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Good Thinking | February 20, 2015 | 3 min read

I recently had lunch with a marketing/brand planner whose strategic abilities I respect. During the course of our conversation he said, “I just finished a project where we created a brilliant marketing strategy, but our client didn’t buy it.”

I asked why. His answer was enlightening.

First, the client couldn’t see themselves pulling it off. It was designed to “refocus” the brand. In other words, the strategy didn’t fit the existing business model. The business was looking for a marketing strategy that would grow it, not change it.

Second, even if it was as brilliant as claimed, the strategy required a long on-ramp of organizational changes before it could be implemented. Many of these changes were not contemplated by senior management before the marketing strategy was presented. The strategy obviously over-stepped its bounds. It was a business strategy masked as a marketing/brand strategy.

And the clincher? The budget required was 2 to 3 times higher than previous marketing budgets. A new business model. An organization that was about to be turned upside down. All at a cost much higher than anticipated.

After hearing the story, I understood why the client had rejected it. While some businesses certainly need a fresh business strategy to have any hope of growing, the marketing plan is not the place to sell it through the organization.  It also made me review the steps for creating a marketing strategy that will actually motivate an organization and help build the business.

1.  Listen, listen, listen. It’s very difficult to understand what will constitute a successful marketing strategy if you don’t first listen to all of the stakeholders.

2.  Live it. In other words, get out of your office and actually walk in the shoes of those who are in selling and buying roles. See the business and the marketing situation from all perspectives.

3.  Surprises…and no surprises. We have the responsibility to create a strategy – and the integrated campaign that supports the strategy – that turns conventional thinking upside down (in a positive way). The strategy should motivate those who manage the brand as well as customers. There can be no surprises on how much it costs to implement. It must be in sync with the given budget.

4.  No formula answer. Every business and every brand has its own identity. The strategy created must be made from scratch and not be an off-the-shelf remedy. Originality creates opportunities. Old remedies seldom provide new solutions.

5.  The best idea is king no matter where it comes from. Creating a brand strategy is a collaborative endeavor. All ideas must be given their day in court. A smart, collaborative team will quickly identify the best. If there’s any strategic doubt, platform testing can put it to rest.

6.  Be driven to out-think the competition. In the end, we are all paid to beat the competition. It’s all about winning.

A great marketing strategy stays laser focused on the business, budget, and organization it’s meant to inspire. One that loses that focus can quickly harm a brand. By all means, think strategically outside the box, just don’t try to make their box fit into your circle.