A Focus on Strategy–Hold the Tactics!

When interviewing candidates for mid- to senior-level marketing positions, I have a question that I like to ask which gives me a sense of how strategically the candidates might approach their jobs. It goes something like this:

“Suppose I’m one of your internal customers and I come to you and say ‘I need a brochure’ (or you could say ad, or web site, or email blast or any other form of communication). How do you respond to that request?”

Most people (yes, sadly, even for senior-level marketing positions) will begin to tell me the steps that they will take to create whatever communication tool I’ve asked them to create. So, for a brochure, they might say: “I’ll ask for information about the product/service they want to sell. I’ll want to know what size they want the brochure to be. I’ll ask if there is any specific information that they want to include in the brochure.”

  • In short, they focus on the WHATs.
  • What I’m looking for? A focus on the WHYs!

I don’t want marketing staff–especially senior level marketing staff–to focus on tactics. I want them to focus on strategy. What I hope to hear when I ask a question like this is:

“Well, first I’d want to ask them some questions. I’d want to know who their target audience is and what’s important to that target audience. I’d want to know who the competition is and how what we have to offer might be better/different than what they have to offer. I’d want to know what our goals and objectives are with this promotion. And then, based on what I learn, we ¬†might move forward with a brochure–but we might identify additional, or maybe different tools, that would best suit our needs.”

That’s a great response. Because how can I know if I need to give you a brochure, if I don’t know what it is you’re trying to do or who you’re attempting to influence?

The difference between a focus on WHAT and a focus on WHY is the difference between taking a tactical vs. strategic approach. Tactical people are doers and we certainly need doers in marketing positions–but we don’t need them in mid- to senior-level marketing positions. I don’t want order-takers in those positions. I want people who can think strategically–and creatively–about how to address marketing needs based on audience, objective and a thorough assessment of the competitive environment.

If you aspire to rise to a higher level marketing role, pay attention to how you respond to the assignments that are presented to you. Do you focus on the WHATs or on the WHYs?

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