The most common misconceptions in marketing

brand personality from branding expertsI recently ran across this graphic (below) from a marketing person who teaches marketing people how to market themselves more effectively. This simple graphic hierarchy represents one of the most common misconceptions in marketing.

It’s a trap that many business owners and CEOs fall into. If this is how you visualize the marketing landscape, I urge you to read on.

This model implies that the client should pay $500 an hour for a marketing plan, and then leave the execution of the plan to unpaid interns and jr. marketing assistants.

I don’t think that’s a very good idea. In fact, there are so many things wrong with that picture, I don’t even know where to begin.


First of all, don’t be fooled by the title “Strategist.” 


“Brand Strategists” are popping up all over the place. It’s a relatively new cottage industry made up mostly of ambitious graphic designers who are looking to increase their billable rates. Just as the consultant to those consultants recommends…

“Why work as a designer/mechanic when you can change the title on your LinkedIn profile and charge 10 to 20 times more? 

So the “strategist” at the very top of the marketing totem pole, in this example, might have no real strategy experience, no formal marketing training, and no track record of successful brand leadership. (Choosing a few adjectives and corporate cliches about your brand mission to go with a logo design does not equate to a brand strategy.)

That’s one of the most common misconceptions in marketing… that all strategists have experience with honest to goodness strategy.

More often than not, any “strategies” that brand strategist would deliver will be focused almost entirely on tactics, not strategy.

If you’re really looking for big-picture marketing strategy a consultant is a much better choice than a “brand strategist.”

Unfortunately, consultants are famous for charging exorbitant amounts of money to deliver marketing plans that never see the light of day. Here’s what happens…

For whatever reason, their strategic plans are not always embraced internally. Therefore, the quarterback doesn’t have a game plan, and the mechanics are left scurrying around in creative circles, nowhere near the end zone.

Which brings me back to the importance of creative execution.


The ultimate success of any strategy rests entirely in the hands of the people who execute.


As the old saying goes, “execution is everything.”  When the all-important details of execution are left to those lowly mechanics in the graphic, or to five buck foreign laborers, or worse yet, to Ai programs, the strategy goes out the window.

So even if you pay a guru a million bucks for a strategy, it’s going to be practically worthless if you don’t have a top-notch creative team.

I contend that it’s much smarter, and ultimately more cost effective, to flip the script and build your strategy around creative thinking. Because to me, strategy is, in fact, a creative endeavor.

But wait just a minute. What is strategy, anyway?

There seems to be a lot of confusion about the difference between marketing strategy and marketing tactics. (If you’re still unclear on the difference, read this post.)

Richard Rumelt, author of  Good Strategy Bad Strategy, says strategy has three simple components:

  1. A diagnosis that defines or explains the nature of the challenge.
  2. A guiding policy or principle for dealing with the challenge.
  3. A set of coherent actions that are designed to carry out the guiding policy.

Emphasis on “coherent actions,” aka execution.

Wally Olins, the world’s foremost thought leader on Branding, says, “If you want people to believe in you, buy your products, invest in your shares, and recommend you to others, you have to be coherent, consistent, and credible.”

You’ll never accomplish those three things if the marketing execution is relegated to the lowest people on the totem pole.

So here’s an idea: Skip the consultant and the “brand strategist” altogether. That’ll save you some money.

Instead, invest in an experienced, high-paid creative team and get them actively involved in the strategy process from the get-go.  Let them bring a strategist with them.

When you team a writer and an art director with a truely gifted account planner/marketing strategist you’ll get magical results. The contribution from each of those individuals is equally valuable, so pay them all the same. There are no self imposed tiers.

“The sparks start to fly when we connect the creative and the business world. And amazing things happen when we truly collaborate with our client partners and instill the magic of creativity into the very fabric and nature of the business itself.”
– Bob Schmetterer, Former chairman at Euro RSCG, a global advertising and communications agency.


And here’s another common misconception in marketing: If you find the right consultant, agency, strategist or director, you can rely on them to handle ALL your marketing strategy needs.


Don’t ever abdicate responsibility for your marketing strategy. You, as a client, are ultimately responsible so you should be intimately involved every step of the way.

Get that team of yours embedded in your company. Share openly and often. Include them in your hardest decisions and let them be exposed to the real truth of your operation.

I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much you get out of that relationship if you hold back nothing.

Another way to structure your marketing is to find an experienced marketing generalist who can fill multiple shoes… Someone who’s nimble enough to help you with strategy one day, and then execute advertising the next. One person for both ends of that tiered graphic.

That’s a rare find, so if you’re lucky enough to have someone like that on your team make sure you keep him or her happy. And understand that no single person can solve all your marketing challenges.

Here’s more on confusion and misconceptions in marketing. 



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