A friend recently asked me for some thoughts on a new camera he was about to rush out and buy. I was delighted to be asked. I duly gave him my 'highly valued' opinion, forwarded a link to a trusted website where I'd read a review of a different model which he subsequently bought – job done! And then the nagging doubt set in. Was my recommendation made on a deep enough understanding of his needs and the job the camera needed to do….?

I've talked to lot of Marketers recently who are convinced that today, more than ever before, successful marketing is defined solely by the quality of activation. I'm not disagreeing with them that brilliant activation is critically important, especially in today's digital world - it's always been a great differentiator between the great and the merely average marketing strategy. Digital is also driving us all to think about the here and now, focus on the job in hand and on what's next. So I suppose it's not surprising that there is a tendency for marketers to concentrate their capabilities on the downstream and focus everything on activation, live evolution and constant modification of activities (the bits that tend to be on the right - or bottom - of 1 page strategy charts!). And so it's easy to get locked in to this constant relentless action and activation mode.

And so it is with capability development too. We were recently asked by a client to develop an approach to role profiling for their organisation because they felt that their Marketers needed a clearer view about what's expected of them and the role they play in the business. It would have been easy to move directly to action and project plan mode, but instead we did some "Look Left" probing. By "Look Left" I mean simple shorthand for making sure that the upstream thinking, decision making and engagement has been done before launching into action. In this case the "Look Left" questions we asked were:

  • Is your Marketing operating model lined up to help Marketing's role in delivering the business strategy? In other words, does Marketing have a framework and set of principles that defines what it's going to do, who's going to do it and how it interacts with other functions?
  • Is the way that marketing organises itself set up to deliver the operating model?

These two elements hadn't been reviewed together since a recent update of their strategy, but had a significant impact on the Role Profiling project they'd briefed us on.

"Look Left" thinking is not rocket science but it is a simple way to remember to make sure that the upstream thinking has been done and joins up with the action you're about to take.

So I've been thinking about that camera and that perhaps if I'd helped my friend do a bit more "Look Left" thinking rather than rushing straight to action, he might have ended up with a camera that was a better match for his needs (and I would have been a better friend to him!).

This post is by Mark Beales, Partner & Group Client Director at Brand Learning.