Fractional CMO: Always a Marketing Strategy Before Tactics

Tactics, marketing strategy; tactics, strategy. This teeter-totter is a struggle, and many CEOs go back and forth with the day-to-day of business.

In marketing, this push and pull are particularly relevant. Marketing is usually born into a company through tactics, and it takes a while before strategy is ever discussed. Marketing starts with, “We need more leads; what can we do?” It ends with, “We didn’t get as many leads as we wanted the last six months; what else (or more) can we do?”

One growing health care professional services company with a couple hundred employees inside a mature, continually evolving industry decided it was time to refocus on their marketing, starting with a strategy. At that point, all leads had traditionally come through key salespeople. In the past year, those leads had dwindled significantly as the sales team had exhausted their existing contacts.

The company had executed some marketing tactics previously and had a marketing coordinator, but had never come up with a marketing strategy that would help contribute to their sales goals. The CEO, Colleen, was not 100 percent convinced the marketing investment would accomplish ROI and was a bit hesitant to build in costly marketing infrastructure. The company had, after all, grown for decades without a comprehensive marketing strategy.

Past experiences with marketing efforts and few to no results added to her hesitation. To walk before she ran, Colleen decided to bring in a part-time chief marketing officer, Jane, a couple of days a week.

One of Jane’s initial observations was that leadership lacked a fundamental understanding of what marketing truly was and its critical role in an organization. Building internal executive buy-in was therefore first on her to-do list. Jane also placed a hold on a number of pending marketing projects, knowing they would not provide the results the company was looking for—employing new tactics without a coherent strategy to drive them would result in making the same mistakes the company had been making for the past few years.

First on Jane’s list was to evolve and refine the company’s strategic platform and come up with a clear vision, mission, and values that would withstand time and provide a clear destination for all. What did the company want to be when it grew up, and how could marketing convey that?

Next on the list was to address potential issues or concerns that would impact the completion of marketing efforts. The last thing Jane wanted was for the organization to invest in a large-scale strategy that could not be executed. One of the key takeaways from this phase of work was the need for a clear marketing road map with visibility into all plans, present and future, including the need to change the company’s name.

Over a nine-month period, Jane put together the new marketing strategy and a step-by-step road map for how to execute, test, and adjust tactics, including metrics and budgets. She documented expectations and helped recruit a senior marketing manager.

In the end, the team worked up eighteen tactical plans detailing hundreds of action items with a robust tracking and reporting system to actualize the marketing road map, not the least of which was rebranding and a new name. Jane stayed on to help execute the first phase of all tactical plans and to set up the new senior marketing manager for success.

Jane was an indispensable resource to help the organization mitigate risks while still making forward progress towards a needed result—marketing efforts that supported the sales goals of the organization. Who wouldn’t want results?

The rebranding project had spillover benefits the company did not expect. The new branding extended beyond customer-facing value to impact the company’s ability to attract good talent, as well. Starting with the first communication and up through the job offer, there was now clear branding and messaging across the organization from the candidate’s perspective. One common question during the interview process had become “When do I get the ‘company uniform?” This was not the typical shirt-and-pants uniform. Instead, it included company-branded socks, ties, and other articles the candidates were excited about. Never underestimate the value of a good brand.

Lessons learned:

Organic growth, even in a “recession-proof” industry, only takes an organization so far. If you aren’t growing, you’re dying, and in marketing, the only customer that matters is the sales team. When sales leads are drying up, throwing more tactics at the problem without stepping back to look at the larger strategic issues is throwing good money after bad. A part-time investment in strategic expertise and flawless execution is well worth it for a company wanting to grow and develop.

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