Monday, August 28, 2017

Sharpening Your Strategy for the Long Game

By Chris Moloney
Chief Marketing Officer

Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs), along with many other senior business leaders, exhaust a lot of energy discussing the critical importance of being strategy-driven. So, why do many leaders have difficulty creating enough time for strategic planning? We all know it is essential, but the magnetic forces within our companies are always pulling us toward more operational projects. I have found in my eleven years as a Chief Marketing Officer, that most organizations often stereotype the marketing role into advertising and communications production, with a campaign-centric approach. As a result, marketers must create a constant counter-balance to the daily pull toward tactics. 

The Chief Marketing Officer is largely responsible for driving growth and profitability. However, it is increasingly essential that we serve as the “voice of the customer” by maintaining a regular pulse on customer trends, needs and behaviors. When I first became a CMO, there was no concept of an iPhone. I can recall people saying that they would never make calls from their “iPod”, assuming the iPhone was just that… an iPod with a phone. Ten years later, iPhones and other smart devices have radically changed the way consumers interact with companies and each other.

The change is more radical than we could have imagined, but there were a few leading indicators that gave some hints along the way. A few years before the iPhone, the CIO of Scottrade and I gave a keynote on how “widgets” and “gadgets” were likely to overtake web pages and further discussed how we should prepare. Subsequently, widgets became the immediate precursor to all apps. Without our strategic planning, we would have been caught off guard. This is one of many trends that reminds us we must think long-term and build plans that offer flexibility. As leaders, we must pull the organization out of the day-to-day operational mindset and strive to define and refine strategy regularly based on technology or market changes.  

How often do you think about where you want to be in three years? While a three-year view (or even more, a five-year plan) can seem outrageous, you’d better have one! The future is truly unpredictable, but a strategic framework allows you to evaluate numerous outcomes. Some of these outcomes may be close to the truth, but if they are not—you still have the core framework to rely on to keep you confident in your path.

As things change, revise the plan, but review it often and keep it a living and breathing document. Even consider creating visuals around the plan that you can post and share with all levels of the organization. Your team wants to know where you are heading and they need to be fully invested to help you get there. Partner with your CEO and others to enthusiastically share and MARKET the plan internally

All too often in the media, stories about marketing focus on celebrating a winning campaign or marketing tactic that worked well. When reading articles about marketing successes such as a campaign that took off or a product that exploded in season, there is an implication that the marketing organization, ad agency, or leader “got lucky.” These stories often mislead one to believe a slot machine moment drove success. In fact, behind the scenes, marketers are typically studying customer attitudes, needs, and trends to re-define their customer benefits. The journey of how customers find us and what they experience along the way is a changing ecosystem and marketing must be at the center of sharing these insights. 

When a company delivers on a big success, some doubt that the leaders had a vision. Luck is easier to fathom. But, in my experience, great marketing successes are either the result of a long-term vision or good fortune that occurs as the result of being at the right place, at the right time. Luck and strategy together are the perfect cocktail. That said, there are great products that fail because of bad marketing, but there are also bad products that fail despite great marketing. This is not to sound aloof or arrogant. Quite the contrary, marketers must embrace their role as the voice of the brand and realize how important it is to get their jobs right each day. 

After all, marketers are expected to keep the communications flowing, the ads running, the leads coming in, and other operational initiatives moving at a rapid pace. If we aren’t making our best effort to look forward with a long-term view of our customers’ needs, we are missing out on something very important.

Big and Small Companies Alike Struggle

Often, I find the strategic planning process just as difficult in the large and well-funded organizations as it is for the medium to small organizations. In a large organization, there are immense resources and several people who weigh in on a long-term vision. However, each year it seems more like a budget planning exercise when the final strategy is delivered. In a small to medium-sized organization, marketers must be bolder, especially if they represent a challenger brand. The mission and vision must break through the clutter of those who might have deeper pockets, abundant resources, or a bigger brand. There are fewer “committees” and often a clearer understanding of the budget as “investment” versus “expense.” Those two words alone seem to be emblematic of whether a company thinks long-term versus short-term. 

Marketing is at the Top

Fundamentally, marketing is all things that make up our products, services and benefits—packaged together in a way that appeals to the overall marketplace. Marketing is a connection of who we are as a company and what we deliver to the overall marketplace. Stop thinking about marketing as a place where advertising is created. Stop thinking about marketing as a place where short-term goals, objectives, and quick wins are the benchmark for success. In today’s marketplace, the marketing leaders must look ahead and have a vision that is both inspirational and reasonably accurate. Chief marketers must execute the short-term strategy with a clear insight on how it affects the long-term strategy. 

Marketing is a wild mix of being fun, incredibly challenging, yet extremely rewarding when you get it right. It reminds me of the game of golf where you have that moment when you hit the ball and many things come together at once to make the shot. It is important to remember there were many missed shots before the good one. As marketers, we should think of ourselves in some ways as golfers. No matter how many times you do it and no matter how good you get, there’s always room to learn more, take more lessons, and think about your long-term objective whether that is to have fun, win, or hand over your expertise to the next generation.

Chris Moloney is the Chief Marketing Officer and Head of Partnerships for TaxSlayer, a leading provider of tax and financial services tools to U.S. consumers and financial professionals. TaxSlayer has been ranked #1 by the National Association of Tax Professionals (NATP) for many years. TaxSlayer is headquartered in beautiful Augusta, Georgia - home of The Masters Tournament.

His prior roles include roles at two digital leaders as Chief Marketing Officer of CAN Capital, Chief Executive Officer of Gremlin Social Media, and Chief Marketing Officer for three major brands (Wells Fargo Advisors, Experian, and Scottrade). Chris is a big believer in the power of marketing to drive business growth and his expertise lies in driving companies to be highly successful in their digital and social media presence with measurable results.