Like the brain, marketing has two sides that play important roles independently. However, to be truly effective, they must function in lockstep and with equal skill.

Those two marketing components are marketing strategy and marketing execution. Without a sound marketing strategy, execution will have little impact. And without the correct execution, the most brilliant strategy on earth is worthless.

The key is both doing the right things and doing things right.

"Right" is the word to focus on here. Our experience with hundreds of best-in-class marketing organizations has consistently highlighted the importance of strong execution. However, many marketing organizations struggle to execute consistently or quickly enough, use partners efficiently, or measure results in a meaningful way.

Those challenges were front and center in our own research with global marketing organizations. Regardless of industry or geography, marketing executives expressed a need to close the execution gap by having better insights and deeper knowledge of the best-practices that drive excellent execution.

So, what is the secret to marketing execution done right?

The first step is to understand what drives performance. Our work with hundreds of organizations across the globe has consistently highlighted five drivers of performance.

1. Keeping (or adopting) an innovative mindset

Organizations need to create space for marketers to be inventive in regards to execution. The best marketers have a system for listening to customers, monitoring competitors, and sharing best-practices internally. This mindset requires learning by taking calculated risks, as well as identifying and testing new tactics—which must include a process for piloting and testing.

2. Maintaining consistency in execution

The best firms find a way to drive consistency across channels, formats, and geographies, ensuring that marketing efforts are integrated across key consumer touchpoints.

Some companies centralize their multichannel marketing to ensure coordination and unified messaging; others rely on clear processes and regular internal communication.

Having a holistic view is critical to success in this area.

3. Minimizing execution complexity

Marketing campaigns have more moving parts than ever—and in today's environment, it is all about marketing's "speed to market." Consumers expect immediate and relevant communication, which requires marketers to be laser-focused on driving efficiency at every step of the marketing production process.

The best marketing organizations are relentless about defining and enforcing clear processes, as well as measuring performance at each stage. Agencies and vendors are no exception to this rule—clear accountability is a must.

4. Building a healthy marketing ecosystem

Enabling strong execution through the best possible use of people and technology also is critical.

Successful firms ensure that their marketers spend their time on the highest-value activities, often by outsourcing time-consuming tasks to external parties. In addition, the best companies use technology to their advantage by avoiding "system proliferation" and storing execution data in one central repository.

5. Maintaining efficiency and effectiveness

Measuring results is critical to effective execution. Smart marketers, however, take it a step further by measuring both inputs and outputs. This includes having a transparent view of costs at every step of the marketing supply chain, understanding the opportunity cost of having high-value personnel focused on low-value tasks, and being able to connect program performance to revenue growth.

Ultimately, the most successful marketing organizations realize that execution is about "minding the gap" among procurement, brand management, and brand strategy. Strong execution links those areas together to help drive meaningful topline growth.

Conducting an impactful assessment

To begin improving your organization's marketing execution, you first need to identify the biggest opportunity areas by conducting an in-depth assessment.

  • Build a well-rounded fact base. Align your objectives with the scope of the assessment. Gather data through qualitative fact-finding (e.g., interviews, marketing content audit), quantitative analysis (including in-house and third-party data), and internal/external analogs (e.g., best-in-class analogs of clients, markets, and tactics, as well as best-practices from your company). This information should give you a current state of marketing execution and an indication of where your gaps might be.
  • Score your performance. Benchmark your performance to identify improvement opportunities. Using the five drivers above as a scoring method is a good place to start. It's ideal to have both internal and external (market) metrics for comparison.
  • Recommend improvements. Develop and prioritize your recommendations. Focus on the one or two biggest opportunities and develop a plan to close those gaps. Resist the urge to tackle too many issues at once.

Why do all this when you already know the answers?

It's true—most marketers already know where their biggest problems are and almost always have opinions on how to fix them. The value of assessing performance methodically, however, goes beyond just identifying issues.

Following a process to document your findings—and the facts to back them up—gives you the tools you need to effect change within the organization. Once senior stakeholders can point to hard evidence, moving in a new direction becomes that much easier.

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The Top Five Drivers of Marketing Execution Performance

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image of Chris Dent

Chris Dent is vice-president of marketing strategy at InnerWorkings, global marketing execution firm for Fortune 500 brands across a wide range of industries.

LinkedIn: Chris Dent