When Marketing Gets Messy: Confronting The Creative Disconnect

(Photo by Abdullah Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Marketing strategy doesn’t always illuminate the road ahead.

When it’s flawed, marketing strategy can overlook what’s obvious, downplay what’s essential, and otherwise create easily avoidable havoc.

John Sculley, who was president of Pepsi-Cola for six years and CEO of Apple for ten years, came up with as good a definition of marketing strategy as it gets.

“Marketing strategy is a series of integrated actions leading to a sustainable competitive advantage.”

The “integrated actions” Sculley refers to depend on the ability of the organization to actually execute and pull things together.

Easier said than done when…

  • Decisions are made by committees.
  • Information is siloed.
  • Voices that should be heeded are left unheard.

One of these voices comes from the creative team whose work will bring to life the integrated actions of the marketing strategy.

“I always like to have a creative in the room when strategies are coming together,” says Matt Morin, creative director at San Francisco-based, Firewood Marketing.

“At the very least, it gives them insight into why certain decisions were made. At most, it allows them to contribute to a strategy in ways that will offer more room when it comes to creative execution.”

Where The Wheels Come Off

A sound marketing strategy doesn’t restrict creative execution, but it does provide a framework.

“Marketing strategy is the compass for any creative execution,” says Morin.

Specific business objectives, which can trickle down to define campaign objectives, are easily understood.

Ambiguity is absent. So are whipsaw changes.

The customer’s needs, wants, and desires are considered.

When marketing strategy is sufficiently forward looking, creative teams are able to work beyond the confines of a single campaign, which can compound the effectiveness of their work.

What Marketing Strategy Can Easily Miss

“True competitive messaging is often lacking,” says John Mannion, EVP, director of client relations/brand strategy at Doremus, a B2B marketing firm.

“The whitespace that an entrant can occupy is often missing. And true customer sentiment, what they’re struggling with, how they’re finding their own solutions, is often missing.”

Somehow, this need to understand the customer is drowned out by louder voices in the organization.

  • Promoting the product can take precedence over knowing the customer.
  • Gauging the size and the thirst of the market can be glossed over.
  •  Assumptions can go unchallenged.

There is nothing new about placing the customer in the midst of marketing strategy. But the practice has always been easier said than done. Big data can suffuse emotions with analytics.

Lame Strategy, Lame Creative

“If the strategy is weak, not differentiating, filled with jargon — the creative will follow suit,” says Mannion.

“The strategy needs to be as sharp as you wish the creative to be.”

From Matt Morin’s perspective, the marketing strategy doesn’t need to be exhaustive and cast in a traditional mold. It should inform and provide insights creative teams can transform into valuable content.

“Marketers can sometimes forget that the best strategies are often the most creative ones. When creatives are given a fully-baked, conventional strategy that boxes them in, that’s where there’s some friction.”

When Marketing Strategy Delivers An Advantage

John Sculley’s belief that marketing strategy should lead to a sustainable competitive advantage raises the bar for the people creating it.

When it is well defined, this process of attempting to create a sustainable competitive advantage can tether strategy and the creative execution.

In the absence of data put in context, and substantive reasons why a strategy has been developed, creative teams fly blind.

The road ahead has not been illuminated by the marketing strategy, which should attempt to understand the customer, the competitive landscape, and the future.