Some descriptionRegional Chair Brian Doidge discusses the important role that context plays within the marketing effort and reveals that there are actually a number of aspects that need to be considered and understood by the strategic marketer, if they are to maximise their professional effectiveness.

A few years ago, a very good friend and colleague, (who is a very accomplished organisational psychologist) and I, were discussing the role of contextualisation within business.  I remember him saying said to me, that having a sufficiently meaningful understanding of the situation within which our organisation operates, is actually vitally important. In fact he went on to say, that his experiences had led him to believe that without this knowledge, it will prove very difficult to understand very much about our organisations at all.  Which for me I have to confess, was very thought provoking at the time and after reflecting on it for a moment, made me think that in many ways of course, this has more than a ring of truth to it. Particularly I thought for us as modern marketing professionals. So it begs the question, how important do we think that the influences and events related to our particular situation actually are? Was he actually right? Can our understanding of our context, help us to become even better practitioners of marketing than we already are? In short will it further enable our ability to create sustainable competitive advantage?

Some of us might recall that Stephen Covey was of course of a similar view. He of course felt that before we seek to be understood, it is usually prudent for us to seek to understand a concept first. Does this actually apply to us in marketing though? Well I am often told that we are a dynamic outward facing profession, which sort of implies that it does. However, is it actually our belief that it is usually a good idea to find out what is going on in the wider environment? Do we really feel though that we should use our precious time, to establish as far as possible, what the various trends are?  

In my experience, it has proved to be very important to look outside and to view our whole organisation in a holistic, joined up way. I am not convinced to be honest that there has been a fundamental shift in this yet, or that there is likely to be soon. I usually, if not always find that this in fact helps us as marketers, to closely align ourselves with the context, in an appropriate way. It is often all too easy, to sometimes overlook or indeed simply forget, that it is our overall business strategy that defines what needs to be done, to meet our business goals. Our role within marketing, continues to be to support this in a professional and meaningful way. It continues to be very important that we respect our organisation’s strategy statement for example. It is also important that we are able to articulate our long-term strategic and broad policy directions in a clear and meaningful way. It is I feel fair to say, that many of us will already intuitively know our organisation’s strategic intent and are able to readily articulate how it is our very purpose for existence as an entity.  In some examples of course within a smaller business, the full scope of organisational and functional, may be within the remit of a small team, or maybe even and individual.  However, what is often more challenging though, is for us to readily recall our organisation’s summary of its’ business philosophy and direction. We are sometimes I find, also presented with something of a challenge, when we try to spontaneously recall our organisation’s Vision.  This aspirational description of what we would like to achieve or accomplish in our mid-term or long-term future as an organisation is important.  However, we do need to remind ourselves of it from time to time.

Our organisational goals though are often thankfully a bit more in the forefront. In fact, the range of management measures that have been established to co-ordinate the effective administration of the business, are usually a visible manifestation of these. However, these should not be confused with our marketing objectives.  These are the corporate objectives! These are the ones that relate to our entire business, not just marketing as an individual business function within our organisation. Our marketing objectives are of course also very important, but they do need to clearly reflect not only the tone, but also the actuality of the goals that have been set for us across our organisation.

So, is turning all this important context based detail into something meaningful still relevant for the marketing effort? For example, could still be argued to be something of a pre requisite for our need to understand and in turn communicate effectively to our stakeholders? It could be argued that is still very much a platform for our various efforts. In fact, those that are targeted at our creation of world class marketing strategies, will be provided with a much more robust underpinning because of this. I still find that very effective professional marketers, already know that a well prepared marketing audit rooted in context, can help us create a meaningful strategic marketing plan and this can help us to justify, as well as explain our findings and plans. Also very importantly, it can help us to ensure that we have very clearly dovetailed our efforts into the corporate context.

I am pleased to report, that I still see great examples of relevant analytical models that have been “deployed” really well. These are clearly facilitating much of the above and can support us to carry out a methodical examination of our whole context.  I often see how they not only help us to frame our findings, but they also provide us with a helpful and much needed timely prompt.  This deployment not only allows us to record our findings, but it can also help to provide us with the wherewithal to more fully understand them. It can also help us to explain and justify our own position, before we embark on our very important planning tasks. This will of course be most helpful in our creation of world class marketing strategies. Understanding our context via a carefully crafted audit for example, can only support our comprehension of the bigger picture.  It can simultaneously though, let us focus upon the more functional elements relevant to us within marketing. Using our audit to analyse the business and economic environment, the market and its characteristics, as well as our competition, will be very helpful, as will knowing our sources of competitive advantage.  Then pulling this together with other aspects such as the strategy statement will start to give us the means to understand.  In fact many professionals still find real benefit in deploying some form of balanced score card or similar, to draw the various strands of context together. Often the range of pre agreed measures, will greatly assist us in our efforts to understand our situation more comprehensively.

We need to remember though, that in addition to the more general holistic context above, there is very often another one that is identified as a guiding theme. This is the one which will run through an individual marketing plan, which is in many ways often a call to action from the senior team.  This could arise out of a change presented by the operating environment, often to meet legislative challenges such as GDPR for example.  It could also be something that is seen as being able to give us clear competitive advantage and that could further enhance our brand.  These aspects of context, tend to have a more project like feel and it is important that we avoid the temptation to just take a generic view. In fact we do need to make a concerted effort to draw in a more specific approach as well. Could it therefore still be argued that we should feel duty bound to ensure that we have established clear terms of reference for this? Should we formally include details related to this themed context, alongside our important and more frequently reviewed holistic aspects?  Well, we have to ask whether it is usually the case that this second aspect of context, will need to run through the audit and plan as the main driver? It could of course be, that our efforts to research and in turn understand the characteristics of this particular phenomenon, must be undertaking in a meaningful and reasonably exhaustive fashion. These aspects of context may well find us operating in somewhat less than familiar territory, so more diligence can only help.   

Exploring the circumstances that form the setting of our organisation and the backdrop to a given specified context within our business, can only support us in our endeavours that set out to realise a given nominated opportunity.  This will go a long way towards us demonstrating our professional ability as a strategists.  It can only add value to our need to be able to communicate the big picture with even more confidence, to those professionals that we need to interface with. When we understand our context, we understand much and once we understand much, we are in a better position to be understood. Can you really understand your organisation, without understanding your context? 

Five key points:

Carry out a PESTLE or similar

Revisit your organisation’s Strategy Statement

Carry out Secondary Research into the driving theme of your marketing plan

Capture and analyse your findings via a Dashboard or similar report

Make your Recommendations in a concise and meaningful way using the findings to underpin this.