The ultimate guide to an effective marketing strategy.
If you know anything about PIER Marketing, you’ll have noticed that we bang on about marketing strategy. All. The. Time. Let us explain ourselves…
First up, what is marketing? The most common misconception is that it’s all the activity that a business or organisation undertakes to raise – and maintain – attention and consideration amongst its target market. You know, the pretty billboards and smart social media quips. This is just one, albeit very important, element of the beast that is marketing. According to the gospel that is the world’s largest community of marketers, the Chartered Institute of Marketers or CIM, marketing is “the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.” Put simply, the discipline of marketing is about identifying and generating a ‘market’ in which to profitably sell products or services.
So, what of a marketing strategy? The way we see a marketing strategy is defining what you are seeking to achieve, what’s important to deliver and how you are going to achieve it. Marketing therefore needs to take a whole-business approach starting with the business’s objectives.
Stick with us, we’ll hold your hand through the process…
Plan for success
A marketing strategy is a significant investment for a business. A marketing strategy is designed to deliver a short and medium view of recommended activity to guide marketing improvements and initiatives over the immediate and medium term. Sure, you can dive in and start printing brochures or getting social media influencers to spruik your product but be prepared for disappointment before you’re popping champagne corks. A much better approach – in our and any marketer worth their salt’s book – is to follow a planning process. Read on…
A marketing strategy is a research-based, best practice and experience-informed process that’s then documented as a roadmap. Done right, it will empower an internal or agency-based marketing team to deliver incremental improvements to how a company takes its products and / or services to market.
What’s in scope?
Where to start?
Not with marketing! A marketing strategy should begin with your business plan. Your business objectives should be included within your marketing strategy to ensure that the marketing team, efforts and budget are pulling in the right direction.
From there, your first port of call is a marketing audit. A ‘where are we now’ view of your marketing function and efforts. The audit element of your strategy work should evaluate both the internal and external environment you’re operating in. Ultimately you are aiming to paint a clear and concise picture of your starting point; what’s working well, what’s not performing and where there might be more or new opportunity.
There is a myriad of tools, models, books and expert advice out there. The trick is to utilise the best one for your industry, business life cycle stage and budget. If you get stuck, you can always call us for some guidance. In terms of scope, an organisation should consider investigating its brand, the online environment, its marketing processes, systems and resources, competitors and also model relevant criteria (price, product lifecycle, brand positioning to name a few).
As we like to say, research takes you from ‘we think’ to ‘we know’. Research comes in many forms, but what makes it consistent is its ability to give you and your team greater confidence in decision making and direction setting. This kind of clarity ideally comes from commissioned primary research, but insight can be found in existing research, desktop research (e.g. ABS, Google Trends or Kantar) or previous strategies or plans.
From these insights, we like to provide a SWOT summary (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). This combined with the business objectives will keep your eye on the prize and prevent diversion and distraction.
Marketing strategy cheat sheet.
We’ve made it easy for you and outlined the process and documentation that you would expect to see comprise your marketing strategy. Of course we can always make it even easier and create it for you.
…just give us the nod.
Introduction and mission statement
This is usually easier to write once you’ve completed the strategy proper, but should outline:
- The essence of your business and should be a practical, clear concept of the business.
- Overall strategy.
- Key actions or areas recommended to exploit.
- Any major factors that will affect the plan.
Current market position
Extract this information from your marketing audit. Summarise the current position across:
- Product – What products do you sell? What is their market position? Who are your competitors?
- Place – Where do you sell product? How does this compare to your competition?
- Price – What pricing policy do your competitors have? Do you discount? How does this compare to the competition?
- Promotion – What types of activities are you currently carrying out?
- People – Consider the quality of the human resources available to marketing, your recruitment approach and all training and development.
- Processes –Review what written procedures you have in place to ensure consistency of service and experience – these are all brand touch points.
- Physical evidence – What message does the appearance of premises / vehicles / people send out to your customers? Try and be objective. And look for consistencies and inconsistencies. An inconsistent presentation of your brand erodes confidence.
Businesses don’t operate in isolation and are affected by competitors, as well as external influences beyond one’s control. This section is about presenting an overview that summarises where key markets lie and considered key changes in those markets. Your marketing audit should provide the ability to answer the following:
- What are the major products and markets that are likely to provide the kind of business opportunities suitable for the organisation?
- And how are these changing?
Strengths and weaknesses
These two are inward-looking and should address the following as a minimum:
- Distinctive product or company strengths.
- Financial resources.
- Client base.
- Price / fee structure.
- Range or level of service.
- Promotion and selling.
Opportunities and threats
These two are external and the key elements should be identified in the audit and summarised here.
High importance items only. Keep it focused and easy to digest.
Key issues and opportunities
From the SWOT, identify the key issues the business faces and detail the opportunity you recommend exploiting.
Summarise audit findings regarding major competitors. Consider where you think they might be during the period of your plan, they’re likely strategies, customers and markets. You can use this information to carry out a mini SWOT analysis on competitors.
While we can’t predict every movement in the market, every competitive action or every economic factor (we’re talking to you, global pandemics), we can make educated guesses to help quantify some factors or predict what’s likely to happen in the future. This might include assumptions over interest rates, or market size and / or trends.
The objectives should be a realistic statement of what you want to achieve as a result of the analysis you have carried out. The strategy should then detail how you plan to achieve it.
Objectives need to be SMART (specific, meaningful, achievable, realistic and time-bound). They need to be quantitative (e.g. value / sales volume / market share) and need to cover the period of the plan.
Perhaps you want to generate more volume from existing customers or new business from new customers? Perhaps new revenue from a new distribution channel (online / new route to market).
Work with top-level targets at this stage of the plan (we will break them down into more specific tasks in the Action Plan).
The strategy statement should state in broad detail how the marketing objectives are to be achieved. It should provide a summary of the more detailed strategies that you will outline later in this section. It might be easier to write this overview statement once you have developed the detailed strategies.
Use your SWOT analysis and statement of key issues and opportunities to help you choose the market segments and determine how to position the company against the competition.
The segment or segments you choose are vitally important as the business can probably only serve a limited number of segments without overreaching itself. Before you choose, consider the following:
• Who are your customers?
• Is there a market niche which is not being catered for?
• Are customers in this market satisfied or are they looking for change?
• Can the business offer them something different to really meets their needs?
• Can the business generate enough business in this segment to survive?
• Is there too much business? Will you outstretch yourself?
• How will competitors react?
• Can you communicate to the market effectively?
• Can you resource the plan?
Use the following pointers to help you develop a strong statement defining your approach to your market and how you intend to be seen:
• Do you have a clear understanding of your customer’s needs?
• Do you understand the businesses strengths?
• How will you differentiate your product from competitors?
• Which elements of the marketing mix are crucial to your success?
A clear branding strategy for your products, services or the company itself will differentiate the business in the marketplace. It will enable you to charge more for your product or service, provide repeat purchases and make it easier for the sales force to sell and give customers confidence.
If you offer a service rather than a product, you should consider the service as your product. Is the present product range viable and can it be improved? Which new products need to be developed to meet changing market conditions and how can you do that?
• Features benefits analysis.
• Unique selling proposition of the products.
• Proposed new products.
• Include products or services likely to be in demand in the future.
• Consider seasonal demand – how can you maximise the quiet times?
• How does the profitability of each product line compare?
• How does the future potential for each product line compare?
Price affects how much product is sold, to whom, what services go with it and how much profit you make.
Price setting is difficult for new product / service launches, but it can also be hard to adjust price once set in the marketplace; what message does that send to the market? Price should be handled sensitively.
Four factors influence price setting decisions:
1) Cost – Plus.
2) Demand – Sales volume. If there is little differentiation between brands, market price sensitivity is likely to be high. Differentiation can remove price sensitivity.
3) Competition – Benchmark the market, then make your offer different in some way; strive to differentiate.
4) Image – Your price position sends messages to the marketplace about the quality level of your product / service.
Resolve the following four basic issues to set price:
• Why was the product introduced? (Are overheads already covered? Are you using spare capacity?).
• Skimming – If your product is superior to your competitors, you can explore skimming.
• Penetration pricing – The aim here is quick acceptance and market share to achieve high sales volumes swiftly.
• What will competitors do? Consider any countermeasures competitors may take? Are they vulnerable? Will they be forced to defend themselves? Are they secure enough to take long term action to undermine your position?
Customers expect to find the product or service when and where they need them, in quantities that suit them, in surroundings that enable them to choose between products and with access to other services that help them use the product (e.g. after sales service).
When considering product distribution (new or adding on new ones) think about:
• Direct to consumer (retail / online).
• Specialist intermediary (agent / retailer).
Promotional activity is needed to make the right targets for your business aware of you, in the right quantity and at the right time to distinguish from your competition.
Promotion is about using a range of techniques (AKA integrated) in the most cost-effective way possible to initiate, increase and maintain awareness of what your business offers. Promotion needs to move potential customers from total lack of awareness to loyalty.
Additional research may be required to understand your customer’s needs, the brand’s perception in the marketplace and how your product / service can be improved. The components that make up the Promotion element of the marketing mix should be referred to as the “Promotional Mix”.
There are four elements: PR, advertising (including direct marketing), promotion and packaging (personal selling often replaces packaging, particularly in the service markets).
Good PR generates understanding of and interest in a business. It should whet the market’s appetite for more information, prompt enquiries, re-establish dormant contracts or customers and reinforce the company’s image with existing customers.
PR is a long-term strategy with a cumulative effect based on the quality of print materials, staff and willingness of a company’s customers to broadcast their good experiences.
Set objectives for your PR so there’s a clear understanding of the message you aim to put across to the market. PR activity should then reinforce those messages in the mind of the public.
Publicity is the part of PR that’s capitalised on ‘newsworthy’ events / opportunities – using the press to send a positive message to the marketplace. This is more tactical.
Managing PR is time-consuming and it’s often easy to miss good PR opportunities because your team is too busy or too close to the story. This is where an agency can be invaluable – it’s our job to extract this content and capitalise on it in the right way. Remember that PR cannot be used to guarantee results because we have no direct control over what is reported, how and when. This is, however, also what makes it more powerful.
Basically any paid form of promotion, advertising can be used through the whole funnel: attract attention – attract interest – create desire – prompt to buy.
Be very clear of:
• The message you want to send (keep it simple and consistent).
• The market you want to reach.
Direct marketing involves a response: a two-way communication developing a relationship between customer and supplier.
A sales promotion strategy could be developed to support the following activities:
• Introduce or launch a new product (by encourage stocking, purchase or trail).
• Attract new customers (ditto).
• Maintain competitiveness (by providing discounts or special pricing).
• Reduce seasonality (by encouraging consumption out of season).
• Increase the amount of people who use the product.
The most effective (and expensive!) form of promotion is personal selling.
• How will sales activities be supported by the promotional mix? How is the sales force supported by online / socials / PR / physical sales tools / advertising etc.?
• Do you have the right sales force correctly deployed?
• Has enough attention been invested in the customer service experience for good customer care?
Packaging / personal selling
How is the prospective customer influenced at point of purchase and how can that be improved?
Consider brand partnerships (sales channel / same target market with different or complimentary product offer / aligned values / brand ambassadors).
This element is relevant for either an exclusively service-based business or one that’s product is based with a service element. Customers don’t end up owning a physical item, but leave you having enjoyed their experience. Most product-based companies will have a service element (think retail customer service / product after care etc.).
There are three additional elements that traditionally are relevant only to a service business marketing because the service is intangible and inseparable from the provider of the service. However, they are increasingly relevant for product businesses and worth considering whatever you sell:
1) People – who gives the service?
Good customer service is critical whatever your selling, but if all you sell is a service, this is critical. Consider:
• Selection and training.
• Internal marketing: is a service culture actively promoted within the business?
• Presentation of people.
2) Process – how the service is given.
What processes are in place to ensure consistency of experience to all customers, all of the time? It’s especially important to maintain this regardless of pressure (e.g. busy reception / peak times etc.).
3) Physical evidence – the environment in which the service is given.
Treat this as per packaging – think about how you create or enhance your brand image, this consideration is linked closely to branding (uniforms, décor etc.). Also consider items that clients or customers take home (membership / loyalty cards / receipts / information / brochures / sales or presentation packs etc.).
The mini plan
We like to create a one year operational plan – a mini plan if you will. This is all about implementation – what actions will need to be taken in the short term to move towards your long-term objectives? Include budgets against marketing objectives.
• Objectives for the year.
• Strategies the business should adopt to meet those objectives.
• Support this with detailed action plans including timings and costs.
• Consider a contingency plan outlining what assumptions you’ve made and what actions you recommend if those assumptions prove incorrect.
Financials – It might be appropriate / necessary to demonstrate the effect the marketing activities will have on revenue and profitability.
Timeline – include a master spreadsheet outlining when key activities should start and finish with dependencies.
Outline what measurement templates you intend to use, including format and frequency of reporting. What statistics will you need access to be able to measure success? Some will be readily available (e.g. Google Analytics / social measures) while others will rely on the wider team to develop (e.g. sales enquiry calls and conversions / sales volumes).
Strategy in practice
By following this best practice approach, you can be confident that your business will leave no stone unturned in its quest to deliver a considered, informed and effective marketing strategy. And you will ensure focus on the most important elements that will affect your success. Critically, you will avoid marketing guesswork.
We recognise crafting your marketing strategy sounds like a daunting and time-consuming feat. If you would like to discuss how PIER can support the development of your marketing strategy, please get in touch. Or to read more about our strategic approach, check out our services guide.