Do you have a marketing strategy?

Or a strategy including marketing?


July 2018

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How can you reposition marketing from being a tactical communications function to becoming a strategic growth driver?

What has happened to marketing?

During the financial crisis, the role of marketing changed. Budgets were cut, and marketing was first in line. As a result, marketing organisations were trimmed and given limited focus in terms of competency development. Too many marketing departments became operational arms and legs of external communication with the sole focus of driving short-term results. CMOs were measured on fast sales support, calls to action, clicks, shares and their ability to drive immediate attention rather than long-term brand building and especially business development.

At the same time, the technological development with multiple channel touchpoints, connected devices and numerous social media platforms have, over the past decade, given customers control of conversations. It is no longer enough to plan a media strategy that decides who will be exposed to what message. It has become an ongoing process to monitor and react to customer behaviour in a media landscape where technology, data regulations and algorithms increasingly dictate the way we receive and interact with content.

We have lost the ability to control the story. Today, we are fighting just to become part of the conversation. This is putting new demands on how we organise and who we partner up with.

CMO of global FMCG brand

Consequently, CMOs are struggling to reinvent the competences and processes in the marketing department. The future marketer needs to be more engaged and hands-on with a highly technical understanding of big and thick data. Decisions must be made here and now, and the days of six-month marketing plans are long gone. The increasing number of digital touchpoints has consequently created a market for new, specialised digital media partners that naturally work to claim a share of the marketing budget – a budget that in many cases has not fully rebounded.

Today’s customer-centric CMO role is exceptionally complex and requires the right balance of left as well as right brain skills, and very importantly, a differentiated set of leadership competences. CMOs with this unique profile are in high demand.

Caren Fleit, partner, Korn Ferry’s Marketing Center of Expertise

No wonder that churn rates for CMOs are relatively high after years of being pushed hard on efficiency with relatively low budgets and at the same time, facing tough demands on reinventing a marketing organisation that needs to function in an ecosystem going through a rapid transformation. The challenges are quite significant, and to succeed in today’s highly competitive environment and meet the high customer expectations, the CMO needs to be (re)positioned as a real strategic influencer. We believe that this is a critical element towards profitable growth.

Three focus areas to regain strategic influence

By engaging with leading players in their respective industries, we see three core elements in the transformation of marketing into a strategic influencer.

Three key points that should be at the top of any CMO’s agenda:

  1. Build a lasting brand position based on the organisation’s “why”
  2. Become the voice of the customer in all key strategic choices
  3. Break down organisational silos and drive internal collaboration

In the following section, we will explore each of these elements, exemplify the core challenge and hopefully inspire specific actions within your organisation.

Build a lasting brand position based on the organisation’s “why"

Align marketing focus and strategy with the corporate strategy and winning aspiration

Positioning and differentiation have always been and will continue to be at the core of marketing. If you can define and communicate what you do better than the competition in a distinctive way so that you stick out from the crowd, the chance of being the preferred brand for the preferred customers will increase.

Customers need a compelling reason to choose your offering rather than any of the growing number of alternative solutions. However, in the age of technological and digital development, this has become increasingly difficult. Markets become commoditised as product features and effective marketing schemes are quickly copied. Meanwhile, the next generation of customers is seldom more than five seconds away from relevant content and are able to completely ignore your traditional messaging.

Today’s successful brands achieve differentiation by incorporating uniqueness into the core of the organisation. No more empty statements like: “We want to be the best in the business”.
Brands need to:

A. … be centred around a strong WHY/the purpose

B. … be accompanied by a set of directional values

C. … have an authentic personality

D. … create and keep a strong customer and employee promise

E. … have strong and segment specific value propositions

By having a well-defined brand that lives up to the above checklist and placed at the heart of the organisation, the brand and uniqueness will become the DNA sequence of the organisation. It will guide all activities, be difficult to replicate and become more than just a sales and marketing feature. It becomes an integrated part of the whole organisation’s way of working, and positioning becomes more than a marketing matter.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Simon Sinek, author of the book “Start with WHY”

To realise this transition, we need to start with the CEO who needs to agree on and stand behind the core of the brand, and it is most often the CMO that needs to shed light on this fact. Secondly, it is the responsibility of the CMO to translate the brand into targeted and segment-specific value propositions and consistent customer experiences. This demands full alignment between business aspiration and marketing activities. As implied earlier, we often see a distance and misalignment between corporate strategy and the marketing function. We dare to claim that everything that is not aligned with the WHY of the organisation is a waste of resources.

The expectations of me and my organisation are to support the sales team and to generate short-term leads. Often, I am not involved or even informed about the overall strategic decisions, and my KPIs are detached from our corporate strategic aspiration.

CMO, global B2B player

The marketing function should be recognised as a growth driver, and the first step needs to be to get the CMO involved in long-term goals and key strategic choices.


In 2017, we helped a global B2B brand, producing building materials, with a brand transformation. The company faced commoditisation of their core product and services, new and innovative competitors as well as new market dynamics. A new strategy was in place. However, the new management team faced a global organisation that needed a common ground and a motivating way forward after a tough period.

We helped define a brand core with a meaningful WHY, a clear differentiator and directional values through an involving process. An integrated and diverse brand ambassador project group worked together on gathering insights as well as developing, validating and concluding. The brand was aligned with strategic objectives, it was anchored as the core in the business strategy and was brought to life by changing behaviour according to the brand across all functions in the organisation. The CMO played a significant role in the process, and afterwards, his department changed its focus from receiving “orders” for sales material to proactively driving the business through increased customer focus and new product and service initiatives.

Become the voice of the customer in all key strategic choices

Take charge of customer insights and become the driver of anchoring these insights in all customer touchpoints across the organisation

It is no longer sufficient to deliver good products and frictionless services to meet customer needs. Brands such as Amazon, Airbnb and Netflix have brought the expectations of brand experiences to another level. These brands are powered by a strong sense of purpose, customer insight-based actions, a service-led culture and, ultimately, an authentic customer experience. They do not treat the customer experience as a service challenge, but as a fundamental competitive advantage. These customer-centric companies are driving the crucial agenda as a strategic focus, leading and governing customer experience efforts across functions and business units.

In this context, marketing teams need to focus less on selling products or services and more on providing the insights needed to understand and fulfil the unmet needs of an ever more diverse and global customer base. Insights that will serve as a foundation for developing the right products and services and for providing an ever more seamless, relevant and differentiated experience across all touchpoints.

Don’t find customers for your products. Find products for your customers.

Seth Godin, entrepreneur and author

So, while customer centricity is becoming a broader matter, the key role as the “voice of the customer” across the company still needs to be a marketing matter. And as mentioned previously, it has become a rather complex, technical numbers game to capture and understand customer behaviour today. The interaction between users, brands and devices creates a complex series of interactions, resulting in seemingly incomprehensible amounts of data. Making these data digestible and actionable for the organisation is a vital discipline to master in order to win in today’s market-place.

Our marketing team has been asked to shift focus significantly. We need them to be less about advertising and more about fact-based commercial triggers. We need less Mad Men and more Math Men.

President Americas, global health care brand

The marketing organisation needs to be the voice of the customer in the organisation. Even if the customer experiences are delivered across many functions, someone needs to be responsible for understanding and communicating the customer insights that should give direction to all customer- facing activities in the organisation.


We recently had the opportunity to work with a global leader in the medical device industry. Being an innovation-led company, most strategic decisions were heavily influenced by the R&D department with limited interaction with Sales, Finance and the marketing department. The project was a market launch for a new product category, where the company had made very few firm decisions on target segments, sales channels, pricing or even key differentiators, and yet, the company chose to work on the physical product first. We challenged that approach by giving project management and decision-making power back to Marketing, working in cross-functional teams and starting with fact-based market insight to facilitate timely decision-making. If that had not been the case, the company would have likely ended up with a product looking for a market.

Break down organisational silos and drive internal collaboration

Find new agile ways to collaborate across internal departments and internal partners

Our arguments so far indicate that marketing needs a seat at the C-suite table as well as initiating efficient internal collaboration between departments.

This is not new. By nature, the marketing department has always had to work efficiently with other parts of the company. Nevertheless, some of the most mature and sophisticated organisations that we work with still struggle to align expectations and collaborate effectively with key internal partners such as Sales, Finance and Product Development. Today, it is even more important to work effectively across the business – from Product Development to Customer Service, from HR to IT, from Sales through to Operations and beyond, to ensure that the insights are anchored, and customers’ experiences of a brand are consistent.

Marketing departments are undergoing their own restructuring these days and are adapting to become more digital and data-driven, requiring very diverse skills as well as coping with different new, specialised digital agency and media partners. Thus, marketing departments are candidates for having their own silos. We have experienced many different variations of how Marketing structures its own team – from function-centric to geography-centric, and lately customer-centric, of course. There is no one-size-fits-all here, but we see a general trend towards a need to organise around projects or customer segments – even around parts of the customer journey – rather than functional groups.

Our marketing organisation operates in decentralised product teams and too often seems to sub-optimise marketing spending

VP in a Danish entertainment brand

What is most important is developing a set-up that enables co-operation. The first steps must include more interaction, transparent priorities and joint value tracking. The marketing teams need to work closer together on joint tasks with clear roles and responsibilities. And if Marketing is looking to regain lost turf, they should be ready to work proactively and adjust their own organisation to focus on driving cross-functional projects forward. They should be able to act as facilitators and encourage collaboration.


We were working with a Nordic company within financial services who needed help reorganising their marketing function across markets but also closing capability gaps and raising the competence level in general. We identified the need for tearing down some traditional functional silos in the department and to open up to a broader collaboration between Marketing and e.g. Customer Service and Product Development. We implemented a marketing academy as a tool for the MarCom management to develop the competences in each function as well as having a structure for developing individual skills and personal development programmes. This academy also serves as a knowledge sharing community across the organisation with themes and inspirational activities from internal and external sources, creating a natural knowledge sharing flow centred around marketing.

Do you have a marketing strategy – or a strategy including marketing?

The first step towards regaining strategic power should be to reposition marketing in your organisation. Which critical strategic roles should be the responsibility of the CMO and the rest of the marketing department?

Today, too few marketing departments have firm strategies. Most teams have ongoing discussions and often some form of annual planning, but they lack alignment on critical choices and the expected partnerships with other departments.

The term “marketing strategy” seems to mean a lot of different things. To us, it should simply be a series of cascading choices built from the overall business or corporate strategy. We encourage our network to facilitate these choices based on our Playing to Win concept consisting of five key questions. Working collaboratively, you can develop clear-cut answers to each question, emphasising both prioritised and deselected elements:

1. What is your winning aspiration?
  • What is our common purpose?
  • How can that purpose be leveraged to boost both internal and external communication?
  • Does the CMO have a voice/role in the organisation that reflects the responsibility?
  • How can we make marketing more of a strategic growth driver rather than a tactical communications function?
2. Where to play?
  • Which customer segments are attractive and worth targeting?
  • What market position should we aim for?
  • Which service or product categories should we focus on to drive growth?
3. How to win?
  • How can we differentiate ourselves from the competition?
  • Which channels are critical to reach target segments?
  • Which messaging and content strategy would help us achieve the desired position?
4. Critical capabilities
  • How should we organise our marketing efforts?
  • How can we co-operate effectively with other parts of the organisation?
  • Do we have the necessary focus on the need for new and different competences to deliver seamless, meaningful and competitive customer experiences?
5. Management systems
  • Do we have the necessary toolbox to select and work with the specialised communication and media partners?
  • Do we have real ownership of our brand and enough to guide partners?
  • How should we engage customers to gain actionable feedback?

We encourage you and your marketing team to engage with the questions and work to align an understanding and build fact-based answers to each one. In doing so, we believe that Marketing can substantially increase its role and take back the appropriate responsibilities. By engaging both the marketing team and internal/external partners, you will increase strategic clarity, allocate responsibility more clearly and, perhaps most importantly, boost employee and cross team satisfaction.

If you recognise some of the identified challenges in your marketing organisation and share our ambition to bring marketing back as strategic growth driver, we would love to start a conversation and share best practices. Please feel free to reach out to us or join Implement for one of our upcoming events on the topic. Stay tuned for more inspiration online or leave your email with or for updates and an invitation to upcoming events.