Is Mark Ritson right in his stance on Strategic Marketing and Strategic Marketers?

At MMC Learning, we like a lot of what Professor Mark Ritson has to say when he talks about the state of modern marketing.

Whether he’s discussing the ten biggest myths of marketing, the ten most overused marketing models or waxing lyrical on epic brand marketing fails in his Marketing Week columns, his LinkedIn feed or on his occasional webinars, he always entertains whilst simultaneously provoking deeper thought.

In one of the highest ranking posts on the subject, originally published in 2016, Professor Ritson said:

“If marketers want to be taken seriously they must end their preoccupation
with tactics and tools and focus on their strategy, devised by thoroughly
researching, segmenting and targeting their market.”

And it’s still true as we write today.

Why?

Because the discipline of marketing has been usurped by a tendency towards short term, tactical, promotion heavy marketing. The rise and always on nature of social media fuelled by incredible advances in mobile technology and supporting software means marketers can seemingly and rapidly deploy comms content in an instant.

Sadly and often without much consideration of the bigger picture – who it’s really for and what it is designed to achieve.

Strategy.

More recently he mused on ​​his horror of the absence of strategic thinking in marketing, brutally laid bare by the Better Briefs Project, which in 2021 revealed 90% of marketers fail to brief agencies effectively. This failure begins with a total lack of strategy.

Again, he blames the reality in most organisations of marketers spending their days “fighting tactical fires”. He says they are lost, trapped, paying too much attention to gurus like Gary Vaynerchuk and Neil Patel, instead of developing rock solid strategy that links target audience to positioning to service.

“While we spent the last decade variously engaged in worthy, peripheral tasks that had relatively little to do with marketing, the fundamental basics of our trade have been in rabid decline.”

And it makes good sense when you think about the marketing planning process.

But whether it’s in the winter before a new financial year in January or a tax-year directed annual planning cycle, marketing planning seems to be an urgent knee-jerk short term project designed purely to secure funding for activities that may or may move the needle. In his own post on marketing planning in UK organisations, Professor Ritson comments:

“The dumb reality of most British marketing planning, however, is that this sub-optimal, cost-based, marketing-as-a-proportion-of-expected-sales approach is exactly how most marketers derive their budgets. And there is very little they can do about it.”

Because the strategic value and perception of what marketing can do for a business has been relegated to being a support service of sales – not the product innovating, market opening, customer influencing discipline we really know it to be.

Yet it’s his post on marketing (brand) strategists that raised our eyebrows.

We push hard on importance of thinking and acting strategically, doing your research, understanding your market, competition and customers in order to be of more value to them – and by association your own organisation.

We believe advancing your strategic marketing thinking – through study and applied application – is the best way to understand and lock in good long-term habits.

We even agreed with his post on brand strategy in marketing where he simplified the process to three steps essentially involving Diagnosis (think military generals surveying options before deploying troops), Positioning (both outlining what you will and won’t do or be for customers) and Strategy formulation before Tactics (brand trumps all other plans).

What bothered us was his fixation on practitioners using the word Strategists.

“Beware anyone who has the word ‘strategist’ in their title. It is almost always a signal of someone who has no clue about strategy.”

It’s assumed that people taking on director-level roles have the strategic vision to lead teams and set plans for them to follow. It helps resource organisations effectively to achieve goals.

Admittedly, he is right that the bar is low in terms of entry into a seemingly significant marketing role but if you are operating in a strategic marketing role, don’t be scared about proclaiming it.

Results will speak to the value and credibility of your work – especially if you adhere to Professor Ritson’s three step process, answering

  1. Who are we targeting?
  2. What do we want to stand for?
  3. How will we achieve this?

It’s a simplistic view of strategy but there’s no denying strategy is a real problem area for tactically focused marketing professionals.

It’s also undeniable that starting to think in these terms, following Professor Ritson’s lead, you’ll add more value to your organisation and your customers than you may be doing if you are instead fighting those tactical fires.

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