A well-defined marketing strategy can, for many firms, be the linchpin between stagnated development and growth, expansion and long-term success.
It is quite common for firms to get to a natural stage of growth/development, normally when transitioning away from smaller operations, when existing marketing expertise and activities are no longer adequate to support future business objectives. Marketing activities would generally be uncoordinated and sporadic.
A growth in customers is typically aligned with the growth of service delivery staff or technology but with an unmatched level of investment in marketing. Businesses which were operating very well at an earlier stage of development can now find themselves more challenged with forecasting future growth with any degree of certainty and/or clarity based on current marketing activities. This also means that marketing needs to be more accountable by demonstrating its value within the financial profit and loss of the business. Especially with the recent explosion of martech (marketing technology) and associated analytics, there should be fewer reasons to defend the old adage: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”
So, what is the answer? This is probably already obvious to you from the focus of this article.
A formal marketing strategy, best presented in a final structured document that can be understood by all stakeholders including all staff, involves an initial key phase of planned and coordinated research about your business. The difficulty of collating all necessary data and information can be a challenge, particularly if your business hasn’t gone through a similar exercise before.
Simplistically, the research process includes:
- Structured activities to form a strategic appraisal of the current state of your business and operations, including weakness and threats, both internal and external.
- A clarification of the business objectives and aspirations i.e. what you want to achieve and by when.
- Soul-searching to determine how, realistically, you are going to reach your objectives and aspirations – this point can be the most influential on the success of the strategy as there is little point defining a vision for the business if it is highly unrealistic.
Your staff play an important part of the process as their experience, viewpoint and input can be extremely valuable at better understanding your operations. The support and involvement of your staff are also critical for successfully delivering the vision and any cultural changes.
Once the research phase has been completed, you can then move on to consolidating the data and building your future-focused marketing strategy.
Remember the core fundamentals and purpose of marketing: “Marketing focuses on the fundamental practices that every company should carry out: identifying customers, researching their needs and preferences, analysing factors that influence their purchasing decisions and persuading them to buy products and services from you rather than your competitors.”
Marketing should also be considered as not an isolated function which one or only a few people deliver and manage, but dispersed responsibility amongst all staff for achieving the objectives. Everyone undertakes the delivery of marketing from the shop floor to the back office and all customer touchpoints with the business.
A final marketing strategy document should be positive, visionary and aspirational for all staff to read as well as for your Board and/or senior management team. To obtain maximum support and buy-in from all staff, we recommend that any weaknesses and threats highlighted in your business during the research phase are answered in a constructive and positive manner within the marketing strategy document.
A structure for a final marketing strategy document should include the following elements:
- Your business and its strengths
- Your vision and how it will be delivered
- Your corporate brand and identity
- Your markets and their opportunities and threats
- Your competitors
- Your customers and their needs
- Your products and services and the positioning within their markets
- Your staff and the approach to customer servicing
You may notice at this stage there has been no mention of a “marketing plan”. A marketing plan is a subsequent phase after the marketing strategy which can be treated as a separate project. The plan will detail the chosen marketing channels, methods/tactics and activities to deliver and achieve the marketing strategy, as well as the scheduling of activities. All the investigative and research work conducted during the strategy project will enable business decisions to create improvements within operations, especially in the areas of weaknesses, threats and opportunities. These activities should include all business process considerations from resource/skill gaps and new technology to analytics/measurement, monitoring and reporting.
Creating a formalised marketing strategy is a significant undertaking and every business needs to consider the time taken to complete such a project. A carefully considered project has the potential to fundamentally enhancing operations and culture for the next stage of business development. A clear focus needs to be on each stage of the project and to resist the temptation to jump to the delivery of the marketing plan at a too early stage before a holistic view of the business and all considerations have been taken.