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How To Run a Marketing Strategy Workshop the Right Way

By March 28, 2022No Comments
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Marketing strategy workshop.

What images come to mind?

  1. You getting amped up about a strategy session, only to sit down and get absolutely nowhere after talking for hours about ideas that never get followed up on
  2. You and your colleagues throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks
  3. A marketing agency strolling into your office and delivering a forced, cookie-cutter meeting that tries way too hard to blow your mind
  4. A collaborative, interactive session where your team works hard to figure out your future marketing strategy and your discussions turn into action plans and reality

We know you’re all dying to say it’s number four.

And while we’d love that to be the case, we know it ain’t so.

Most marketing strategy sessions don’t achieve their goals, and they leave their participants feeling like they wasted a perfectly good day.

Personally, we’re sick and tired of it.

Which is why we’ve decided to put pen to paper (well, finger to keyboard, but who’s looking?) and share a few expert tips on how to run a marketing strategy workshop.

We’ve learned these the hard way during what seems like thousands of workshops, so you’re in for a real treat.

We’ve also made a podcast episode about this topic, so check it out if you’d like to give your eyes a break!

What Is a Marketing Strategy Workshop and Why Does It Matter?

A marketing strategy workshop is a meeting where:

  • You gather the right people in the right place at the right time, and
  • Ask them to collaboratively solve a pivotal issue regarding your marketing strategy

You could sit down to rethink your entire go-to-market plan, or you could simply focus on one marketing element, like branding or digital marketing campaigns.

You could run a three-day meeting at an external site with the help of an agency, or you could do a self-managed, three-hour session in your boardroom.

It’s up to you, your company’s culture, and your current business needs.

But regardless of your workshop’s exact feel and focus, you can rest assured it’s a surefire way to align the key stakeholders and move your organisation in the right direction.

Well, it’s surefire if you keep reading through this post and put our tips into practice.

Workshops give you a once-in-a-project opportunity to get buy-in and sniff out potential problems before you jump into implementing your plan.

This helps you avoid branding initiatives and marketing campaigns that don’t resonate internally with stakeholders and/or externally with target customers.

If we translate this into finance-speak, marketing workshops save your company mucho bucks.

If we use HR-speak, marketing workshops keep your career progression on track.

And McKinsey backs us up here by saying that a holistic approach is necessary for successful business transformations (the end goal of any workshop that’s worth a damn).

One more thing before we move on to the tips we’ve promised you:

Workshops also give you a chance to tell if the agency you hired is bullshitting you.

So pay close attention to their workshopping skills and don’t get blindsided.

Now onto the star of the show:

How To Run a Marketing Strategy Workshop in 8 Steps

We’ve already faffed on for long enough, so we’ll cut the formalities and get straight to the meat of the matter.

The eight steps on how to run a marketing strategy workshop á la Growth Gurus.

Here it is in TL;DR format:

StepsHow?Why?

1. Prepare for the workshop

  • Set a marketing strategy workshop goal
  • Assess the status quo and review your customer personas
  • Look at your competitors
  • Prepare an agenda and finalise the attendee list 
Proper preparation prevents poor performance
2. Start the workshop with impact
  • Do something unique — play some music, run a skit, tell a joke, play a game, or create an icebreaker
You want to grab everyone’s undivided attention and interest
3. Revolve everything around the customer
  • Cut internal discussions short
  • Push the focus back to the agenda whenever tactical issues arise
Your end goal is to create a customer-focused; everything else is a detail for later on
4. Get creative as hell
  • Invite people to take risks and say crazy things
  • Avoid groupthink
Creativity is next to godliness in workshops
5. Tie your marketing strategy into the overall strategy
  • Invite the CEO and CMO to your strategic marketing meeting
  • Get executive buy-in before you run your session
You’ll never get executive sign-off if you skip this step
6. Don’t get derailed
  • Be firm yet friendly when closing down digressions
  • Avoid unnecessary breaks and ban the use of phones and laptops
Off-topic conversations and distractions kill productivity
7. Document literally everything
  • Use a dedicated notetaker
  • Implement modern tools like a digital whiteboard and auto-recording software
People aren’t great at remembering what went down in meetings
8. End on a high note and create a follow-up plan
  • Summarise the main points covered in the session
  • Pull together a follow-up plan with SMART goals
You need to leave the workshop with a roadmap that guides you to the promised land

And here it is in all its glorious details:

Step 1 – Prepare for the workshop

There’s nothing like preparation.

Benjamin Franklin (a guy that knew his stuff) famously said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

So take a tip out of his playbook and apply it to your marketing workshops.

After all, this kind of thinking landed him on the 100-dollar bill. Think of what it could do to your strategy sessions.

But seriously, how should you prepare for running a marketing strategy workshop?

Cover off these six sub-points (loosely based on IDOARRT), and you’ll be strutting into your session with confidence:

  1. Set a marketing strategy workshop goal
  2. Assess the status quo
  3. Review your customer personas
  4. Look at your competitors
  5. Prepare an agenda
  6. Finalise the attendee list and gather pre-meeting feedback

1. Set a marketing strategy workshop goal

The first thing you need to do is set an overall goal for the session.

If you’re not clear why you’re scheduling a workshop, how will it ever be a success?

In our experience, sessions without clear objectives quickly devolve into unrelated and unproductive conversations that leave your team feeling demoralised and poorly led.

So sit down and write a short yet precise goal statement for your meeting.

Something like:

  • Plan our outbound marketing strategy for the next two years
  • Define our brand’s DNA and translate it into kick-ass branding material
  • Rethink our target markets for product X

Got it?

Great, on we go to step 1.2:

2. Assess the status quo

Your workshop doesn’t exist in a parallel universe.

It’s firmly rooted in your company’s overarching values and objectives.

So before the meeting, spend a little time painting an accurate picture of what’s going on, even if you’re planning on transforming business-as-usual.

Gather the following information:

  • Your business’s goals
  • Audience personas
  • A stakeholder map
  • Customer journey maps
  • Marketing (and overall) budgets

And make sure to use it as you move through the rest of your prep work.

3. Review your customer personas

90% of companies have some sort of customer personas already built out.

So put aside a few hours to think about these questions:

  • Is your company using them? Or are they just an artefact?
  • Do they match the profiles of your actual customers?
  • Are the personas still relevant? Or do you need to go after a different audience?
  • Do you understand your audience’s thoughts and behaviours?

Document your findings.

You’ll need them in the workshop because you cannot do anything marketing-related without a crystal-clear picture of your target audience.

What if your company doesn’t have personas?

No need to worry — simply create a rough sketch of what you think they should be and use the workshop to get consensus from key stakeholders.

4. Look at your competitors

Once you know your customers, the next step is to think about your competition.

Who are they? How are they targeting your audience? How is your company better than theirs? How are they better than you?

We like to identify three to five top competitors and perform a SWOT analysis on each of them to create a complete company profile.

We then bring these to the workshop and use the profiles to stop the discussion from getting too self-centred. Attendees usually benefit from being reminded they’re not operating in a vacuum, and their strategies and tactics need to stand up in the marketplace.

Plus, showing examples of creativity always helps to get peoples’ brains going.

5. Prepare an agenda

It’s time to prepare an agenda for your workshop.

This isn’t difficult. All it takes is a bit of patience and logic, as you already have all the information you need thanks to your previous research.

Yet only 37% of meetings in the USA use agendas. Astonishing, right?

Are these facilitators expecting their attendees to use a mixture of mind-reading and premonition to know what to expect?

So unless you work for the X-Men, you’re stuck with agendas.

Here’s an example to make it a bit easier to create your own:

how to run a marketing strategy workshop

Pro tip: Clearly state how long your workshop will last. Will it be a three-hour sprint or a two-day deep dive?

Let people know and help them mentally prepare for what is to come.

6. Finalise the attendee list and gather pre-meeting feedback

Many well-planned workshops fall flat on their faces because the facilitator forgets to invite somebody important. Either by accident or by design.

The person then finds out about the session, gets annoyed (or worse, offended), and decides to make it a personal goal to put stokes in the project’s wheels.

Need an example?

Say you don’t invite the Head of Retail Stores to your workshop because your company is 80% focused on eCommerce. You won’t have any issues in the workshop, but expect to feel the wrath of a shunned department head when you ask for in-store collaboration at a later stage of the project.

And that’s why we always recommend you invite:

  • The CEO/boss
  • The VP of sales or someone from the sales team
  • The CMO
  • Whoever understands the marketing budget
  • The marketers that are going to be executing the plan
  • Someone from customer service
  • Whoever else is affected by the workshop (i.e., retail, customer success)

They might not attend, but that choice is on them.

But don’t just send them a calendar invite.

Send them a personalised email where you share the goal for the workshop, the reason you’re requesting their attendance, and the planned agenda.

And don’t forget to ask them for pre-meeting feedback (with a clear deadline) to get them thinking about the session way before they rock up.

Once that invite is sent out and you’ve collected and integrated any feedback, you can consider the prep stage done. Hallelujah!

Step 2 – Start the workshop with impact

The day of the workshop has finally come around.

You’re feeling well-prepped, and your attendees know what to expect.

So far, so good.

Everyone comes into the meeting room and sits down. You stand up.

You know this is your only chance to set the scene for the workshop.

You have to capture this moment and grab the undivided attention of everybody in the room.

We love to kick off our workshops with a bit of flair — sometimes we play music, sometimes we run a skit, sometimes we tell a joke, sometimes we come up with an icebreaker.

In our last branding workshop, we went for the question, “Think of an animal that your brand represents and explain why.”

This surprised our audience, and it turned on the creative side of their brains, which were used to coasting through highly analytical meetings in aeroplane mode.

But whatever we do, we don’t just say, “Thanks for coming, here’s the agenda for today.”

That’s boring, and it doesn’t give the workshop the respect it deserves.

Once we’ve grabbed our attendees’ attention and introduced everyone in the room, we turn to the agenda, cover the meeting’s goals, and give an overview of where the company currently stands.

It might be worth playing the “what, why, how” exercise to judge the feeling in the room and get some initial agreement on the company’s most basic roles.

Or you might decide to share a couple of really cool examples of how competitors and other known companies have solved similar problems to create some buzz in the room.

When you feel like you’ve got everyone on board, you can move forward to the key questions you’ve set out to answer.

Step 3 – Revolve your discussions around the customer

As the workshop’s facilitator and a marketer, you have a vital role to play.

You need to keep everyone focused on the customer.

Internal debates are bound to pop up when you bring together so many different players from across the organisation.

Maybe the sales and marketing guys start discussing the CRM workflows. Maybe the Head of Retail goes off on a tangent about how they receive the offers from the promotions team.

These are details, and they don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

Remember this is a strategy meeting, and you have limited time.

It’s your job to cut these conversations short or redirect them back to the customer.

A good tactic is to ask yourself, “Is this something our target customers would care about?”

If the answer is no, shut it down.

Step 4 – Get creative as hell

You might feel a little like a dictator when you’re closing down discussions and pushing the conversation back towards the original plan.

Luckily, that’s not your main role.

Your key objective for the day is to create an energising safe space where people feel comfortable enough to say even the craziest things that come to mind. After all, you’re here to rethink everything you’ve done so far.

Nothing innovative has ever been invented by people afraid to take risks.

Imagine how the average Joe looked at Steve Jobs when he told them that people would be using an Apple to run their businesses in less than a decade?

Dumbfounded, to say the least.

But the people in Steve’s workshops didn’t bat an eyelid and supported his crazy ideas. The rest is history as we type away on a Macbook Pro.

So how can you encourage intense creativity?

  1. Run the workshop in a well-illuminated, external environment that physically breaks the attendees away from their usual habits
  2. Make everyone feel relaxed and welcomed — never put anyone down and be willing to say crazy things to prove this is a safe space for creativity
  3. Avoid groupthink by allowing individuals to be individuals — try solo exercises and anonymous voting systems
  4. Regularly break down into smaller groups and get people to present the group’s findings — then swap groups at the next exercise
  5. Use the principle of gamestorming to get people to think differently and collaboratively about common issues
  6. Provide healthy snacks (like Nakd bars)

Just remember you’ll have to remind the participants of marketing constraints — there’s no point going down a rabbit hole if an idea isn’t viable due to budget, time, or technology restrictions.

Step 5 – Tie your marketing strategy into the overall strategy

Your company’s C-level executives spend all their time thinking about high-level strategy.

And since they’re the guys and gals that run the show, you’d be daft to ignore them.

They won’t sign off on a marketing strategy if it doesn’t align with their thoughts.

Which is why, earlier on, we suggested you should invite your CEO and CMO to your session.

But even if they can’t make it, you can’t allow your session to go off in a completely different direction.

Rather:

  1. Sit down with them separately
  2. Get executive buy-in on your workshop’s agenda before you waste everybody’s day
  3. Make sure you remind your attendees of the overall strategy in the session

Step 6 – Don’t get derailed

Did you know that 56% of meetings are considered unproductive by employees and that off-topic conversations are consistently reported as the biggest challenge in meetings?

Off-topic conversations are the bane of workshops.

They ruin the flow of ideas. They waste time. And they have a massive impact on outcomes.

Consider this example:

You’re running a marketing workshop with 5 attendees on an average hourly wage of €50.

A key participant brings up an issue with your ERP system and talks about it for 5 minutes.

This throws everybody off their rhythm, and you lose about 15 minutes before you get back on track. Nothing major, right?

Think again, that digression cost the company €937.50 and forced you to remove 15 precious minutes from the time you allocated to discussing the action plan.

Ouch.

So don’t allow it to happen by:

  • Stepping in and kindly yet firmly telling people, “This isn’t the right forum for that topic” whenever anything unproductive become the focus of conversation
  • Avoiding unnecessary breaks
  • Asking participants to put their phones on silent
  • Outlawing the use of phones and laptops

Step 7 – Document literally everything

The human brain is an extraordinary tool. It is a creative masterpiece.

And it basks in the freedom of thought provided by a well-executed workshop.

But the mind has a flaw we tend to downplay and forget about…

Our lacklustre memory.

Within just one short hour, people forget about half of the information presented in a meeting. And that number shoots up to 90% after a week goes by.

No wonder intelligent documentation is pivotal to a workshop’s success.

It sets everything you discussed into stone and provides you with a foolproof record of the topics you mentioned and the magical ideas attendees brought up.

If you document the workshop intelligently, You won’t need to worry about anything slipping through the cracks or participants having later disagreements about what was agreed.

You can:

  • Go old-school and have a dedicated notetaker, or
  • Use modern technology like Miro (a digital whiteboard) and otter.ai (an automatic notetaker) to capture everything

Step 8 – End on a high note and create a follow-up plan

Have you ever heard about the serial position effect?

It’s a psychological principle that describes how people recall the first and last things more vividly than those in the middle.

This mental trick explains why the start and end are soooo important.

Be it a speech, an advert, or a marketing strategy meeting.

And since we’ve already covered how to start a workshop, we’ll only worry about how to end one in this section.

The best way to finish off a session is by:

  1. Mentioning something inspirational (like a vision of the future)
  2. Providing a solid summary of what you’ve covered (to elevate the key points out of the “stuck-in-the-middle” mist)
  3. Pulling together a follow-up plan with SMART goals and clear owners
  4. Asking the participants for feedback on a 1-to-10 scale (and why if they score you less than an 8) to demonstrate you’re committed to leading better workshops
  5. Repeating these three points in an email within 24 hours of finishing

This third point, the roadmap, is particularly crucial because it’s the first step towards your new marketing strategy.

It’s, in all essence, the reason you sat down and ran the workshop in the first place.

If you slip up here and your workshop doesn’t lead to change, it’ll be considered a failure.

Now pat yourself on the back.

You’ve just learned how to run a marketing strategy session, and your upcoming workshop is going to be a great success!

But What if I’m Running a Virtual Marketing Strategy Workshop?

Ahhh, we were hoping you wouldn’t bring that up.

We were already packing up and preparing to go on a mind-clearing run.

But we’re glad you mentioned it.

It’s an inevitable question nowadays.

And an excellent reason to head back to the drawing board. For just five more minutes, we promise.

It’s fair to assume that most workshops in this post-pandemic world will be at least partly virtual, with someone dialling via a video conferencing platform, like Zoom or Google Meet.

So what changes?

The good news is all the tips we’ve covered so far are still 100% relevant.

The bad news is that you’ll have to do a bit more work.

Six more bits of work:

1. Make sure everyone has video capabilities

Your attendees will be hundreds, if not thousands of miles apart. And distance has a natural ability to disrupt creativity and collaboration.

Unless you cheat it by using high-quality, lag-free video.

You should invest in a high-res webcam and a giant screen for the meeting room, and a good quality laptop for all your remote colleagues and collaborators.

Pro tip: ask the participants to keep the video and audio throughout the marketing strategy meeting (even during individual activities) to replicate the feel of being together.

2. Create digital workspaces in advance

You can’t rely on whiteboards (or blackboards if you’re even more retro).

We use Miro in our meetings, and we think it’s fantastic.

The only word of warning is that you need to create your workspaces in advance — don’t do it on the fly, or you’ll get stuck in some minor detail and lose your participants’ attention.

how to run a marketing strategy workshop 3

3. Give each participant their own workspace

Make your virtual meeting as close to real-life as possible.

Each attendee should have a private workspace (like the paper on their desk), and the room should have a shared one (like the whiteboard at the front of the room).

If you’re running a hybrid meeting, pop the shared whiteboard on the telly and ask your in-person attendees to use a digital workspace to show solidarity for their poor colleagues stuck on a beach in Australia.

Another pro tip: give each participant a different colour for their virtual sticky notes, so you can “gamestorm” more efficiently in your eWorkshops.

4. Run the timer, always

Virtual meetings tend to get boring faster than traditional ones. Probably because you can’t feel the shared energy in the room.

This makes it all the more important to stay on track and on time.

Luckily, meeting software gives you a Messi-like assist — obnoxious timers.

Just pop one on the virtual whiteboard, and nobody can run over.

5. Set up digital polling

Voting and building consensus are major activities in a strategic marketing meeting.

You can’t do without them.

But you don’t need to rely on asking people to lower their webcams and raise their hands; you can set up digital polling and have anyone from anywhere log their preference effortlessly

6. Test your tech setup

And do it well before the meeting, for god’s sake!

Nothing’s worse (exaggeration alert) than showing up to a workshop and battling it out with technology.

You won’t win, and your participants will think you’re an amateur. Not good.

And that’s it. You’re ready.

Go On, Run a Marketing Strategy Workshop…

Using all of our tips, of course.

Need a refresher of the 14 things you’ve learned today?

We got you covered:

Tips for running a marketing strategy workshop Extra tips if you’re going virtual
  1. Prepare for the workshop
  2. Start the workshop with impact
  3. Revolve your discussions around the customer
  4. Get creative as hell
  5. Tie your marketing strategy into the overall strategy
  6. Don’t get derailed
  7. Document literally everything
  8. End on a high note and create a follow-up plan
  1. Make sure everyone has video capabilities
  2. Create digital workspaces in advance
  3. Give each participant their own workspace
  4. Run the timer, always
  5. Set up digital polling
  6. Test your tech setup
Need a hand?

Here it is ✋

We can provide you with:

Because, if you hadn’t noticed, running workshops and helping companies grow is our bread and butter here at Growth Gurus.

Just get in touch and share your goals with us. We’ll make them ours, too.

P.S. As a thank you for reading, enjoy a copy of our Brand DNA workshop on us, which you can find below.

Build Loyalty & Trust, Stand Out, Attract the RIGHT Audiences.

Find out how we can help your workshops to reach new heights! Get in touch