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Marketing planning: can you be flexible AND stay strategic?

Creating a marketing strategy isn’t too difficult when the landscape stays fixed. Set your objectives, collect some data, look at what’s delivered in the past, work out your target audience and predict what you need to achieve to get yourself from A to B.

But in the B2B Tech space, the map keeps changing. There’s more data than can be managed, new intelligence all the time, and a better route from A to B being created every time you look. That requires agility, and makes B2B technology marketing a really exciting place to work. But it also means by the time you’ve written any kind of strategy document, it’s already out of date.

At the same time, Marketing is more accountable than ever. You need to know – and to be able to explain – why you’re doing what you’re doing, how it’s going to help the business, and whether it worked.

That means – you guessed it – strategy.

How can marketing make a strategic impact, when strategic planning is impossible? You might not be able to write much of a strategy, but you still need tothink strategically. All the time. And when almost everything is changing, you need a fixed point to navigate towards.

Helpfully, these days, accountability is usually pretty constant. So if the board always wants to know how you’ve contributed to Revenue, that’s your Pole Star. Your True North.  

As a marketing leader, it’s your job to set that direction, and ensure each activity gets you closer to that goal. Everything else is detail.

Objectives, not outcomes.

Be aware that the moment you set targets for a marketing outcome – web page impressions, exhibition visitors, or whatever – you’re into the realms of tactics, not strategy. Those things are useful measures, and have their place. But hold them lightly: they’re short-term and you need to change them the moment they cease to have a meaning for your overall business goal.

Marketing outcomes measure your activity: business outcomes measure your effectiveness. One does not always equal the other. So if you must write a Marketing Strategy, keep it really, really short. Because the tactics will change.

Don’t get sidetrac… OH LOOK! SHINY THING!!

Innovation is essential. Without the ability to adapt… well, go and read Darwin.

You need to make space for things to change fast. But if you chase after every new fad and trend, your lose focus – and before you know it, your objectives are being compromised to suit the possibilities of a new platform, software or technique.

Innovation should be the servant of strategy, not the other way around. So innovate in a controlled, planned way. Set aside resources to investigate new things; to test them, and see if they can help to achieve your objectives – and crucially, if they don’t, be prepared to let that experiment fail, learn, and move on quickly.

With objectives as a yardstick, lots of small tests can happen; continuously refreshing your strategy without sending you off course. Which is what it’s all about.

Keep your route flexible, but never lose sight of your destination: the strategic objective that’s really going to drive your business. Are you still heading for your True North? In some ways, that new accountability is the best gift Marketing ever had.