So how do we get more strategic?

Most of us have been there at one point or another in our careers. Faced with the moment of truth that has the potential to define your tenure at a company, at least in the eyes of those for whom it actually matters. The moment when you're asked to put your money where your mouth is. To either step up or shut up. 

These moments of truth often act as tipping points, with the ability to be disastrous, triumphant or, perhaps worst of all, just plain lacklustre, as was the case with one of my memorable moments of truth. 

I'd been banging on to my boss and mentor at the time about the need for us to become more strategic in our approach to marketing. I'd cited articles from respected marketers, forwarded on relevant studies about best practice and latest trends, and I'd tried to instil a greater sense of strategic thinking amongst the team. 

My moment of truth came one morning during a catchup over coffee at the local cafe. Always open to feedback, as all great leaders are, my boss asked me “Ok, I hear what you’ve been saying, but how do you think we go about getting more strategic?”

What followed can only be described as a vague and lacklustre attempt to articulate what I thought was needed to action my plan. It wasn't disastrous, but it certainly wasn't triumphant either.  It lacked clarity and certainty and, ultimately, it did a good job of diluting the support I needed to effect change. 

You see, times have changed in marketing, with a fundamental shift in focus towards communications, most notably, digital ones. Every day there's a new tool released that promises to improve the way you communicate with customers and it's extremely difficult not to get caught up in the hype and lose focus on the bigger picture. Spend too long in that environment and you begin to lose sight of the totality of marketing, and when you're asked to start painting the bigger picture again, it's easy to drop the ball. 

It was a lightbulb moment for me, one that I will remember for a long time. It's made me stronger as a marketer, though, because it forced me back to the drawing board, to remind myself what strategic marketing is all about.

There's no denying that the tools of today make it much easier to reach customers in more relevant ways, but if the tactics you employ aren't backed by solid strategy, you're never going to get the results you crave. 

 

SO HOW DO WE GET MORE STRATEGIC? - TAKE TWO. 

Hindsight it a wonderful thing and if I had my time again, here's what I'd say...

Market Orientation and Research

Critical to the development of any marketing strategy is the removal of assumptions. This is a lot easier said than done, but organisations that make decisions based on data, and not gut feel, are far better placed in the long run. You've got to play the game with the mentality that, like it or not, if you're inside the business, you're biased, and your opinion is largely irrelevant. Depending on the business, and the process in which decisions have been made in the past, the removal of assumptions will probably leave some big holes. How do you fill these holes? With data. Representative data from your market, both qualitative (in depth) and quantitative (at scale). 

Segmentation

Get the research right, and you'll have a good overview of your market and the segments that sit within it. Building a solid market segmentation is crucial to helping select which customers you should target to gain the best bang for your marketing buck. 

A good segmentation should include all of the individual segments within your market, the number of potential customers within each segment, the dollar value of each segment and the market share your organisation holds within each segment. With this picture painted, it soon becomes obvious where the opportunities lie, allowing you to target specific groups of consumers based on their potential yield and the resources at your disposal.

A market can be segmented in a number of different ways, but the golden rule to adhere to is to ensure that consumers in each of the chosen segments share needs, behaviours and attitudes to those in the same segment, but differ from those in other segments. It's not, for example, good practice to segment on demographics alone. You need to build in attitudinal and behavioural factors as well.

Targeting

The real beauty of a good segmentation becomes apparent when it comes time for targeting. In most cases, the best and most appropriate target segments stand out from the rest. They scream 'look at me', based on a combination of their value, their market share potential and their accessibility. 

Where segmentation paints a picture of the market, without input from the organisation, targeting is the opposite. It's all about the organisation, and targeting choices should be carefully considered to ensure not only the most valuable segments are selected, but also those for which the organisation has the resources to effectively go after. For example, in a B2B environment, there's no point chasing a segment that consists of 10,000 businesses with only a handful of sales reps. 

Spillover is also a valuable concept to grasp: The concept of one segment influencing another. Ie, if one segment of customers closely follows the trends of another, then targeting the influential segment will reap rewards within the influenced one, without ever having to spend money targeting them directly. 

Finally, there's no rule that says you have to target a large number of segments. Part of the strategic decision making process is deciphering which segments provide the most opportunity. If your resources are limited, then targeting a small number of segments at a time (maybe only one), may very well prove more fruitful in the long run. 

With one or more target segments selected, positioning effectively to the specific needs and wants of those segments (you'll know what they are from the research) allows you to much more effectively and efficiently sell to them. 

Positioning

If each of your segments display different behaviours and attitudes, then surely it makes sense to position your product or service differently to each of them. Focusing on the attributes that appeal to each, even if you're trying to sell the same product into multiple segments. Essentially, it's how you want your brand, product or service to be portrayed in the mind of the target consumer. 

Effective positioning should do three things:

  1. Position for the customer. What do they value, want and need?
  2. Position against the competition. What is the unique value proposition? What do you do better or differently that the competition? 
  3. Position on what the company can deliver. Don't bank on claims you can't backup in practice. 

Once you decide on a position, it needs to be consistently applied across all customer touch points. From communications, the product itself, in-store experience, after sales experience, pricing and even distribution channels. 

Strategy Formulation

With market orientation & research, segmentation, targeting and positioning all complete, it's time to turn to sales funnels and objectives in order to complete the strategy.

Sales funnels have been around forever and a day, but are just as relevant now as they were decades ago. In a nutshell, a sales funnel is the process a consumer goes through in order to purchase your product or service.

The textbook example goes something like this... In order for a potential customer to become an actual one, firstly they must be aware of your product/service, secondly they must consider it amongst the competition, thirdly they must prefer it over the competition and, finally, they must purchase it.  

While this example holds true in most circumstances, a sales funnel should be customised to your specific business. A car dealership, for example, may have 'product trial', in the form of a test drive, as one of the key milestones in their sales funnel. 

Once you have a sales funnel, the trick is identifying where the leaks are in order to define SMART objectives to plug the holes. Do you need to build awareness? Maybe your awareness is great, customers consider your product but ultimately prefer a competitor, in which case you'd focus your objective on improving your consideration to preference conversion rate. 

Whatever the objective, it needs to be SMART. Specific, measurable, ambitious, realistic and time bound. Vague objectives that aren’t specific, can’t be measured and aren’t bound by a specific period of time are a waste of time. How would you ever know if you’d achieved a good result?

So there you have it, the essence of a good marketing strategy. Do your research, segment the market, select your target segments, position to each of them, define your sales funnel, diagnose the leaks and set SMART objectives to plug them, using everything you've learned in the process. It's what my answer should have been during my moment of truth. 

From here it's time to talk tactics, but that's another story altogether.