Does Strategic Vision Confuse Marketers?

The quick answer is that I believe strategic vision confuses marketers.

We've heard the hackneyed phrases like: "He can't see the forest for the trees?" Or "Why can't he see the vision?"

In my life's experiences hiring, managing and working with many types of individuals, I've concluded that strategic vision is the ability to step back and look at the many possible futures coming out of key decisions.

In other words, vision requires seeing the outcome without the benefit of all of the information. Strategists create outcomes based on what dominoes to push to make things happen the way they want they to.

The key point -- strategic vision must make decisions before the facts occur. This naturally requires imagination, visualizing key activities and selecting those activities that lead to the desired outcome.

Listed below is a discussion between two marketers with opposing points of view. Sally wants her managers and executive leaders to know all about traditional and digital implementation. She argues executives have no right to manage unless they know the ins and outs of social media. 

Ted, on the other hand, sees strategic decision making as a unique talent and that no executive can ever become well versed in all professional skills to lead his company with great skill.

What do you think about these two positions? Should leaders with strategic vision really make key decisions they know little about?

Sally:

It is inexcusable for someone to be in a significant position in marketing and still not have a clue about the digital world. He/she is taking the company's money under false pretenses; and the CEO should be taken to task for allowing this to happen. Marketing is not a game. It should be a revenue driver for the company. To be ignorant of what is happening in the world around the company is just not acceptable.

Ted:

But even those well versed in traditional advertising know what a media plan is and what to look for. They probably wouldn't know how to write one. They may know how to direct and lead great creative work, but do not consider themselves great copywriters or art directors. They know how to interpret research and even provide great input, but should not be required to actually create the research methodology. They may know the importance and methods for creating and evaluating a brand, but they shouldn't be expected to create it.

I get the feeling you want the digitally astute marketer to actually write such plans and even implement them rather than evaluate the objectives and approach taken. Or did I misinterpret your point?

If I understood your position, then you may be hiring a great implementer, but missing out on finding the talented marketing strategist.

Sally:

I'm not sure that I agree with you. If you are a great "strategist" and don't know how to implement your strategies, I would question whether they are actually real or built on air. If you don't know how to make things work on the ground, then you probably shouldn't be in a position to tell people (much less a company) what their strategy should be. We have too many theorists out there. I think that is one of the problems with marketing today - and one of the reasons CMOs don't last. Marketing is a real world exercise. If you can't make it work in the real world, you probably shouldn't be doing it. Having said that, that doesn't mean that a CMO has to do all the nitty gritty work. But he/she should sure know how it should be done.

Ted: 

Knowing how it should be done and doing it are two dramatically different things.

For example, an architect may know how his design gets implemented, but is rarely a craftsman who could actually build his design with his own two hands. He probably doesn't even know the intricacies of laying brick or welding one type of metal to another type.

It's one thing to be a digital craftsman, and quite another to integrate it with multiple channels to create maximum synergy. 

With such a narrow focus, specialists sometimes can't see the forest for the trees. When making strategic recommendations to clients, they may recommend what they know rather than what's best for the company.

Excellent marketers recognize opportunities for building customer relationships knowing when to ask for the sale. This requires a global vision as opposed to a focus on PR, branding, digital marketing or any other strategy. It is impossible to be an expert at all of these approaches.

That's why a marketing leader with a flexible mind recognizes deep talent and surrounds himself with people who are experts in these critical areas. 

As a side note, I have also discovered something interesting about talented people after setting up three successful direct marketing agency divisions for well known general agencies. Some talented and well educated people can learn almost anything except one talent that I believe is genetically innate. And that is the ability to imagine and create strategy. 

Overarching vision about how to solve difficult marketing problems requires far more than knowledge. It requires imagination with the ability to look at all possible options.

You appear (not to be too judgmental) to view the world in two camps. Those who grew up working with digital activities -- especially social media. And those who managed so called traditional outbound programs.

I see the marketing world as far more varied than you do (assuming I understood your position on these issues). Customers certainly don't see it that way. They use every tool at their disposal to learn about new products and develop interest in them to the point of making single and repeat purchases. 

Inbound and outbound will always be part of the mix.

Sally:

I do not believe the world divides into two camps: digital marketing and traditional marketing. To put it as simply as possible, you need to be aware of the world around you to be effective in marketing. I question how someone can be an effective marketer if the digital economy has passed him by. BTW, with more than 30 years in marketing, I can safely say I have worked with most, if not all, the traditional forms of marketing. So I do not come at this issue with a prejudice, except with a prejudice for people who cannot learn and keep up with what their professions demand.

Ted:

I agree with you in principle that marketers should be on top of all developments. Otherwise, how could they create or manage broad based strategies.

You say: "you need to be aware of the world around you to be effective in marketing." I can certainly second that.

But I heard you saying something different earlier. I thought you were saying that the marketer should be an experienced hands on practitioner of social media. Sorry if I misinterpreted what you meant.

I guess we might part company on the level of tactical knowledge you believe is required. 

For example, some digital tacticians know the details of social media but fail miserably in the total of what marketing is, what it is expected to accomplish and the breadth of the options available to them. They are primarily tacticians and implementers. (This is a general statement because I know many digital pros who are also great strategists.)

In my opinion, online marketing is mostly direct marketing using a powerful new channel called the Internet. Online marketing is not really a marketing strategy so much as a channel (or media) strategy.

In the same way, I think social media is PR greatly expanded through the one-to-one communications available on the Internet. It uses customers and prospects to talk about a company's products and services rather than a focus on PR releases where the company talks mostly about itself with a few interspersed testimonials and case studies thrown in.

This is oversimplified, but at least it shows where social media rests in the mix. It is not and should never be a stand alone activity as some social media mavens see it.

Thanks for the discussion!

My take:

It is easy to become embroiled in the things we like and know. To much expertise in a single tactic or approach can blind us to the possibilities. What have you seen, dear reader, in your experiences with the challenge of blending the old with the new?