Many people ask, “Can marketing strategists and digital marketing strategists be used interchangeably?” We say no because a marketing strategist is different from a digital marketing strategist.
A digital marketing strategist is experienced in digital technology, digital transformation, and digital channels, but probably doesn’t have experience in print, direct mail, television, or other traditional mediums. In this article, we’ll focus on marketing strategists as a broader term. That way, you can better understand what they do and perhaps get a sense of whether you’d like to become one day!
How to Prepare for a Marketing Strategist Role
There is a certain amount of education and experience required before one is ready to become a strategist. Let’s review the educational background and skill sets a person may need to show that they have the marketing strategist experience.
Marketing Strategist Education
Although someone likely won’t graduate college and get a job as a marketing strategist right away, they need a degree. Strategists will major in any business field, not just marketing, but you’ll often see a familiarity with marketing. Ideally, the person’s degree will be a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science in marketing. Additionally, an MBA in marketing—although a master’s degree is not necessary, nor is it an indicator of someone’s capabilities.
A strategist’s definition varies, but a marketing strategist is deserving of the title because they can identify tactics that will help achieve a specific goal across various channels, methodologies, approaches, buyers, and industries. This confidence comes from a foundational background and years of experience.
Without that experience and that broad array of skill sets, they most likely would defer to a coworker or prefer things that they know well, which would be very limiting—and therefore, not strategic. Usually, the marketing strategist is also the person who leads an organization or team department in accomplishing the company’s or client’s overall objective, not just campaign objectives and KPIs.
Marketing Strategist Experience
A marketing strategist typically has over seven to ten years of marketing experience. But what type of experience would prepare someone for such a role?
You’ll often see a marketing strategist start as an intern or earn a position as an implementer within a marketing team right after graduating. A marketing implementer can be a channel-specific marketer and focus on one facet of marketing—such as PPC or SEO—or a marketing coordinator.
A marketing strategist could even start their marketing career as a designer with some marketing background, or maybe a copywriter. The implementer role is simply the entry-level position that kicks off a marketing strategist’s career.
After working an implementer position and focusing on a specific category, channel, or expertise, marketers can expand that experience and eventually take on more marketing responsibilities. To become a great marketing strategist, the person must understand all facets of a marketing strategy to accurately identify what a company or client needs, develop a comprehensive marketing strategy, execute a plan, and achieve their goals.
Working In-House vs. Working at an Agency
To become a marketing strategist, a person should consider many opportunities to execute marketing campaigns across different channels and verticals. The good news? They can fast track their development by working for a marketing agency. Even if the tenure was a substantial amount of time, a marketing strategist that has only worked for maybe two companies as an in-house marketer has limited the purview of their experience.
The fact of the matter is, it’s challenging to call oneself a marketing strategist if they’re in an in-house role within a marketing department (even if their role is labeled “strategist”).
Usually, the individuals holding these positions will have had some agency time to help them earn that label because that’s where they’ve gathered much experience across enough domains and industries.
We have the five phases of a digital marketing consultant, which describe a marketing strategist’s development. It’s the career path for a Digital Marketing Consultant (DMC). We take the strategist label very seriously and if someone wants to be a business strategist—like we have in sales—or a marketing strategist—like we have in client services—they’re going to be held to a very high expectation of what they’re able to identify, conceptualize, and realize in regards to client results. If they can’t, they’re not a strategist, but they might be a consultant.
Since we’re an agency, we’ll give you those insights from our experience and differentiate an in-house marketer from an agency marketer along the way.
When You’re With a Marketing Agency
There’s a way to agency life. One learns and advances so much faster than within an in-house environment because of various verticals, work, clients, and team. For many in-house marketing teams, the marketing strategist is working as an implementer as well, and their job isn’t just managing the team. They’re also doing their work. So, there is sometimes a lack of the support needed for implementers to be successful, and they have to kind of figure things out on their own.
On the other hand, in the agency world—or at least, the way we’ve constructed it—the strategists’ lookout for the implementers to make sure that they’re ready for the work that they’re going to do.
This is why we wanted to write this article to share with candidates. They need to know how to manage client needs and team capacities. The Scrum, agile framework helps people do just that. It’s built right into our system.
One way to look at this is how does one manage urgent or troubleshoot issues? Think of it as urgent requests or issues versus planned activities. Here’s an example of what we mean. If they’re an in-house marketer, they’ll sometimes have an urgent activity where the CEO said something and have to launch a campaign. They then have a new service offering to promote. Some things happen that no matter how well they plan, their job is also responsive to the organization’s needs. Thus, there’s a lot more pivoting involved, but that’s why they have to have a clear view of prioritization.
With this in mind, how does one manage client needs or the company’s needs and their capabilities or capacities? With prioritization, plain and simple. And when they’re going at an agile frequency, like a weekly activity, one can pivot quite quickly. They also have to have a process where they say, “Is the thing you’re asking us to do taking us a direction away from where we’re needing to go? Or is it just a slight step out of the direction we’re headed, and we’re going to get right back into it?”
Because the job as the marketing strategist, whether it be a CMO, Director of Marketing, VP of Marketing, the strategist in an agency ensures that the strategy is accomplished. And if the strategist approves and accepts these impromptu requests that most of the time aren’t coming from a place of strategic thinking but reactive thinking, they may lose their job. One is typically hired as a strategist to bring their expertise, and their expertise helps an organization prioritize activities relative to the goals they’re trying to achieve.
The 4 Main Responsibilities of a Marketing Strategist
An aspiring strategist needs to understand what the job entails to prepare to help their team and clients. Marketing strategists need to be committed and able to uphold all the responsibilities, so others can lean on them when and where needed, and their job must be done successfully to support their clients, team, and goals.
To manage these four responsibilities, marketing strategists must know how to juggle client and peer relationships and collaborate with others to achieve strategic goals.
Responsibility #1 – Planning Client Strategies
Marketing strategists know that they can’t execute effective tactics without a solid strategy. No matter the vertical, there are some things that marketers agree is fundamental to any successful strategy.
Know the Company
The first step to creating a client strategy—and arguably the most important—is learning about the company’s ins and outs. Before one starts getting into any of the other fun things, like content production and campaigns, they have to understand the company they’re representing.
Ask the client questions to establish a foundation of knowledge:
- What is this business?
- What is its objective?
- What is its business model?
- How does it make money?
- What are its margins?
- What are its services or products?
- What makes it unique?
The strategist will typically create a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis to identify areas to improve on or maintain.
A goal setting meeting with leadership, the marketing department, or the revenue department (which includes sales) should be scheduled to review objectives, key results (OKRs) and key performance indicators (KPIs). Organize these objectives and goals by fiscal year or quarter.
Next, the strategist will analyze and assess direct competitors—any organization selling against their offer. They should then research and evaluate online competitors—anyone trying to represent domain authority or thought leadership in their space. Online competitors may not directly sell against them, but they show an aggressive effort to target the keywords and content they want to write on to build their brand authority online.
Look at how they’re converting visitors and compare the conversion process and how it relates to one’s website, as well as anything else that makes up the foundation of their sales and marketing funnels—including brochures, sales, or marketing collateral, product catalogs, service catalogs, and more.
These steps are critical to fully understanding how far along the company is in building their sales and marketing funnels.
Know the Target Audience
Once a strategist has learned everything there is to know about the company, it is time to redirect their attention to the buyers.
The buyer personas (or customer profiles, depending on where the strategist received their education) are developed during a meeting designed to identify who the company’s ideal buyers are. It’s also important to look at the negative buyer—the person who might want to buy but is not a great fit for the customer.
It’s best practice to have a minimum of three buyer personas. Many organizations have more, depending on how fine-tuned they are in their targeting or how expansive their offerings are. Buyer personas need to be well-documented, circulated, collaboratively worked on, and approved by different departments—including sales, client fulfillment, and customer satisfaction.
When everyone is on the same page on who the target audience is, they have a strong foundation for success in going after ideal buyers. Strategists frequently help clients establish and refine their buyer personas, so they are incredibly familiar with this process. They understand how to source market research, population information, buying characteristics, buying data, and more to accomplish their goals.
Know the Buyer’s Journey
For both B2B and B2C companies—or any company with a sales process where an individual is responsible for communicating the offer to a buyer, including retail—strategists need a full understanding of the buyer’s journey. Ask questions like:
- What is the sales process?
- How does the company communicate value?
- What does the company communicate to its buyers?
- What persuades buyers to buy?
The marketing team carefully documents this information.
With B2B companies, one has to look at the funnel stages specifically to identify the sales pipeline’s deal stages. Similarly, to drive sales with B2C companies, one needs to look at the buyer’s journey related to the sales process to help them move through the funnel.
The next step is for the marketing strategist to look at the brand content in the funnels and identify the content needed across the awareness, consideration, and decision stages of the buyer’s journey. They can do this by talking to customer-facing individuals and sales customer service to find out what they need to be more successful in their roles. After all, the most critical objective for a marketing team is to support sales and increase lead generation.
Assess, Measure, and Analyze
Next, marketing strategists need to take the temperature of the company’s marketing and sales organization. They should assess the company’s website, content, SEO, paid channels, print media, referrals, and partner channels. The goal is to understand all of the methods it has to get new clients. From there, the strategist can see which avenues can be maximized moving forward.
Strategists should already have experience with doing assessments. It’s also very common for them to bring in some implementers—such as digital marketing consultants and content marketers—to assist with this process, but they’re the ones reviewing the reports and assessments to ensure they are aligned with the company’s objectives. They analyze where the company is and determine where it needs to go.
Figuring out how the company is going to attract prospects is the next vital step. Marketing strategists need to ask, “What are all the means that we have at our disposal to attract buyers?” The answer will lead to a gap analysis of where the company is now and what they’ve done in the past.
With this information, the strategist can develop a production schedule to create the content the company doesn’t have. They also need to create a campaign schedule that incorporates traditional, paid, and inbound marketing.
Responsibility #2 – Delivering Promised Results
A strategist needs to deliver results. First, they have to take a clear look at where they are now and be very honest and transparent about what the company has already and what it needs. Identify the brand’s strengths and weaknesses, and plan future content and campaigns accordingly.
The second step is level setting, which means setting the company’s expectations. If the CEO of the client’s company has unrealistic expectations and is unqualified to define the objectives they’re asking for, but they’re saying yes anyway, they probably aren’t a strategist. When one becomes a “yes man,” they set themself up for a potentially angry client and lose credibility. This can damage their company reputation when it comes to perceived capability.
Stay on Track and Reach Goals
A strategist has to educate others—especially leadership—on what is realistic for what they’re asking or want to achieve. As we briefly touched on before, the number one rule is not to set unrealistic goals. The strategist can set targets, objectives, and projections, or calculate some preliminary performance variables.
To deliver results, they have to hyper-communicate their progress toward each goal and report any optimizations or changes needed. Perhaps they’ve discovered that one of their Facebook ads is not performing as well as they had anticipated. Figure out a way to reoptimize efforts and adjust accordingly. Then, be candid with the company about why the initial campaign didn’t work, and what the team is doing to take care of it to show them they’re trustworthy, capable, and have everything under control.
Accommodating New Client Requests
What does one do if the company requests something that isn’t in line with their strategy?
As a marketing strategist, the main job is to guide them in the right direction and encourage them to keep to the strategy as much as possible. When one gets these kinds of requests, add them to the backlog and assure the client the items will still be given the appropriate attention when the time is right. Once it’s recorded in the backlog, the strategist can review them during their monthly planning to see what they can prioritize.
For example, creating an ebook designed to complement an unfinished product the company is launching nine months from now is not a priority. While that ebook sounds like excellent collateral for the sales team and a valuable resource for potential customers, more urgent initiatives are likely to focus marketing efforts on right now. Effectively communicating how each marketing initiative supports its strategy is a crucial skill for marketing strategists to have.
Responsibility #3 – Building Relationships With Different Roles on the Team
At Uhuru, the marketing strategist works closely with implementers throughout the production process. It requires communication, prep, and planning.
Marketing team members need to be a culture and communication fit, not just a skill set fit. The implementer and strategist need to understand each other—if they don’t, there will be conflict further down in the production process.
Partnering With a Scrum Master
We operate in an agile, internal framework called Scrum, in which we complete our tasks (otherwise known as stories) that make up projects (otherwise known as epics). The Scrum master is critical at removing impediments and facilitating the most efficient version of the sprint.
In a nutshell, the Scrum master’s job is to ensure the team has the most efficient and effective sprint possible. The relationship between the Marketing Strategist and Scrum Master must be highly harmonious to support the rest of the team.
A Team Is Only as Good as the Sum of Its Parts
As a Marketing Strategist, the job is to support implementers and ensure that they have everything they need to deliver on client work successfully.
To have a high-functioning team, coworkers must hyper-communicate, self-correct, and be very honest about what’s working and what’s not working. It has to be respectful. The working relationship with anyone in a team needs to come from a place of self-improvement and hard work, every single day. Mistakes will happen, but how we correct our mistakes and learn from them defines us. Building and nurturing relationships between implementers and the Marketing Strategist (and between implementers themselves) is vital to a marketing team’s overall success and the work it produces.
Responsibility #4 – Planning Within Agile Scrum Frameworks
It’s time to dive a bit further into Scrum planning. Not every marketing team or agency operates in Scrum, but we (and many other marketers) believe it is the most effective way to deliver lasting results.
Most marketing teams have regular meetings to review the progress of different marketing initiatives. In addition to our daily team check-ins, we have a weekly Scrum planning meeting where the team looks at the next sprint’s tasks together and makes sure all of our clients are on track.
Before the Scrum meeting, marketing strategists work with the Scrum Master to review the team’s upcoming sprints. In Scrum, we call this capacity planning. What do the implementers have to do in the coming sprint? Are they going to be able to get everything done? Essentially, we look at each individual’s capacity and the amount of work they can accomplish to see if they can achieve everything before the deadlines.
During the Scrum planning meeting with the entire team, the marketing strategist’s job is to make sure the implementers know what’s assigned to them, what they’re doing for each task and the deadlines. This meeting is an opportunity to answer team members’ questions to remove any impediments and keep workflow moving at an optimal rate.
Marketing strategists also need to monitor the team’s progress in accomplishing quarter goals. What is the team doing each month, week, and day to achieve these goals? If it falls behind, what needs to happen to catch up?
The Marketing Strategist and Scrum Master need to say, “Okay, what are we getting done? And what’s left? Where are we with this project? What might we need to shift to get it done on time?”
What It Takes to Be a Marketing Strategist
If someone wants a career in marketing, it’s okay to take on opportunities that they may not have training for and get real-life, practical training while on the job. Expanding one’s skill set is the only way to grow as a marketer. So, get an assignment, take on the responsibility, and figure it out.
We often see many young marketers who feel their tech-savviness gives them an advantage, but then they downplay their experience. Others have areas they consider their specialties but don’t step into other domains that might make their careers faster.
Remember that marketing is all about communications, which consists of different media and mediums. Therefore, one’s familiarity with mediums and channels gives them the chance to work on something new for a company or client with confidence.
To become a marketing strategist, a person will likely have to be patient as well. They won’t be a marketing strategist until they’ve gone through marketing at a high level for about eight years.
It’s a pretty simple thing. It’s about understanding that everything they’re doing now will add up and be a part of what’s going to make them a strategist. And if they are trying to jump to a marketing strategist, they probably don’t have the patience to get there yet. Grand strategy is a component of the political, economic, enterprise, society thinking strategically. It’s like the generals. If they were joining the Army as a private, and they say, “I want to be a general.” It’s easy; stick around for 30 years.
A Strategist’s genius will be their ability to respond to circumstances, make the most out of what they were given, and be a supreme opportunist.
Superior strategists see things as they are. Great strategists do not act according to preconceived ideas; they respond to the moment. Their minds are quickly moving, and they are always excited and curious.
Start Your Journey to Become a Marketing Strategist
We recommend also looking at the digital marketing strategist position description on our careers page to get into more of the specifics about what is needed if this is the career path you seek.