Only one of these statements is correct
A – Every business needs a marketing strategy
B – Every business needs an expensive consultant to come in and tell them how to do it
If you chose A, we suggest you keep reading. (If you went for B, you might be about to save a lot of money.)
The world of “marketing strategy” is cloaked with dark secrets, obscured by marketing jargon, and generally hyped up by people who rarely get involved with the real world of running a business. But we’d like to give you a few pointers on creating a marketing strategy that:
Is clear and straightforward
Fits in with your budget
Makes a huge impact on your future profitability
And it all starts with an Ancient Chinese military general…
Sun Tzu, philosopher and head of the Chinese army for much of the 5th century BC, put his thoughts into a book, which has been translated as The Art Of War. He understood the difference between tactics (which we do every day) and strategy (which guides what we do every day), and he knew what happens if you try using one without the other. He wrote that:
“strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory”, but added that it was even worse to get it the other way round. “Tactics without strategy”, he said “is the noise before defeat.”
Of course, he was talking about the strategy and tactics needed to kill Mongol hordes, not increase market share. But the principle is the same.
For many business leaders, the noises may be there for all to hear. Declining sales. Increasingly powerful competitors. Reduced margins. But they are frequently ignored. Which is why it is so important to get your marketing strategy right.
Research consistently shows that most business owners do not have a formal marketing strategy 1. Of course they know broadly what they’re doing. They’re in business after all. But by not committing to a formal process, they are holding their businesses back in two ways.
First, it is not enough for the business leader alone to know what the marketing should do. A strategy needs to be implemented by the company’s people – whether that means senior management or the people who drive the fork lift trucks. And if they never see it, how can they put it into action?
Second, an effective marketing strategy is what aligns everything else and points it in the right direction. So it makes sense to do it properly.
Running a business without a marketing strategy is like starting out on a car journey with only a rough idea of where you’re going or which roads you are going to use. You are far less likely to get where you’re going if you haven’t thought about your route. So while those businesses with a carefully constructed marketing strategy have already got to the meeting in Bristol with time to spare for a coffee, you’re still waiting in traffic on the motorway.
Yet still, almost two thirds of businesses don’t get round to doing the “strategy” bit? Why is that? And are you one of them?
If so, do any of these reasons sound familiar?
You don’t have the time
You’re too busy to think about strategy. There’s so much going on already. There are customers to win. Products to ship. Accounts to file. No time to sit around talking “strategy”.
You don’t have the people.
You need strategic thinkers, you need people who have done it before. And somehow when it comes to recruiting it’s more important to get good salespeople on the team than it is to think about strategic skills.
You don’t have a business plan
A marketing strategy supports the business plan. You can’t start thinking about how to market a company that isn’t clear about what it does and why it set out to do it.
These are the main reasons preventing UK businesses from being more effective. But how do you overcome them? If a properly documented marketing strategy is so important, how do you do it?
The truth is that creating your marketing strategy is faster and easier than you think.
Putting together a marketing strategy is NOT a long, expensive, or difficult job. Some may disagree, advising you solemnly that months of high-level, high-cost consultancy are required. But they’re wrong.
Your marketing strategy should be – no, HAS to be – built to fit your company.
If you run a large and sophisticated business, employing millions of people and spanning the globe, it can get complicated. And that will take time.
If, however, you run an established UK business of more modest proportions, the important thing is not complexity, but clarity. And your investment in strategic marketing should be manageable within your budget.
A marketing strategy should clearly map out what you need to do to, and which direction you need to take, in order to raise sales, maximise margins, and delight customers. Fill in the tactics later – for now we need clarity and you’d be surprised how much of that can be achieved in a short time.
A really useful structure that we use here at Wall To Wall Sunshine is the SOSTAC model. It separates the different levels of marketing, enabling you to think clearly about the different elements – and in so doing, shows how strategic decisions impact on tactical ones. Of course, the model does not do your work for you – this is not painting by numbers – but it gives us a framework that makes sense.
There is a lot of thinking to be done, because you need to answer some hard questions about your customers and how you meet their needs, how you view your market, and how you intend to grow and develop in the future. But it is an excellent guide, which we find useful in helping companies to think strategically about marketing:
Putting a strategy together requires a certain mindset. And when you look for those people within your organisation, it becomes clear that people are divided into thinkers and doers – and they are usually quite different people:
The vast majority of employees and managers are ‘doers’. They are employed to fulfil a certain specified role. They need knowledge of – and enthusiasm for – that role, and the longer they do it, the more focused they usually become.
Because they are steeped in the operational world of day-to-day business, they often have deep knowledge of certain areas, e.g. product knowledge, customer understanding, internal processes. Yet this is their undoing, since it makes it hard for them to think strategically. They lack the perspective to see the bigger picture – which is where thinkers come in.
While thinkers may not have the focus or eye for detail that would make them an effective doer, they make up for this with their ability to view the role of marketing from above. They are able to appreciate that there needs to be a direction to the company’s marketing activities, and to identify the strategy it needs to take.
But who can afford the luxury of a full-time thinker? Especially when the need for strategic thinking is far from constant. The strategic vision is important at the start, but it’s difficult to justify the salary once the strategy work is complete. Especially when they are ill-equipped to get their hands dirty helping out the doers…
The answer is often to look outside the company for specialised support. An external, short-term hire will be able to guide you through the process. But hire wisely – bear in mind a few questions you need to ask:
Can they help the company put the strategy into action – and make it deliver the business benefits you promised?
Do they have experience of your sector and your region?
Are you hiring them for the right term? Are they flexible enough to support you for as long as you need?
Choose the right external support and you have a hugely valuable partner who can quickly and cost-effectively give you the strategic direction your marketing needs.
However, if you’re expecting overnight success, you will be disappointed. The point of identifying and following the right marketing strategy is that it helps every subsequent activity to be better directed and coordinated, since there is a common goal, and a thoroughly understood method of getting there.
What those activities are remains to be decided. But those decisions will be easier (and more often correct) because you have a thoughtfully constructed strategy to guide you. Therefore they are more likely to be successful than if you were working blind. And the increased effectiveness of each activity you undertake will gradually but surely prove the value of strategic planning over time.
Remember Sun Tzu. Tactics make a lot of noise. But if they are not guided by the right strategy that noise is just the sound of defeat. Can you hear it?
Wall To Wall Sunshine provides marketing strategy that is totally focused on business objectives. Quite simply, that means we put our clients first and focus entirely on achieving their objectives. So when we help our clients with their marketing strategy, it’s not about high-level theory and jargon; it’s about helping them to do better business.
If you’d like to know more about what we could do for you, please call us on 01392 877855 or email Matt Cotton.