Who Should Do Strategic Marketing?

elephant trumpetA question that often comes up for startups is who should do the strategic marketing / business strategy? (See What is Strategic Marketing? for an explanation of this work.)

The answer is probably you. But the nuance depends on the stage. From inception through growth the responsibilities for different aspects of developing a business strategy will shift between people, but in the end everyone in the company should feel responsible for contributing to the creation and ongoing evolution of a company’s strategy, and no one is more responsible than the CEO.

Many of the most successful early stage start-ups combine the talents of a founding team with someone who is more oriented on the business and someone who is more oriented on creating the product whether that is a piece of software, a manufactured good, or a service. (e.g. Jobs and Wozniak, McNealy and Joy, etc.) The other way it works, is you get a brilliant entrepreneur who sees a path for both the business and the technology and then builds a team that can achieve it (e.g. Gates, Benioff, etc.)

In great startups, the work on the product and the work on the business are deeply intermingled one influencing the other through multiple iterations as the concepts evolve and solidify into a successful business.

The pattern that doesn’t work as well is when one or the other of these tasks is “delegated” to someone who is not part of the founding team, someone more junior, or worse a consultant. This approach rarely works.

Even when there is a clear division of skills and responsibilities between developing the product and figuring out the business, early stage companies should make the process of answering the fundamental strategic marketing questions something that everyone participates in. Without this discipline, it’s easy to have the product begin to drift or to have the business strategy loose alignment with the reality of the product.

As a startup matures from the early days, the responsibilities start to break up, and the most common activity is to bring in someone who does “product marketing” or “product management” or both. (The usage of the terms product marketing and product management are inconsistent across the industry. For sake of this discussion, I’m just going to use product marketing as all inclusive. In other posts I’ll tease out different ways of organizing the responsibilities.)

The product marketing manager usually brings a bunch of business planning and execution skills to the team. Hopefully with some real-world experience they can help drive the ongoing process of strategic marketing. When this works best, the product marketing manager is not simply operating alone in their office. They are facilitating a process that engages people from across the company.

In the end, even as the tasks for strategic marketing are delegated, the responsibility ultimately ends up in the CEO’s inbox. If the business sucks, the CEO takes the hit.