A bullet-proof marketing strategy is essential for business success. It is also something that business owners often grapple with. They like the idea of having a strategy but hate the idea of executing one. ‘How am I going to find the time to do this?’ ‘I don’t really need a strategy… strategies are for bigger companies… I will just keep doing what I am doing.’ More often than not, business owners find themselves implementing ad hoc marketing tactics rather than a cohesive marketing strategy. Without a marketing strategy in place, how do you know which are the right marketing tactics to use? Here are my seven key principles for creating a winning marketing strategy.
1.Think of a marketing strategy as a realistic, deliverable action plan. A marketing strategy doesn’t have to be pie in the sky stuff or a 40 page long document. Winning marketing strategies can be simple and written in plain, easy to understand language. Quite often people make strategies more complex than they need to be. A marketing strategy should be describable in one page. It should be a living document that is regularly reviewed – see the next principles.
2.Regularly review the assumptions on which a marketing strategy is built. Today’s fast changing world demands that businesses have the agility to change strategies to ensure ongoing competitiveness. This requires reviewing and updating the assumptions upon which your marketing strategy is built. For example, how is your business positioned in the business environment? How is the competitive landscape and how do you fit in? What are your customers’ needs? What are your key messages and value propositions? Are there new market opportunities for your products/services? What is driving the market?
These are just some of the key critical issues that underpin a strategy and that need to be reviewed at least twice a year.
3.Take note of the external environment that surrounds your business. Business owners tend to look at their business from the inside out. They are often so focused on the day-to-day that they lose awareness of what is happening around them.
To give you an example, we recently developed a marketing strategy for a privately owned timber company. In our initial discovery session we spoke about key market drivers; reducing the environmental footprint of construction projects was one. At first however, the business owner was very reluctant to explore this area. He wanted to bury his head in the sand to a point, as he knew deep down that the changing market dynamics would have a significant impact on how he packaged his product and services. With an even more detailed analysis of the market and the environment, the importance of timber products and processes that support an eco-friendly approach to design and construction simply couldn’t be ignored and became critical to a strategy that would see his business grow.
Without examining the external environment such as the economic outlook, government legislation and regulation, competitors etc, the timber company would have continued with a strategy that in the current environment was outdated, making it hard to achieve the businesses growth objectives.
4.Listen to your customers. Believe it or not, although you might think this is common sense, you would be surprised how many businesses build a marketing strategy without talking with their existing, past or future customers. Businesses often assume they know what their customers want. This is the equivalent of your local coffee barista assuming that you are going to order a latte without askingyou and confirming first. Imagine if he assumed wrongly for each customer and had to remake coffees to meet their actual orders? This would not only be costly, but he probably would lose his customers to the cafe down the road that listens to its customers, resulting in a more efficient service and overall a better customer experience.
How do you solicit customer feedback? There are a number of ways and this depends on the type of information you need. Customer questionnaires are very useful as a tool to survey past and current customers and can be done online and via the phone. Phone interviews or face-to-face interviews are the best way to get very detailed information. Online surveys are great for quantitative data and can supplement your qualitative data gained through your phone or face-to-face interviews. Customer focus groups are also another way of soliciting feedback.
By involving your customers in the process of building a strategy, repositioning your products/services or developing new products and services, people feel engaged and valued and this in turn helps build customer loyalty. It also acts as a touch point for your sales team to re-engage with customers with whom you may have lost touch.
A great example of this is Kraft’s strategy with their controversial product ‘Cheesy mite’. They started off well by asking their customers to take part in the launch of their new product by helping choose the name. However, their decision to choose the infamous ‘iSnack2.0.’ without first testing the name with their customers proved to be disastrous. Due to public pressure, Kraft then changed the name to something that the public far more approved of, ‘Cheesy mite’. Kraft should have re-engaged their customers and tested the name prior to launching. The lesson here is: Don’t underestimate the power of your customer on the success of your brand!
5.Be targeted. Don’t bite off more than you can chew! A marketing strategy needs to be relevant to the business and realistic. Following the point above about listening to your customers, this means that you need to understand your customers and markets – i.e. what are their needs, how do they purchase and how to get to them. Try a simple customer value matrix to determine which group or groups of customers you should invest in when it comes to marketing spend. This will have an impact on your final marketing mix of activities and the way you go to market.
6. Look at the entire marketing mix in your strategy. Research shows that customers often need to be touched five times by a brand before they make a purchase. Ensure that your customers are touched by your brand in more than one way. Media coverage on the back of a PR campaign on its own won’t achieve the desired result, nor will a single advertisement. You need to look at all areas of the marketing mix – direct marketing, online marketing, partner marketing, media relations, referrals etc. When a customer reads about your business in the media, comes across it on the web and hears about your excellent service/product via word-of-mouth, your business’ selling position will be far stronger than if the customer had been touched only once by your brand.
7.Convert your strategy to a tactical marketing calendar with defined activities and timelines. There is no point having a brilliant strategy that just sits on the shelf gathering dust. It needs to be executed and acted upon! This requires thought around your resources. Do you have the resources and internal expertise to execute your strategy? If not, how will you go about ensuring that you have the right people on board or engaged to help you deliver your winning strategy?
Follow the seven key principles above, and you will be on your way to building a strategy that will set your business apart from the competition!