the chemistry is right

In taking on a regular mentoring commitment you are going to invest time and energy into another person’s career development. It is important that the there is a ‘fit’ between you and your mentee. So before you make the commitment ensure that you have a good rapport, do some research on your mentee, and ask for some recommendations if possible.

Be clear upfront what your mentee is looking for

At your first meeting it is important to clarify what your mentee is looking for. Do they want a formal or informal arrangement? How often do they want to meet? Ensure that you set the expectations early on around these items and that you talk through how to set up meetings, how to reach you, your expectations in terms of your mentee’s meeting preparation and follow up, etc.

There are no hard or fast rules on this, tailor these expectations depending on what your mentor is looking for. Some mentees I meet fortnightly, others every two months and some once a year.

Build a roadmap to see where you are going

I generally start by understanding where my mentee is in his or her career and where they see themselves in different time horizons. While they may not have thought about it before and may not know what they want to do, we will often focus more on the characteristics of what a great professional future looks like, rather than a specific role.

This helps to identify how you might best help them, what skills to help them develop and how you might be use your network to connect them. The roadmap should be clear, but flexible and individualised for each of your mentees.

Be purposeful with your meetings

I always start every meeting with the question ‘what would you like to get out of today’s meeting’. Even if I have in mind what I think we should focus on, ultimately the mentees should drive the agenda and their own development. This builds a habit of the mentee being independent and self-driven which then filters into other parts of their career. Encourage your mentee to come with one to two items of focus in each meeting. Work through these items and at the end of the meeting check in that the mentee feels you have covered those items.

I usually set ‘homework’ for my mentees, usually one or two questions to reflect on and talk to at the next meeting, and check in with this at the beginning of the following meeting.

Make a lot of notes and as these notes build over time, you can recap with your mentee how far they have come.

Share your experiences and draw on resources

In my view time with your mentee is about them so be considered in how you share your experiences and advice. Focus more on helping your mentee approach and solve issues (how to think – not what to think). In terms of skills and experience development – draw on your networks and the many freely available resources. I often steer people towards interesting books, articles, TED talks and MOOCs (freely available online courses) where there is a skill gap.

I’m always happy to have a coffee with someone and do some informal mentoring, but more recently I prefer a slightly more formalised arrangement because I find it makes the most out of the time together. But it is not for everyone – so pick the mentoring arrangement that works best for you and make the best contribution that you feel is right for you and your mentee.

Share your experience of how you work with your mentees.

How an executive coach can help you

By: Heidi Sundin

Much is written about the importance of mentoring and sponsorship to ensure women reach the higher levels of management. I also recommend working with an executive coach as you enter into executive roles.

Many people find themselves as managers and executives because they have shown exceptional technical skill and achievement. Through their technical success they have been promoted to higher levels in an organisation and find that they are taking on management and executive roles. Often this can happen without much consideration or training for the skills required to manage and lead – which are very different from the technical skills they have mastered.

As I have moved into senior management roles over the last few years I have worked with three executive coaches, and met many others, and I wanted to share some of my experiences working with an executive coach for those who many be considering working with a coach.

Focusing on your own values and what you stand for

Have you ever sat down and purposefully thought through your values? Or articulated with great clarity what you stand for? When I first started working with a coach I thought our sessions would immediately jump right into aspects of decision-making, negotiation, people management, etc. To my surprise our first sessions focused much more gaining a deeper understanding of my values, level of confidence, and what I stand for. As a leader much of what is going on inside affects what is happening outside and it is important to gain a handle on this before working on the more advanced management skills.

Flexibility in leadership and management style is critical

We all have our own way of interacting with others and first time managers often rely on their natural ability and talents. This is great and can work in many situations. What I have found as I have worked in different types of organisations with different organisations cultures, however, is that not all styles work in all situations. Working with an executive coach will help you understand what your style is and how to develop some more flexibility in the styles you have available. This means you are better able to read a situation and draw on a variety of communication, management or leadership style and tools that may be more effective in any given situation.

Work on different skills at different times

Initially starting out with the coach, the focus was to understand more about myself and the kind of leader I aspire to be. This is an important step. As your confidence as a leader develops and is grounded in your values, you can move to focus on other development areas such as presence and influence skills, advanced negotiation, how to be more effective in executive meetings, delegation techniques and delivering impactful speeches and presentations.

Working with a coach is different to having a mentor. Your executive coach will often have deep corporate and executive experience and be well trained in coaching, communications, management and behavioral sciences. As your relationship with your coach develops you may also find yourself working through specific scenarios that are happening at work, with your team or with your colleagues. Using your coach as a sounding board with these situations can often help give a confidential and independent perspective leading to a more positive outcome.

Coaching is an investment and in my experience – one well worth making to become a better leader.

Share your experiences of working with a coach or the questions you have about working with a coach.