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Should all Marketers Develop Their Strategic Abilities?

The following outtake, focused on breaking in to and thriving in the world of marketing, is taken from a recent exclusive recording of an MMC Moments of Truth discussion between Stephanie Leigh-Rose, education and media director at MMC Learning and Malcolm Johnston, who is who is a consultant providing strategic support and coaching to businesses having become a leader in customer-centric growth through his years of experience of creating and running strategic marketing, sales, and management functions across multiple businesses.

In this extract, Stephanie and Malcolm talk about the importance of strategic ability in marketing and when in their careers marketers might need to become better strategists.

Watch the 7 min video below which will give you an amazing insight into the above question.

Do all marketers need to become better strategists? How do we develop strategic ability?

Stephanie Leigh Rose:

So now for our next question, should all marketers become better strategists? What do you think?

Malcolm Johnston:

No. Move on. Okay, well, a slightly longer answer than no!

Should all marketers become better strategists? Not necessary. I would reframe it as, should all marketers have a better understanding of strategy? Most emphatically, yes.

To an extent this is going to happen naturally without us trying, because actually research from Brunel University shows that as we get older, our brains are better able to handle concepts than tactics.

At about 30 something years old, maybe 35 years old, the brain really speeds up in its ability to handle strategic concepts, particularly macro level concepts, as it leaves behind some of its ability to handle detail. So, to an extent, this is going to take care of itself.

As you accelerate through the ranks of an organisation, you will have to become a better strategist.

Frankly, in your first role in marketing, no, you don’t have to become a strategist, but as you develop, and if you want to go further and become marketing manager, product director, marketing director, sales director, you will need to understand where the marketing ethos and marketing practicalities, like the seven P’s, fit into driving a company forward and your role within that.

I don’t think it’s realistic to suggest that all marketers should become better strategists. As we’ve mentioned before, marketing covers a huge range of topics from serious data analysis at one end of the spectrum, dealing with statistics and market research to, designing a new corporate logo at the other, and that’s quite a wide area.

Does the person who is the graphic designer need to understand about strategy? Probably not. I would like to think that the account handler for, let’s say, the advertising agency, has conveyed to the graphic designer the strategy of the company in words that are appropriate for the graphic designer to understand how to help take the strategy forward.

When is strategy important in a marketing career?

Stephanie Leigh Rose:

So where would you say in your career, or at what stages, what job title, did understanding strategy become very important?

Malcolm Johnston:

Channel manager, Europe. Next question! Sorry, yes Channel manager. I was given the opportunity to take on this role for Europe, so I was managing all of our outlets at all of the places in which our services could be purchased across Europe. It was middle management level and I had to put together a channel management strategy. There had been no channel managers beforehand.

Interestingly enough, it was a project that I had been part of to analyse why wasn’t our business selling more through Europe, and the conclusion was we weren’t managing well enough. Even though half of the outlets were actually owned by our own company as distributors, for example, they weren’t doing enough.

So I was part of what’s called a breakthrough team that looked at why, what’s going on here. The conclusion our team came to was we should be managing our internal sales and marketing operations as a channel to market as if it was separate to our company, which ended up with me being told, “Okay, smarty, you can run it.”

Stephanie Leigh Rose:

You broke it, you bought it.

Malcolm Johnston:

I was very fortunate, in that I went to my boss at the time, who was a director, and said, “Look, I’m nervous about this because having identified I know what the problem is, we thought we knew what the solution is, but I have no idea what the strategy is.” Strategy was this big, scary thing that people with MBAs did.

Anyway, fortunately, Rob Fisher sent me off on a strategic management course at Cranfield University, where the scales fell from my eyes in the sense that actually on my diploma in marketing, I had covered a lot of the syllabus already, so it turned out I did know a bit about strategy, even though I didn’t know I did. It debunked the myths and I felt much more comfortable about it and got it and was able to go back and develop the channel strategy.

It was around middle management where, frankly, I needed to know about strategy and how to develop a strategy.

I was having to communicate with directors of businesses, both mine and the directors of the businesses out in Europe, in a strategic sense. We weren’t going to get from A to B quickly, we had to have a proper programme of how to get from A to B, B being better sales than we were getting, and therefore I had to use the language of strategy because what we were talking about was over a longer time period. So it gave me the lexicon to communicate effectively with more senior people.

Should all marketers become better strategists? Not necessarily. Some of you will become better strategists, whether you like it or not, but definitely the more senior you get in an organisation, the more y