Are we playing offense or defense?

The quick answer for most of us is probably offense, right? 

We’re going for it. We’re really doing marketing. We’re pursuing business growth.

But what’s the real difference between offense and defense? 

Let’s start with D.

Here are the three main defense triggers for marketers: 

  1. Missed targets
  2. CEO in the weeds
  3. Bigger macro issues

Most of us have experienced some or all of these, right? And what do they lead to? Uncertainty and fear, right? 

Which puts many of us on the defensive without fully realizing it. 

Fear may not be the opposite of courage – we’ll have to check with Brene Brown on that – but overcoming fear and getting to courage is a real challenge.

Irrespective of what some of those motivational posts might say, we can’t just “be brave” or “do something bold” out of the blue one day.

Courage tends to come from a certain level of confidence. And confidence at work typically comes from having a handle on certain things. 

When it gets hard, it’s easy to feel like we can’t change much at a company. 

But one thing we can always do is equip ourselves to lead dialogs. And for us marketing leaders there’s one area in particular where we have the opportunity to lead a new and impactful internal conversation. 

We refer to that conversation as the growth narrative:

The internal leadership conversation about how the company is actually going to grow over the next X months/years. 

Not how it could grow. Not all the options for growth. And not based on romantic views or other playbooks. 

We’re talking about the way. Exactly what the company is going to do in this particular season to attract optimal growth. 

If that conversation doesn’t exist, chances are the marketing team is playing defense without even knowing it. And even if it’s there, but the marketing leader is not leading that conversation, the team is likely playing defense – or just about to. 

It sneaks up on us. 

And there’s another sneaky contributor. 

We all love pipeline and revenue, right? So much so that we now apparently want to be measured entirely on our ability to create it. 

An over-rotation towards revenue as an accountability factor is more often than not creating short-term pressures that lead to more defense than offense. 

One wouldn’t think “being obsessed with revenue” maps to defense, but obsessing over any outcome leaves us vulnerable. 

On the other hand, obsessing over the level of understanding needed to do what it takes to get to the desired outcome enables offense. It’s through that discipline that we become the marketers we know we can be.

And when we take charge internally to help the rest of the leadership team see how sustainable growth is going to happen through an ongoing dialog we initiate and steer, that’s when we break out of defense. 

We may have missed some targets. And there may be some heavy macro issues. But we can now get the CEO out of questioning if our ads are right and change the overall course. 

So here it is:

Establishing and driving the growth narrative internally is the biggest unlock for marketing leaders to get back on offense.