How Vision And Strategy Can Kill A Marketer's Job Security

The following post was previously published in an earlier edition of Online Spin:

“Apparently, marketers today are losing confidence in their ability to meet key goals, like reaching the right customers with their marketing efforts, or being able to understand or evaluate the ROI of their marketing plans.” Dave Morgan, Why Are Marketing Losing Confidence in Their Ability to Do Their Jobs?

 “I think marketing is going to be getting much, much easier over the next couple of years.” Cory Treffiletti, CMOs’ Vision Crucial To Their Success



Recently, my fellow Spinners offered these two seemingly contradictory prognoses of the future of marketing. The contradiction, I believe, is the conflation of  media buying and marketing. Yes, media buying is going to get easier (or, at least, more automated). And I agree with Cory’s prediction of consolidation in the industry. But that doesn’t do much to ease the crisis of confidence mentioned by Dave Morgan.  That’s still very real.

The problem here is one of complexity. Markets are now complex. Actually, they’ve always been complex, but now they’re even more so -- and we marketers can no longer pretend that they’re otherwise.  When things get complex, our ability to predict outcomes takes a nosedive.

At the same time, an avalanche of available data makes marketers more accountable than ever. This data, along with faster, smarter machines, offers the promise of predictability, but it’s a dangerous illusion.  If anything, the data and AI just reveal more of the complexity that lurks within those markets.

And here is the crux of the dilemma that lives between the two quotes above. Yes, marketing is becoming more powerful, but the markets themselves are becoming more unpredictable. And marketers are squarely caught on the horns of that dilemma. We sign on to deliver results -- and when those results are no longer predictable, we feel our job security rapidly slipping away.

Cory Treffiletti talks about vision -- which also goes by the name of strategy. It sounds good, but here’s the potential problem with that. In massively complex environments, strategy in the wrong hands can become a liability. It leads to an illusion of control, which is part of a largely disproven and outdated corporate mindset.

You can blindly follow a strategy right into a dead end, because strategies depend on beliefs -- and beliefs can dramatically alter your perception of what’s real. No one can control a complex environment. The best you can do is monitor and react to that environment. Of course, those two things can -- and should -- become a strategy in and of themselves.

Strategy is not dead. It can still make a difference. But it needs to be balanced with two other "S's": sense-making and synthesis. These are the things that make a difference in a world of complexity.

You have to make sense of the market. And this is more difficult than it sounds. This is where the “strategy” paradox can creep up and kill you. If your “vision” -- to use Treffiletti’s term -- becomes more important to you than reality, you’ll simply look for things that confirm that vision and plunge ahead, unaware of the true situation. You’ll ignore the cues that are telling you a change of direction may be required.

The sense-making cycle starts with a “frame” of the world (a.k.a. “vision”) and then looks for external data to either confirm and elaborate or refute that frame/vision. But the data we collect and the way we analyze that data depends on the frame we begin with. Belief tends to make this process a self-reinforcing loop that often leads to disaster. The stronger the “vision,” the greater the tendency for us to delude ourselves.

If you can remain as objective as possible during the sense-making cycle, you then end up with a reasonably accurate “frame” of your market. This is when the synthesis part of the equation takes over. Here, you look at your strategy and see how it lines up with the market. You look for new opportunities and threats. Knowing the market is unpredictable, you take the advice of "Antifragile" author Nassim Nicholas Taleb, minimizing your downside and maximizing your upside. You pull this together into a new iteration of strategy and execute like hell against it. Then you start all over again.

By going through this cycle, you’ll find that you create a wave-like approach to strategy, oscillating through phases of sense-making, synthesis and strategic execution.

The behavior and mindsets required in each of these phases are significantly -- and often diametrically -- different. It’s a tough act to pull off.

No wonder marketers are having a tough time right now.

1 comment about "How Vision And Strategy Can Kill A Marketer's Job Security".
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  1. Ron Stitt from Digitec Global Advisors, May 30, 2017 at 4:39 p.m.

    All true but I like to make a distinction between vision and strategy...which lead to tactics. Mostly, by definition we operate tactically but often think of tactical decision-making as "strategy".  Vision is macro, strategy is the plan to exploit the macro environment/market, and tactics are day-to-day decisions and actions to execute the strategy. To take TV/video as one example, vision is the realization that the future is digital, non-linear, personalized (ads and content) and social - so "our company will build products that fit this new paradigm".  Confidence level here - pretty high and the vision does not change much/frequently.  "We're going after the SVOD market with our (X) type of video content because we believe significant numbers of consumers will pay" is a strategy (as opposed to say a 100% ad-supported approach).  Tactics are how you develop the content, distribute and market it.  Your strategy can morph/pivot periodically (it better!), and then tactics must evolve continuously based on results.  Having this sort of framework in mind for a business is more important than ever, and being aware of what level you are operating at in any given situation, is critical.  Don't confuse tactics and strategy.

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