Expert Opinion

Marketing strategy for the year we live in - roadmap or survival kit?

Ahead of his talk at Leeds Business Week, entitled Developing a Marketing Strategy’, Anderson Lima reflects on how to turn marketing ideas into action and how to access new markets and exploit market opportunities.
Most of us in business management will agree that a company’s marketing strategy has to derive from intelligence data gathered form the market the business or organisation finds itself in, also from the wider environment and a set of forces operating in society, both locally as well as globally. Finally it is also paramount to have a unbiased view of the internal state of the business and its operations, supply chain, HR, finance, etc… basically its internal capabilities.

Competitors, suppliers, internal departments, the immediate community, stakeholders, shareholders, global events, local news, new product developments, technology and innovation etc… they will all play its part when i comes to devising a firm’s marketing strategy. However none of them plays the role of the immediate customer, a clear consumer insight is the Nirvana of data intelligence. 

We also agree that only by gathering data and knowing some facts and figures here and there does no guarantee any success in business. Napoleon Hill, one of the most prominent business philosophers and peak performance gurus of the last century said that “…Knowledge is only potential power. It becomes power only when, and if, it is organized into definite plans of action (strategy), and directed to a definite end”.  The data intelligence gathered has to be categorically analysed and organised in order to enable business to formulate its strategic choices, objectives and specific plans of action.

In the same way, the marketing strategy has to be properly communicated throughout the organisation to be fully formed, understood and put into practice. The marketing strategy is not the sole responsibility of the marketing department but rather of the whole organisation. As it is fully implemented it enables growth, it gives a better perspectives of where the business is today, where the competitors are and where the market is heading, and it protects the business allowing for adaptation and changes (It’s Evolution Baby!” – Pearl Jam). I also informs businesses of the best use of specific tactical tools to generate more sales and positive engagement leading to a better competitive position and profitability.

Top management guru Peter Drucker has said that “There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer… Because it is its purpose to create a customer, any business enterprise has two—and only these two—basic functions: marketing and innovation.” They are the entrepreneurial functions. And again “Marketing is the distinguishing, the unique function of the business.”

And yet most organisations do not seize the opportunity to create powerful marketing plans, build a successful strategy and use the best tactical tools at their disposal. Sun Tzu in his classic “Art of War” said that “…opportunities multiply as they are seized”. Every organisation needs specific and clear defined business objectives as well as marketing ones which eventually will lead to business growth and success. According to Kotter, another management professor, “only 29% of employees can correctly identify their company’s strategy [when given] six choices”.

However, it is no enough to develop strategies and communicate them across the organisation, it is pivotal to develop marketing strategies that are relevant and will fulfil the business needs for the year and age we are in. It has to be relevant, customer-led, all engaging, entertaining, flexible, dynamic and ever evolving to attend to the new demands and environmental changes in order to build and maintain a clear competitive advantage and differentiation. So the key question here is – “How can my business develop a marketing strategy that will be in line with our corporate goals, will encapsulate our principles and ethos, will contemplate where we are today and our current capabilities and lead us to where we want to be?” How to achieve that?!?

There will be many choices a business owner or management can make in combination with several approaches and tools but the sequence of events is pretty much the same when starting building the strategy and marketing plan. One always starts with the auditing of the environment and internal capabilities. During our Business Growth Series we will take time to help companies to understand how they can audit their macro and micro environment as well as internal capabilities.

The Second step, the “Formulation”, is where you need to build your objectives and determine your segmentation, targeting and positioning strategies, build personas, determine your OVP (online value proposition), etc. You are now ready to step into tactical choices and evaluate possible routes to take in order to achieve your objectives. The implementation part is vital as it will determine the resources needed. PR Smith speaks of “3Ms” – men, money, minute – Who is going to do what, when, and how much it is going to cost us? Finally but not final! “Monitoring” is where you have the opportunity to screen the whole strategy and make changes as you find fit and appropriate to improve business performance and competitive advantage.

What is a marketing strategy? What do we want to see in it? What can we expect to achieve? Why do we need to invest time and resources to build a marketing strategy? Is it worthwhile?

Without a clear strategy or “roadmap”, it makes harder to remain competitive, to know where a company is heading, if it is adding value to their customers, outperforming their competitors and so on. Eventually to be in business for the long run by achieving sustainability, that’s also the case, the marketing strategy is a survival kit.

Take the case of Blockbuster x Netflix for example. Blockbuster refused to buy Netflix back in 2000 when Reed Hastings approached former Blockbuster CEO John Antioco and asked for $50 million to give away the company he founded (Netflix). At that time Blockbuster’s CEO said that nobody would be streaming videos and did not see how the on-demand market would grow in the future passing by the offer which eventually lead to the company’s bankruptcy later on.

Now Netflix is competing head to head with CBS. According to Business Insider it “it soared past the television network owner with a $32.9 billion market valuation”. Today Netflix has reached the 50 million mark in subscribers of its paid service and became available in 40 countries as reported by CNN Money reported last year.  “Management and vision are two separate things. [Netflix was] losing money,” a former Blockbuster exec told Variety back in 2013. That’s right! By constantly monitoring performance and the environment companies can avoid falling into the “myopic success” trap.

This is not the first time and surely not the last that a company misses out on an opportunity that can catapult them to a solid leadership position. Other examples such as Verizon rejecting Apple for the first model of the iPhone, Comcast foregoing Disney, Friendster refusing Google, and AOL merging with Time Warner instead of AT&T.  But perhaps worse case in tech history is Yahoo, which had chances to buy both Google and Facebook.

Kodak is a classic example along Nokia which by the time of writing this blog post is celebrating the 15th anniversary of its classic Nokia 3310. Recent survey from Experian taken from more than 1000 marketers worldwide revealed that the top three main barriers to achieving integrated cross-channel marketing strategy is: (32%) No single customer view, (31%) company’s current technology and (31%) organisational structure. The marketing strategy should aim to build the brand and a customer-centric approach opening the way to great marketing possibilities.

Marketing strategy will live or die by the understanding of who the customer truly is. It has to be customer-centric. It learns from customer insight data seeking to connect to people across all the channels, naturally engaging without forcing sales down their throats. The biggest challenge SMEs face today is how to grow their leads leading to customer acquisition, retention and eventually advocacy. By using the right channels at the right time to ensure the conversation is personalised and responsive.

Today’s Marketing Strategy should aim to develop a cross-channel marketing approach. With 100+ channels at our disposal, how do we choose and combine them? How do we measure its effectiveness?

When asked, senior marketing leaders reported that on line branding and story-telling were the main challenges they faced following by standing out against competitors (49%). The key aspect is to bring your approach from a single-channel optimisation to a cross-channel optimisation and marketing automation but without a clear road map it becomes impossible.

According to Experian’s “the 2015 digital marketing” report, there are five clear steps towards achieving this – Data management, Insights and targeting, Strategy and planning, Execution and Measurement.

Add real value bringing the customer to the centre of the business operations; that is where the company can guarantee success and growth. Why should they bother with our products and services? Using the Growth Hacking perspective of “Product Market Fit” (PMF) it is possible to understand that a product is barely ready when we think it is.

It has to go for as many interaction as possible until the business can achieve that ideal fit (Airbnb and Instagram are good examples) – the end goal is to have your product in perfect sync with your customers. Eric Ries, author of “The Lean Startup” advocates starting with a “minimum viable product” and improving it based on feedback. Most of the traditional way would take it to a public launch with what we think is the final product.

When you build your strategy you should ask yourself – How do we get, maintain, and multiply attention in a scalable and efficient way?

Everything in our marketing strategy should be testable, trackable and scalable and above all nothing is “final” or set-in-stone. How your strategy can help you to build your brand? So think in terms of brand architecture, conversations instead of cold selling. Social selling which is the ability companies acquire to speak and sell to and through their prospects or main target audience. The clear view of where your customers are heading, their preferences, what is important to them, above all what is native to them??? Your strategy is indeed your roadmap and yet at the same time your survival kit in an age of burgeoning customer expectations and killing competitive environment.

Your marketing strategy can help you to improve competitive advantage; Increase market share, operational excellence; product leadership; Fine tune offers of product and services; customer loyalty, etc… Do you have one?

Our Business Growth Series was designed to help your business to achieve your goals and success. Marketing strategy is one session among many others delivering cutting-edge business principles and practice in order to help you to speed and maximise the growth of your company no matter in which stage it is.

Anderson Lima is delivering the session ‘Developing a Marketing Strategy – Match your Strengths to your Customers Needs’ at Leeds Business Week at 15.00 hrs on 13 October 2015 at The Leeds Club, 3 Albion Place, Leeds, LS1 6JL.