The brilliant Chinese military strategist, Sun Tzu (544 – 496 BC), said two things that have always resonated with me:
- “Every battle is won before fighting”, and
- “Tactics without strategy is noise before defeat.”
These thoughts also apply to marketing today, in fact, more than ever. Too many small and medium-sized businesses (as well as non-profits) are paying too little attention to developing a meaningful marketing strategy because they are simply having too much “fun” playing with the exciting new digital tools that seem to multiply every day. This doesn’t seem to make much sense to me and it’s certainly not the best way to improve ROI.
Marketing Strategy and Marketing Communications
Developing a marketing strategy takes a lot of work, but it provides focus, direction, and real thinking on how to grow a profitable brand. Whether it is a B2C or B2B product or service, strategy development should employ research (primary or secondary), financial and logistical assessments, and input from all stakeholders, with an emphasis on:
- Definition of the market in which it is located;
- Determine which audience segment to pursue;
- Understand competition, seasonality, and actual budgets;
- Brand positioning for success;
- Set clear goals for each target segment;
- Develop a measurement and evaluation process;
- Get 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 put strategic thinking and planning ahead of tactical execution?
In 2015, more than $400 billion worth of major marketing and media services bombarded consumers, the most in history. The issue is not Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn versus television, radio, direct mail, and events; it is a solid strategy to understand what the message should be and what tactics should be used.
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 you shouldn’t use social media? Of course, no. But selecting any medium, whether traditional or new, without a well-defined and clear strategy for employing these tactics simply doesn’t make sense. Look before you jump.
A positioning statement will help
Many small businesses don’t know the importance of a positioning statement and/or how to create one. After gathering the information you need to develop a marketing strategy, a positioning statement is a succinct description of the primary target audience the brand is targeting and a compelling picture of how the marketer wants the audience to see the brand. It consists of four key elements:
- The target audience, in very specific detail;
- The category in which the brand competes and its relevance to the customer;
- The benefit of the brand and the point of difference;
- A reason to believe/the most convincing evidence.
Or just try filling in the blanks in this sentence: “Convince _______ to buy _______ instead of _______ because _______.” The positioning statement is a credo by which the brand lives.
All marketing and marketing communications tactics and executions must flow from this statement, and employees and agents must understand it. Also, it will help you assess if you have a well-defined strategy: If you can’t easily write your positioning statement, maybe your strategy needs to be better defined.
Once you have completed this important task, only now is it time for tactical solutions.
Marketing consultants are valuable assets
As the owner or CEO of a small or medium-sized business, you may not have the time or marketing expertise to accomplish meaningful strategy development. You should seriously consider hiring a marketing communications and marketing consultant to help you, someone who will work with you, provide a fresh look, promote openness, and take an apolitical view of your brand.
Look for established professionals with deep experience across industries and brands, across B2B, B2C, and small and large nonprofits. Don’t settle for someone with experience only in your niche or industry – look 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. Your understanding and ability to develop marketing communication plans employing new and/or traditional tools and techniques is key to successfully and efficiently implementing your strategy.
With all the changes to come in the coming months and years (political, economic, global), the dramatic age disparity between 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 to getting ahead is getting started.”