How to Become a Marketer Who Thinks Strategically

One of the greatest challenges a new marketer will face is getting into, and staying, in the right mindsight.

By its very nature, marketing is highly tactical. There are countless ways to engage your audience.

Unfortunately, most of the tactics tend to be done in a vacuum without any thought about strategy.

They’re reactionary, which can bring diminished results and less-than-desirable returns.

In the B2B space, only about a third of marketers actually have documented strategies to drive their businesses forward.

That’s why more than half are struggling to create marketing campaigns that actually engage an audience and produce a substantial return. Those diminished returns tend to drive marketers back to traditional channels like banner ads.

But even display advertising without a strategy isn’t necessarily going to perform the way you want it to.

To get the best results, you need to take a proactive and strategic approach to your marketing. Here’s how you can start thinking like a strategic marketer.

See beyond urgency

If you’re constantly in reactive mode, putting out fires and responding to things as they come up, your resources will remain tapped. You’ll never have the opportunity to plan ahead or develop campaigns based on research.

I hear about this all the time with brands that suddenly realize that a holiday or promotional opportunity “snuck up on them.” They scramble at the last minute to put together email campaigns, promotions, social initiatives, display ads, and even direct mail campaigns.

The first step toward strategic thinking is to get your mind out of urgency/emergency mode.

Without proper planning, you wind up with last-minute marketing efforts, like this mattress company that tossed together an offensive commercial to promote their product on 9/11:

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Marketing must be considered a strategic imperative if you want to see results. Reactive tactics are not a strategy and are much riskier when the time isn’t taken to research and predict potential outcomes.

Strategic marketing looks months ahead of the current situation so you have time to research, plan, create assets, review, and deploy effectively.

Take the time to calculate risks

Throwing anything and everything at the wall to see what sticks is not strategic thinking. That’s just hoping you’ll get lucky with results, and it’s incredibly wasteful, especially if you have limited resources.

Strategic marketers can often see the repercussions of their plans more clearly than tactical marketers because they look far enough ahead. They also don’t charge blindly forward because an idea sounds good. They take the time to carefully consider the downside of every action.

“What happens if this or that transpires after we execute? Can we live with X,Y, or Z outcomes?”

Weighing the risks of campaigns and their potential outcomes helps you determine the next steps. This also makes it that much easier to pivot to another tactic within the strategy instead of scrambling to find a solution when the single tactic doesn’t perform as expected.

Be capable of execution

I’ve met my fair share of strategic marketers that have impressed me with creative prowess. Among them have been some of the most creative minds who still struggled tremendously with executing the ideas they developed.

Strategic marketers don’t overthink or worry incessantly about outcomes. They’re not afraid to pull the trigger once their strategy is constructed. They recognize that no strategy is 100% sound and change is likely.

You need to have the confidence to pull the trigger and know that no strategy is perfect. Becoming a strategic marketer means never procrastinating.

Get your strategy developed, and don’t be afraid to execute it.

Just remember that once a strategy is executed, the cycle begins again. There’s no finish line.

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Be willing to detach from your ideas

The most effective strategic marketers I’ve met have always been able to see beyond their own brilliance. They are willing to discard their own ideas when better ideas are offered—they’re willing to consider the ideas of others, no matter how crazy those ideas might seem.

Don’t get caught up in your preconceived ideas and plans. A smart marketer knows to leverage the skill and brilliance of others through group ideation and brainstorming to fuel more robust marketing strategies.

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Rob Carpenter from Hitshop shared with Moz how his team takes content brainstorming and ideation to the next level:

When we think we have a good idea, we use Publicate to flesh out an idea by compiling all of the content out there for that specific topic (especially those that rank for the key term we are aiming for). In Publicate we can add notes to each piece of content we curated on what elements of the post we could expand on, and what we can say differently. We also mark which posts we want to link to and quotes to include in our piece. This step is extremely important for helping us create not just ‘good, unique content,’ but content that is 10x better than what is currently available.

Make decisions based on data

In my opinion, data is the heart of business. It should be at the center of decision-making for any kind of business or marketing strategy. It provides insights to help you answer key questions while raising other questions you may not have considered.

Later, that data will help change the direction of your strategy. Initially though, that data is necessary to create the strategy.

Strategic marketers rely on a lot of data to build their long-term strategies. This could include:

  • How long audiences engage with certain topics
  • Which products are abandoned most often
  • Which products become top products during different seasons
  • How long it takes the average prospect to convert
  • What type of content or advertising prospects respond to best
  • How audiences can be segmented for the best engagement with email marketing
  • How the consumer responds to direct mail campaigns post-purchase compared to the same campaign used on prospects that have not yet purchased

Find the data to answer your most important questions, then identify the data you have, and use that to start building your strategy. Leverage it to define your goals and the tactics you’ll use to reach them. A strategic marketer can use the data and information they compile through research to work out the costs of campaigns and define whether the efforts are justified.

Your data is a key part of risk assessment—something every marketing and PR campaign needs. It’s a loop that constantly feeds back to the beginning: use the data to establish and then continue to drive the strategy forward:

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Know the target, and create goals

Anyone can set a marketing goal, but the most strategic marketers set goals that are realistic, achievable, and are based on business goals…

…like these organizational goals for B2B content marketing, compiled by CMI and Marketing Profs based on survey respondent data:

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Setting goals might sound simple, but it’s a mix of art and science. Like anything, it takes practice. That comes from constantly refining existing goals, refocusing, and pivoting as well as being willing to try some weird stuff.

How do you set goals for something as fluid and changing as a marketing strategy? Practice. Find someone who has been doing it for a while, and apply what they’ve learned.

Shanelle Mullin, Director of Marketing at Onboardly, shared some smart advice with Kissmetrics on creating goals for your marketing strategy:

The key to setting achievable marketing goals is to spend time evaluating your current position. Many startups set lofty, unattainable goals and end up discouraged, which can be detrimental in the early days. On the other hand, some startups set easy, insignificant goals and end up missing out on growth potential.

Take the time to really understand your growth levels to date. If you run a popular blog and traffic has increased by 8-10% for the last four months, you know that a 12-15% month-over-month increase in blog traffic is a challenging yet attainable goal. Don’t be the startup that shoots for 20% or the startup that considers anything above 8% a win.

In terms of what types of goals you should be setting, it depends heavily on what stage your startup is in. Early on, focus on engagement goals and collecting feedback to validate your product or service. Later on, focus on growth metrics. There are no universals when it comes to metrics, unfortunately. What’s important is that your core goals are tied to major business objectives.

The single most important thing to remember about marketing goals is to stay focused. Choose 1-2 core goals that impact the bottom line and 3-5 supporting goals. Anything more than that will distract you from what’s most important (as will changing goals too often).

When you identify those primary and secondary goals, you can break them down into milestones that will help define the roadmap of your marketing strategy. That map plays a major part in defining the tactics you’ll use along the way.

Follow the course; don’t chase the glitter

Ideation and brainstorming are critical parts of creating a marketing strategy, but that doesn’t mean that every idea is going to pan out.

Likewise, your research is likely to reveal what competitors and other businesses are doing to market themselves.

With all the options and potential ideas, it’s pretty easy to get lost on the road without a mapped plan.

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I liken it to steering a ship; if you spin the wheel every time a shiny spot on the horizon catches your eye, you’re going to zigzag across the ocean and never really get anywhere.

Even with a documented marketing strategy, it’s easy to get off course trying to do the next big thing everyone thinks is a trend for the year. Experimenting is okay, but not at the expense of your plans.

The most successful marketers stick to their strategy and work those experiments into that strategy.

Establish your metrics for progress and success

Effective marketing goes well beyond ideation and deployment. Success isn’t automated, and as I mentioned, there’s no such thing as a perfect strategy.

More often than not, you’ll have to make changes on the fly and refine your strategy. Knowing when to do that, and why, comes from constantly measuring the performance of your campaigns.

Just like you use data to form the basis of your strategy, you’re constantly using data and analytics to monitor the health of your marketing campaigns.

Know what success looks like, and identify how you’ll measure that success as part of a marketing strategy.

Document your strategy

It continues to surprise me how many marketers don’t document their marketing strategies, choosing instead to fly blind, relying on memory.

There’s a lot that can go wrong when your strategy isn’t documented.

It’s more than just a roadmap detailing what you need to do to get to the next step. It’s a living document that ties together a lot of moving parts and a lot of people.

Here is some of what might be included in a sound documented strategy:

  • Who the audience is and how to reach them
  • The tactics to be used
  • The USP(s) to connect with the audience
  • Who is involved, who is responsible for what aspects of the strategy
  • How marketing materials are distributed or where the audience is engaged
  • How success is measured
  • Conversion strategies used
  • Promotions, pricing, and incentives
  • Communication requirements and reporting

There’s a great deal more that can and should be included, and that’s a lot to be floating around, especially with multiple people or teams involved. With all the moving parts, an absence of a documented strategy invites errors and mistakes.

Conclusion

Among all the aspects of being a strategic marketer, there’s one thing that remains consistent: looking forward.

If you want to think like a strategic marketer, you have to look beyond now.

Don’t get caught up in the urgency. Plan ahead, look to the future, and develop a rolling strategy that is built around proactive outbound and inbound practices rather than reactive deployment of tactics.

What mental practices have you tried in order to think strategically?


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