The brilliant Chinese military strategist, Sun Tzu (544 – 496 BC), said two things that have always resonated with me:
- “Every battle is won before it is fought”, and
- “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat”.
These thoughts also apply to marketing today, in fact, more than they ever have. Too many small and midsized companies (as well as nonprofits) are paying too little attention to developing a meaningful marketing strategy because they’re just having too much “fun” playing with the exciting new digital tools that seem to be multiplying every day. This doesn’t seem to make much sense to me, and it certainly isn’t the best way to improve ROI.
Marketing and Marketing Communications Strategy
Developing a marketing strategy takes hard work, but it provides a focus, direction and real thought on how to grow a profitable brand. Whether it’s a B2C or B2B product or service, strategy development should employ research (primary or secondary), financial and logistical evaluations, and input from all constituents, with emphasis on:
- Defining the market you’re in;
- Determining which audience segment to pursue;
- Understanding competition, seasonality and real budgets;
- Positioning the brand for success;
- Establishing clear objectives for each target segment;
- Developing a process for measurement and evaluation;
- Getting professional help when needed.
Only then – once strategy development has been completed, and perhaps even tested – should tactical solutions be created, evaluated and selected. Over the past decade, a plethora of new marketing communications tools and techniques have created a digital tsunami; so now, more than ever, isn’t it time to place strategic thinking and planning ahead of executional tactics?
In 2015, over $400 billion in major media and marketing services bombarded consumers, the most in history. The issue is not Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn versus television, radio, direct mail and events; it’s about a rock solid strategy to understand what the message should be and which tactics should be employed.
In the recent CMO Digital Benchmark Study, 97 percent of marketing leaders said social media spending made only an “average” or “below average” contribution to their company’s performance. Does that mean that social media shouldn’t be used? Of course not. But selecting any media, be it traditional or new, without a well defined and clear cut strategy to employ these tactics just doesn’t make sense. Look before you leap.
A Positioning Statement Will Help
Many small businesses don’t know about the importance of a positioning statement and/or how to create one. After you gather the information you need to develop a marketing strategy, a positioning statement is a succinct description of the core target audience to whom the brand is directed and a compelling picture of how the marketer wants the audience to view the brand. It consists for four key elements:
- The target audience, in very specific detail;
- The category in which the brand competes, and its relevance to the customer;
- The brand’s benefit and point of difference;
- A reason to believe/the most compelling proof.
Or simply, try to fill in the blanks in this sentence: “Convince _______ to buy _______ instead of _______ because _______.” The positioning statement is a credo for the brand to live by.
All marketing and marketing communications tactics and executions should flow from this statement, and it should be understood by employees and agents. Further it will help you evaluate whether you have a well defined strategy – if you can’t easily write your positioning statement, perhaps your strategy needs to be better defined.
Once you’ve completed this important task, only now is it time for tactical solutions.
Marketing Consultants Are Valuable Assets
As an owner or senior executive at a small or midsized company, you may not have the time or marketing expertise to accomplish the development of a meaningful strategy. You should seriously consider bringing a marketing and marketing communications consultant on board to help – someone who will work with you, provide fresh eyes, promote candor and have an apolitical view of your brand.
Look for established professionals with extensive experience across industries and brands, in B2B, B2C and nonprofit organizations small and large. Don’t settle for someone with expertise in only your niche or industry – go for someone who can think outside the box. Also, make sure any consultant you consider is media neutral and wants to focus on analytics to measure the ROI of your efforts. Their understanding and ability to develop marketing communications plans employing new and/or traditional tools and techniques is key to implementing your strategy, successfully and efficiently.
With all of the changes coming in the months and years ahead (political, economic, global), the dramatic age disparity among consumers (baby boomers versus millennials) and the “always on” media environment, now is the time to make sure you develop a meaningful strategy that works with the appropriate tactical executions. But, as Mark Twain said, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”