Strategic marketing - the key to making marketing really work
A dairy company decided to run an exciting promotion that they hoped would increase sales dramatically. Inside some of their small milk cartons they placed a device that made a MOO sound when the carton was opened. If the consumer had that carton, they would be a winner. The promotion was going along just fine until one of the cartons was opened on an airplane and the “lucky winner” looked inside and saw wires. Panic ensued and the plane was forced to make an emergency landing. The dairy company was held responsible for all the costs associated with the emergency and had to pull the promotion from the market immediately. What started as a great idea, ended up in disaster for the company.
So, what went wrong?
Quite simply, the company designed the promotion without taking into consideration a number of external factors that, if well thought out ahead of time, would have helped them prevent this disaster from happening. For example, if they would have considered exactly where their small cartons were being distributed, they would have realized that placing that kind of promotion in the hands of airline passengers may have some quite logical and terrifying consequences.
In this example, the company was guilty of simply adopting a tactical marketing approach and did not look at the strategic implications like they should have. A strategic marketing approach would have prevented this disaster from happening.
In this article I will show you how marketing is a strategic task, and should not be driven by tactics and tools. I will show you how, if you do marketing at a tactical level, you could be wasting money (and potentially losing money like the dairy company mentioned above) and being less effective. People often say “marketing is expensive”. I agree with that assertion if that marketing is not well thought out and planned ahead of time. Often a great idea is just that – a great idea – but when the rubber hits the road and reality sets in, that great idea needs to have more than just creativity. It needs a dose of honest reality as well and that comes from looking at the potential pitfalls through strategic eyes.
What you should be looking for – maximizing your opportunities
Marketing is all about choices, and making the right choices give you the ability to maximize opportunities. It is all too simple to pick a marketing tactic in isolation and to implement it without weighing up the options of “what else can we do?”
Small and midsize companies are particularly guilty of this because they often do not have the time or resources to evaluate all the potential choices that are available. They simply go to the tried and tested “oldies” – brochures, business cards, website etc – and feel that as long as they’ve spent their money on these marketing tools, then they are OK. What they fail to understand is that they are placing themselves in the most dangerous place in the mind of their potential customers: “ME TOO-ville”. They will look and feel like everyone else and that makes them vulnerable.
So how do you break out from “ME TOO-ville”. Well it’s quite simple: change your way of thinking. Start looking for the opportunities that are not being satisfied, rather than being a copycat.
What marketing is not – the tactics and the tools
At home I have a toolbox. It is filled with all the latest gadgets, widgets, devices that enable me to fix things around the house. So, my toolbox is overflowing with all the best tools in the business – then why is my house in such a state of disrepair? It’s actually quite simple; just because I have the tools does not make me a handyman. And if I was handy, would I really be able to fix those electrical and plumbing problems that require a little more knowledge, all because I have a full toolbox. Absolutely NOT.
So what’s the key to this problem? It’s knowing, AHEAD OF TIME, what you can and cannot do. Don’t buy the tool and keep it in the toolbox if you have no real need for it, OR if someone else should be using it because they have the right knowledge and experience. In actual fact, having THAT tool is a waste of money and could in fact be very dangerous in the wrong hands.
What are the tools of marketing that we have in our marketing toolbox? Well there are tons of them (to name just a few: business cards, brochures, flyers, adverting, social media, a website, a trade show etc), and like most tools in a toolbox, only a few get used. The others go to waste and it is those others that are often the most important and impactful. So how do we work that out?
Decide before you buy (or use) the tool, whether it’s appropriate to have. And that is called PLANNING.
Recently a very clever quote caught my eye: “If you don’t have a plan for yourself, you’ll be a part of someone else’s”. I realized that it was absolutely true and totally inevitable. Destiny of any kind is in your hands if you make it your plan. If it is not part of a plan, then that destiny is in someone else’s hands. Would you really be satisfied with that? If not, then get planning.
People often struggle with the definition of marketing, and I recently came across one of the simplest definitions that not only puts marketing in perspective, but does the same for selling.
Marketing is the thinking part of selling – deciding what products to sell at what price, with what channels of distribution and how to promote them. It is a planning, positioning function.
Selling (and communicating) is a producing, doing function. It involves carrying out the plans and providing information on how well the plans work or do not work in the marketplace; this in turn could require that a new marketing (strategic) decision be made.
With marketing clearly being a strategic function, planning is obviously a key component.
So there it is – the link between marketing /planning /and strategy. And the link between the planning (marketing) and the doing (sales and communication).
So now that you know what marketing really is, and that planning is a crucial component, how do you do proper marketing planning that maximizes your opportunity?
The whole idea behind planning is to make sure that you have all the information at your fingertips BEFORE making a decision. By doing that you improve your odds of creating marketing activities that will break through the clutter and the noise of competing messages. And one of the important things to realize is that competing messages is not only in the area in which you compete, but in fact all messages that strive to attract your target customer, whether for business or for pleasure. So, the objective of breaking through becomes that much more daunting, but also that much more important. Hence the NEED to plan carefully and comprehensively.
Marketing planning is a process
So where does one begin. The most important starting point is to realize that planning is a definitive process. It’s not always a moment in time because as the planning progresses, new and important information always surfaces that may change you next decision. So be ready to be flexible – that’s where you will find the surprising next idea that you never considered before, because you had never approached marketing strategically before. This is quite invigorating because it’s almost as if you find yourself looking at things through a new set of eyes. It starts with having objectives, then creating a strategy, and finally it involves developing the tactics and the tools.
Take Hardee’s, the regional American fast food chain that competes against the likes of McDonalds and Burger King. For years they attempted to compete head to head, with all the same promotional approaches as their competition. They made no inroads and could not increase their same store sales or market share. It was only when they went back to basics and looked at their business from scratch did they realize that they had to outflank their competition and not take them on head to head. They researched their customer’s needs, revised their positioning, and concentrated on offering a higher quality product and customer experience. They then supported that through break through advertising that did not speak to their customers strengths (speed and price), but focused on their own strengths (quality and service). Immediately, their same store sales turned around and grew.
When they started their process, they probably did not know where they’d end up – but because they followed the process through to its logical end, they were able to develop a strategy that worked. And they keep fine-tuning the strategy, so it is a never-ending story of Planning, Producing, Doing and Evaluating. Round and round, adjusting and refining. Breakthrough marketing is a never ending process…
As Thomas Edison said: “Good fortune is what happens when opportunity meets with planning.”
Marketing is all encompassing
So, the Hardees example clearly shows that marketing is all-encompassing. It’s not only about promotions or pricing or advertising. It’s also about customer needs, and quality, and product, and customer service and positioning and so on. It’s about understanding how the world is changing and how that impacts the provision and delivery of products and services. It’s about things that go on inside the company, but also about what happens outside the company (the external environment). To plan a really effective approach to marketing, you need to have a much bigger vision, a much bigger perspective on things in order to open up your mind to possibilities that you may never have considered.
However, what the public (or your customer) sees is just the tip of the iceberg. The tactics and the tools. It is the understanding, the planning, the strategizing, the positioning that is below the surface. That is the foundation upon which the tactics are built. Without the base that acts as the stabilizing force or the keel of a boat it will just topple over and sink below the surface, never to be seen again.
Yes, I know that this all-encompassing process makes marketing a little more complex. But, is making ad hoc decisions a better choice? That, after all is for each and every decision maker to decide. Remember: “If you don’t have a marketing plan for yourself, you’ll be a part of someone else’s”.
So let’s really understand what all encompassing really means.
1. the overall, external business environment that is outside the organization – this could include the markets, customers, competitors and macro environment
2. the system of marketing are aspects that are inside the organization – this could include objectives, strategies, programs, implementation and the resources that the organization has available, and finally
3. the marketing tactics and activities themselves – including products, prices, distribution, personal selling, advertising, publicity, sales promotion, website and a ton of other tactics and tools
Each one of these aspects themselves is an article – suffice to say, they are critical in the development of the marketing plan. In some instances, each and every aspect needs to be renewed. At other times, they may just need to be refreshed. At the end of the day they need to be looked at each time new marketing initiatives are considered.
One thing is clear however, it all starts with strategy. And strategy is ultimately developed as a result of knowledge. The process of planning is all about moulding all the knowledge into one place, evaluating it and identifying a relevant strategy. As Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War and a Chinese military legend (during the 19th and 20th centuries, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War grew in popularity and saw practical use in Western society – his work has continued to influence both Asian and Western culture and politics) once proclaimed:
“Strategy without tactics is a slow route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat!”
Let’s all learn from this master. We should not be rushing headlong into implementing a whole range of tactics without having a well thought out plan. It could lead us to a noisy, expensive and totally unwelcome outcome.
The tactics and activities of marketing
Many people feel that by just implementing a whole range of marketing tactics and activities, they are doing the right thing. Well, as Sun Tzu has indicated, that may just be the noise before defeat. Without developing a strategy, those tactics could lead to trouble. And especially if the tactics have been developed without consideration for the options or alternatives.
So, just how many marketing tactics are there?
Most people will quote a number ranging for 5 – 20. In fact, that number is woefully short of reality. Normally, when I write a marketing plan I consider over 140 tactics – yes, that’s right, over 140. So STOP and ask yourself right now: “If I am only considering 5-20 tactics, what are the opportunities that I am missing?” Take a few moments to think about the implications of those lost opportunities. Nobody is saying you need to use all 140+ alternatives; however, there is absolutely no cost to you to consider them. So why short-change yourself? Why limit yourself to the tactics that you may be seeing your competitors implement? Think it through carefully and ask yourself: “Am I leading or am I following? What in fact do I want to do – lead or follow? If I want to lead, then I’d better start by becoming more creative”. The choice is quite simple, and it’s in your hands.
The importance of alignment of tactics
When deciding on your tactics, you also have another choice to make. It is a choice of alignment. If some tactics do not support your overall company plan, or your marketing plan and strategy, why would you select it? Which structure do you want to represent your marketing effort?
A firm foundation is critical, and it needs to be built from the bottom, up. So choose carefully. And don’t get caught up by the hype or the latest fad. Make sure your investment is appropriate and gives you the best odds of generating great returns.
Concept of selling vs. buying
Sales is one of the most important components of marketing, and can be seen as a marketing tactic. It’s what makes business actually progress. So where does selling really begin? It starts with ultimately knowing your prospective customer and what motivates them to buy. That knowledge and information provides you with the power to develop an offering that will satisfy their needs. If you have that knowledge, your odds for success go up dramatically. What makes this even more complex is that each prospective customer is motivated by different things, so you really can’t generalize. So, you need to have a really good understanding of customer behaviour as well. Just another added complication. (Watch these three segments of a panel discussion on consumer behaviour to find out more about what motivates consumers )
Remember, a person does not buy something just because you have it to sell. They will be interested in buying ONLY if it satisfies a need that they have – so you need to understand the customer’s needs and what motivates them to buy. It will enhance the odds of you completing a successful sale.
Every investment needs a positive return. So measure everything that you possibly can. No successful marketing campaign should be without some form of measurement. And marketing, through some of the newest digital tools and technologies is slowly edging towards becoming more of a science than an art. Make sure that every marketing effort is designed and developed with measurement in mind. Otherwise you will be missing out on a critical success factor – return on your valuable financial investments.
So where does one begin?
One of the easiest tools to use is the marketing audit. The audit collects current data from the organization and enables the missed opportunities to be highlighted by a trained marketer. The cost is very reasonable and is the wisest investment in marketing that any organization can make. It will set them on the right road to success knowing that the strategic direction of the company has been taken into consideration, thus ensuring that the marketing plan will deliver results that move the organization forward in an approved manner.
Planning is easy once you have a process to follow. The audit provides the discipline to follow that process. It’s one tool that everyone can use.
About the Author
Neville Pokroy is a principal of Mastermind Solutions Inc. He runs the Marketing practice, which includes strategic marketing planning and execution, and now also includes the Digital Umbrella. Neville has over 25 years experience in corporate marketing and consulting in entrepreneurial businesses across an extensive range of industries. Neville’s special skills include the ability to translate his corporate marketing expertise into a disciplined set of marketing skills ideal for entrepreneurial businesses.
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