Defining Marketing Strategy
The term “marketing strategy” is thrown around liberally these days to the point that it now represents anything in marketing that is not tactical. It is a term that makes marketers feel smart when they say
it (which inspires the frequent use of it in conversation). Think about it, how often have you heard marketers say things like, “We’re building a marketing strategy for this year,” with no real clarity as to what that is. The issue with the term “marketing strategy” is that the meaning has gotten so broad that very few people can actually define it. If this is the case, then what is marketing strategy?
Below is how Wikipedia defines marketing strategy:
Marketing strategy is a long-term, forward-looking approach and an overall game plan of any organization or any business with the fundamental goal of achieving a sustainable competitive advantage by understanding the needs and wants of customers.
Scholars like Philip Kotler continue to debate the precise meaning of marketing strategy. Consequently, the literature offers many different definitions. On close examination, however, these definitions appear to centre around the notion that strategy refers to a broad statement of what is to be achieved. - Wikipedia, March 25, 2021
Well, that definition was as clear as mud. With all the experienced marketers and scholars that contribute to Wikipedia, it’s alarming that they are still debating the meaning of the term. That said, it has not stopped marketers from using the phrase “marketing strategy” in conversation ad nauseam.
So what is “marketing strategy”? Simply put, it’s the approach marketers take to achieve a goal. The truth is that marketing strategy is not one comprehensive approach; there are many strategies that marketers deploy over the course of the year to achieve their objectives. Strategies serve as the connective tissue between goals and campaigns—they should always map to a goal and steer the development of marketing campaigns.
To illustrate this point see the diagram below:
Think of a marketing strategy as the GPS that guides marketers as they determine the right approach for optimizing campaigns and tactics to achieve a goal. Without creating and deploying strategies, building campaigns can be challenging. Some marketers create strategies instinctively and it becomes an organic part of their marketing planning process. Unfortunately, today too many marketers are focused exclusively on marketing channel execution. They start their planning with the marketing channel (usually the one they are responsible for, since marketing has become so siloed) and then retrofit messaging, goals, and metrics.
How many times have you heard a marketer say, “Let’s do an email campaign.” This results in the team executing random acts of marketing and hoping for the best outcome. But as you know, “hope is not a strategy, and in the world of marketing, this is no exception.
When determining the right strategy, the process needs to originate with an understanding of the goals, and then map strategies to the goals before creating campaigns and selecting the channels. Marketing execution will usually fall short when it does not leverage the insight and guidance a strategy provides for applying the right approach in order to achieve a goal. Let’s use an example to more closely examine the way a strategy connects the dots:
Company X has a topline goal: become the market leader in their industry. To contribute to the company objective of leadership, the marketing team sets a goal to become the thought leader in the industry. Marketing applies a content marketing strategy to achieve their thought leadership goal. They select an ebook as the ideal content asset for communicating their deep
understanding of the industry. Lastly, the team develops a campaign for launching and promoting the ebook using a variety of communication channels (email, social, website, advertising, content syndication, etc.) to reach the target audience.
The graphic below illustrates the thought process for this content strategy example:
Now let’s take a look at a business-to-consumer (B2C) example:
Retailer Y has a company goal to grow sales for the year. The marketing team sets a goal to drive more store traffic. The strategy they select is a promotional one. Retailer Y built a “buy one, get one” (BOGO) campaign to bring customers into their retail outlets using a diverse set of marketing channels to communicate the promotion.
There are different strategies for achieving the multitude of goals marketers set each year in their marketing plan. You can also use multiple strategies to achieve different elements of a singular ambitious goal. An example of this is a goal almost all companies have—sales growth. There are many marketing goals, and subsequent strategies, that will help a company grow the topline.
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