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Marketing Momentum: Are You a Strategic Thinker?

By Katrina Olson

Many of my LinkedIn connections are ambitious, up-and-coming marketing, advertising and public relations professionals. Most are former students or their friends—like Ross M., who asked me this question:

“The word ‘strategic’ freaks me out. I see it and hear it everywhere. I’m not sure how I measure up on this metric. I’m wondering, what does being strategic actually look like? What demonstrates that you are strategic? Could you help me put this into perspective?”

Of course I can, Ross. Here’s a quiz to determine if you’re a strategic thinker:

Are you a strategic thinker?

The company’s sales aren’t where they should be. You:

  1. Don’t worry about it; that’s a sales problem. All you can do is put the message out there.
  2. Wait to see if the owner/president/CEO approaches you and asks for your input.
  3. Ask the owner/president/CEO sales team if you can do anything to help.
  4. Prepare an agenda, research options, and call a meeting with the owner/president/CEO and sales team to brainstorm marketing ideas.

Your website is pretty good (you think), but you don’t really know how it’s performing, so you:

  1. Think to yourself, “That’s really not my department; it’s an IT issue.”
  2. Suggest the IT department start using web analytics to measure the site’s effectiveness and let you know if they find anything useful.
  3. Start researching Google analytics to see what type of information is available.
  4. Start generating and reviewing analytics and tweaking the website to improve effectiveness.

Your CEO tells you it’s time to beef up your social media. Do you:

  1. Hope it’s a phase that will pass.
  2. Wait to see what she comes up with.
  3. Start researching social media so you’ll be ready when she tells you what she wants.
  4. Offer to conduct research online, talk with other distributor and develop a social media plan.

You aren’t attending management meetings, so you:

  1. Count yourself lucky—that’s one fewer meeting to attend!
  2. Ask attendees to fill you in on what’s said in meetings that affects marketing.
  3. Suggest to the CEO that you should be in meetings, but you won’t say anything.
  4. Demand to attend meetings because you need to know what’s going on to effectively market the company and contribute to the management process.

You’ve noticed several of your competitors offering online ordering (through their website), but you know making the conversion would come out of your budget, so you:

  1. Don’t say anything; you need your budget for your existing marketing plan.
  2. Wait until the owner/president/CEO suggests it and let the IT department lead the initiative.
  3. Suggest to the owner/president/CEO that the company consider online ordering in the future.
  4. Develop a plan and budget to move your company toward online ordering.

You know your company is not aggressive enough it its marketing, you:

  1. Do nothing; your job is pretty manageable. Why rock the boat?
  2. Ask the owner/president/CEO if he’d like you to do anything differently.
  3. Suggest that your budget be increased so you can afford to build on your existing marketing efforts.
  4. Research marketing tactics and find new no-cost/low-cost ways to more aggressively market the company.

When it comes to developing an annual marketing plan and budget you:

  1. Just do what’s always been done. Nobody’s ever asked for a detailed plan, so why bother?
  2. There’s just no time; you have too many other day-to-day responsibilities.
  3. You’ve tried, but you always get interrupted with other tasks or asked to “put out fires.”
  4. If you have to, you go off-site for a day or two to get it done and delegate or postpone your daily tasks.

You have an annual marketing plan and budget. Mid-year, you learn about a great marketing opportunity but it will cost approximately 5% of your budget. You:

  1. Ignore it. You have a plan and are sticking with it.
  2. Put it on the calendar for next year.
  3. Ask the owner/president/CEO to increase the budget.
  4. Come up with a plan to work it into this year’s budget and present it to the owner/president/CEO.

Your owner/president/CEO has asked you to step up the company’s marketing, but you don’t quite know how. You:

  1. Try to find another job that’s more in line with your skill set.
  2. Suggest hiring a consultant.
  3. Ask friends, coworkers and associates what they would do if they were you.
  4. Take classes, read books, work with a consultant, and anything else you can do to learn the skills you need.

You’re actively seeking to more aggressively market the company and its products. You:

  1. Do more of what you’ve always done.
  2. Try one or two new strategies and tactics you’ve been considering.
  3. Look at best practices in the electrical distribution industry.
  4. Look at best practices in other industries.

Add up the total of all the numbers you circled to see how you scored.  

35-40: You are definitely a strategic thinker and you’re ready to act on it. You’re focused on the broader company goals and see your role as a change agent and facilitator. You understand the importance of education and research in solving problems. You like to have a plan in place, but you’re open to opportunities that offer a potential reward and willing to take the initiative to make things happen.

25-34: You have a strategic mindset, but you hesitate to act on it. You see the bigger picture and what needs to be done—and you’re willing to do it when prompted. But you’re just too busy to take on something new, often too busy to plan, and you’re definitely not going to volunteer for more work—at least not right away. You’re so busy with your day-to-day work and fighting fires that you never get around to thinking about the big picture. You’re willing to take some initial steps—read some articles or a book, take a class or webinar, talk to other industry marketers, but you’re just not ready to make the leap to start something new.

16-24: You’re somewhat strategic and see opportunities—but they’re often short-term fixes and somewhat reactionary. You’re pretty busy with your own responsibilities, but you often see ways others can help you or the company. You can see what other companies or doing, and you know these marketing strategies would probably help your company, but you have enough to do; you don’t need more work! And you don’t have the budget, time, employees, tools or resources to do it anyway.

10-15: Strategy is not your strong suit, but that doesn’t mean you’re not a valuable employee or a hard worker. You’re good at executing plans but prefer to take direction from others. You like things the way they are. Your priority is getting things done—working through your to-do list. You’re likely a team player and very loyal to your department, fellow employees and your company, in that order.

Strategic thinking can be learned.

Strategic thinking is a mindset—a powerful leadership tool that involves solving problems, seeing emerging trends or conditions, interpreting the environment, identifying opportunities and understanding relationships with respect to the business. A quick Google search will reveal hundreds of books on the topic.

If you’re already a strategic thinker, but didn’t score as highly as you expected, think about what you need to change or improve. Do you need to work on your time management or delegation skills? Maybe you need to need to hire freelancers, part-time workers or consultants to fill in the gaps. You can always change and improve.  

If you scored below 25, don’t worry. Everyone plays a role in the company. Just as companies need strategic thinkers, they need writers, designers, technicians and others who know how to make things happen. In fact, some strategic thinkers are not very good at executing their plans and strategies.

I wish you continued marketing success as we head into the near year. Make this the year you kick your marketing up to the next level!

Olson is a marketing and public relations consultant, and principal of Katrina Olson Strategic Communications. She has written for tED magazine’s print edition since 2005, judged tED magazine’s Best of the Best Competition since 2006, and emceed the Best of the Best Awards ceremony for a total of seven years. She can be reached at katrina@katrinaolson.comor via her website at katrinaolson.com.

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