Marketing, it’s strategic innit?

Strategy is one of those buzzwords that’s currently in vogue, with virtually every marketing agency claiming to be strategic thinkers. I think it’s time to clarify exactly what marketing strategy is and it definitely isn’t tactical implementation.

So, what is marketing strategy?

Marketing strategy sets out a vision for your company e.g. Starbuck’s vision statement is “to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time”. Amazon’s vision “is to be earth’s most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.” The key is to think about what you do, your impact on society and don’t be afraid to think big.

Strategy should start with where you are now and where you want to get to. It looks at the macro and micro environment, market size, minimum viable product, customer segments, your competitors, your brand positioning, pricing, distribution, value proposition and service operations. A strategy will help you make decisions on whether to launch a product at all, and if so which market segments to target and how to position yourselves against your competitors. It will also help you make decisions regarding your current product portfolio, perhaps you have a ‘cash cow’ but the market is in decline which will mean you need to consider new product development or diversification strategies.

Strategy will lead to marketing objectives, which ultimately should reflect the business objectives. They should be measurable – there’s no point in saying ‘we want to raise awareness’ – raise it from what to where? A business objective may be to increase total market share to 12% in 3 years, so strategy will determine how to get there.

So, what are tactics?

Once you have done the strategic thinking you can start to plan your marketing tactics. Your communications plan should determine how you reach your target market, what messages to communicate and how to measure success. It covers the gamut of promotional tactics from personal selling, events sponsorship, advertising, blogger outreach, email marketing, SEO, content, pay-per-click advertising on search engines to social media.

Why does this matter?

I do get irritated when I hear companies tell me they’ve paid £000s for marketing strategy when in fact what they’ve got is a tactical communications plan (and let me stress I get irritated for them not with them). I’m beginning to think that some marketing practitioners don’t understand the term either; which is not helped by self-appointed marketing experts talking on social media about ‘marketing strategies’ (yes I saw one just last week). According to Hays recruitment a skills gap is starting to emerge due to new entrants being siloed off into digital specialisms at the start of their careers.

So, next time you find yourself seeking help with marketing strategy; keep in mind a good marketing strategist will have studied a CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing) or MBA and have at least 10 years’ experience in marketing working with £million budgets. That way you can have confidence that they know what they’re talking about!

Christine Babington Smith is a marketing strategist and owner of Torehill, a marketing consultancy based in London and Edinburgh.

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