Changing marketing strategies

Overhauling your marketing strategy is kind of like going to Ikea. It’s painful but sometimes necessary, the build phase is deceptively simple and there’s a decent chance something falls apart when you’re done if you’re not careful.

Okay, changing marketing strategies isn’t that bad; at least it typically doesn’t carry much potential to plunge you and your significant other into the depths of relationship hell. But there are factors to consider beyond the strategy itself, and if these factors are ignored, that shiny new marketing strategy could collapse faster than a Liatorp entertainment center.

A note on when to change strategies

This is a topic deserving of its own post, but a quick preface is in order here. The frequency with which a business needs to change strategies can be affected by a whole variety of forces – industry, audience, market trends, technological advances, sales cycles, shifts in the political landscape and so on. But in any case, it’s important to have a well-defined structure in place so you’re effectively tracking the plan and updating it as needed.

For many businesses (ours included), it looks something like this:

If poor performance or misalignment on goals warrants a strategy shift, it should be apparent in the quarterly reviews. (At Simple Machines, we use a strategic planning tool called The Vision/Traction Organizer, which is part of EOS methodology (Entrepreneurial Operating System.)

While your marketing plan should have some fluidity so that you can continually iterate and optimize pieces of the plan like messaging, channels and tactics, the decision to change direction on strategy shouldn’t be made lightly. In fact, studies show that businesses that stay the course on high level strategy tend to perform better in the long run over those that zig and zag in pursuit of short term gains.

As Jim Collins puts it in his book Good to Great, “Faith in the endgame helps you live through the months or years of buildup.”

When you change course, not only are you losing time when you go back to the drawing board (good planning takes time – as does turning that plan into execution), you’re also creating a ripple effect that, if not carefully considered, has the potential to throw your business off balance.

Which brings us to…

Your people

If your company has followed best practices for hiring and managing your team, you’ve got all the right people in the right seat. From your operations people to the sales and marketing teams – whether internal or outsourced – everyone has the capacity, desire and skills to do their work well. They’re clear on what is expected of them and what they’re accountable for, and their compensation is in line with these responsibilities. They know who to interact with for each need and how to delegate and escalate.

When you make a significant strategic shift, these are factors that need to be taken into account. Once the new plan is in place, will everyone still be in the right seat? What HR implications are there, and what communication needs to happen to ensure a smooth transition?

Your work

At the core of your company’s performance is the critical work you do – the output of your company and the performance of the system. Depending on your business, this can include products, services, revenue, profit, impact or change in the community, along with the output of your departments, teams and individual employees.

In my experience, a change in strategy is usually designed specifically to improve a business’s output, but it’s worth considering the impact the change can have on all relevant levels.

Your systems and structure

How Changing Strategy Affects Structure

Supporting your business are the systems, structure and processes that keep everything organized. Maybe you’ve got a small team with an organic hierarchy and lots of collaboration, or maybe it’s a large, distributed workforce with distinct units and rigid lines of authority. Along with your organization, you have rules and policies guiding the company and technology and infrastructure enabling these processes.

Any significant strategy change means it’s time to re-examine these systems and structures. Do they still provide the organization, guidance and capacity you need to see the new plan through?

Your culture

This one can be the trickiest. Along with the tangibles described above are the less tangible factors like unwritten rules, core beliefs and the various motivations, attitudes and values held among your team. These cultural factors often have a direct effect on how and why the work gets done.

In considering a new strategy, it’s therefore also worth considering if the culture supports the work entailed in the new plan. If it doesn’t, you could see good people showing themselves to the exits.

As Wharton management professor Larry Hrebiniak puts it in Wharton’s Executive Education:

“Culture is important; it definitely can affect behavior and performance outcomes. But it’s also important to realize that behavior and performance affect culture; culture is not only a causal factor, it’s also a dependent variable affected by other critical execution-related factors. Incentives, structures, decision processes, behaviors, people, and controls affect and shape culture. It’s important to understand these dynamic interactions to fully comprehend culture, how to manage it, and how to avoid ineffective, knee-jerk reactions to change it.”

Bringing it all together

Beyond considering how a new strategy might impact each of these factors, there’s another step here: considering how the interrelation between each of these components is affected if even one of them changes. Your business works because each aspect is in sync with the others (i.e. your structure is aligned with your culture, which is aligned with your people and so on).

Yep – it’s a lot to think about.

Now, let’s make something clear: I’m no organizational development expert, and I’m simplifying a complex idea. (Read: if you’re at a multinational corporation and planning a major strategic change, this is not your playbook – go hire a consultant.) But if you’re a small business and change is on the horizon for your marketing direction, taking some time to consider these factors beforehand and making needed preparations should help you avoid falling out of balance when the new strategy is put into action.

And remember: changing marketing strategies may not be the easiest process, but sometimes it’s necessary. I hope that by using this framework to prepare, it’ll feel less overwhelming. At least, less overwhelming than going to Ikea.

Planning a change to an inbound marketing strategy? Get started with our helpful checklist below.

The Congruence Model: A Roadmap for Understanding Organizational Performance

Culture as Culprit: Four Steps to Effective Change