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Ashley Brooker, 15, practices her golf swing on the driving range Aug. 10, 2006, in Pinehurst, N.C. (GERRY BROOME/AP)
Ashley Brooker, 15, practices her golf swing on the driving range Aug. 10, 2006, in Pinehurst, N.C. (GERRY BROOME/AP)

Mark Healy

A marketing strategy is like a golf swing Add to ...

In my last column, I wrote about developing meaningful value propositions and designing engaging customer experiences in the latest of a series on the marketing planning process.

The gist of the message was this: the value proposition is the heart of your brand promise, and it should be how customers think about your brand. Customer experience is often thought of as the way customers feel about themselves as they interact with your brand.

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In this column and the next, we will come full circle on the cheese house story I told a few months ago, noting how to use all of the market context, customer segmentation, value proposition and customer experience work, to develop an air-tight marketing strategy and plan, including programs or campaigns and tactics

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to work with a very senior ex-banking executive named Jeff, who was a director on the board of one of my clients – a large, multi-stakeholder health care organization. We were tasked with crafting the organization’s marketing strategy and plan over a five-year period. Jeff had hired (and fired) more consultants than just about anyone I’ve worked with.

I asked him for his perspective on strategy. I respected the simplicity and elegance of his answer: “Mark, don’t overthink this. ‘Strategy’ is the most overused word in business. Most people don’t know what they mean when they use it. A strategy is a set of answers to a series of logical questions. And a plan tells us how to get it done.

“Marketing or financial or otherwise, that never changes. The strategy is the ‘what’ and the plan is the ‘how.’ That’s it.”

Smart guy.

When my company builds marketing strategies, it tries to adhere to Jeff’s principles of simplicity and logical sequencing. A marketing strategy should answer a series of progressive questions, based on solid data analysis, market intelligence and customer insights, and input from stakeholders who have an informed point of view.

The document itself should be quite short. It will grow once planning is introduced, but a strategy should be crisp and clear – long documents at this stage are usually clues signalling complex or poorly thought-out strategies.

Building marketing strategies and plans is similar to a golf swing. The success is tied mainly to the backswing and the follow-through, even though most golfers concentrate on the point of impact. In marketing, the backswing is the research, and the follow-through is the measurement and commensurate adjustments in tactics. Let’s talk about the backswing.

Required background work

Before a marketing strategy can be developed and articulated, a lot of background work has to be completed by someone within your organization or an external adviser. The five key pieces of background analysis are:

  • Situational/data analysis
  • Stakeholder input
  • Market context analysis
  • Customer segmentation
  • Value proposition and customer experience

Situational/data analysis and stakeholder input

The first two points are outside the narrow confines of a marketing planning model, although they are still critical in setting strategy. It’s hard to know where to go without knowing where you’ve come from and where you are.

Situational/data analysis involves establishing a company history up to an accurate, present point-in-time snapshot. This internal analysis should look at financials, particularly revenue and gross margin trends it’s not that profit is unimportant, it’s just that it’s a better measure of overall company strategy than marketing strategy, which has a goal to drive sales and increase margins.

Sales patterns, including seasonality, pricing and revenue-per-customer analyses, are very valuable. Other organization-specific metrics will always be present and they should be studied.

Stakeholder input can be a mere speed bump or a full-blown work stream in setting out a marketing strategy. “Everything in moderation” is perhaps a good rule of thumb here. To not seek the views of informed employees, directors, industry experts or media is foolhardy – however, it can be overdone. Gathering input and opinions is time consuming and therefore it can be expensive, and it takes careful analysis to distill key themes and not let feedback be interpreted too literally or narrowly.

Market context, customer segmentation, value proposition and customer experience

These last three points have been discussed at great length in six previous columns. So, suffice it to say, a clear understanding of the market in question including the competitive situation, the most valuable customer segments, and the appropriate value proposition and designed customer experience by segment will form the backbone of the marketing strategy.

Special to The Globe and Mail

June 26: Writing a marketing strategy and building a marketing plan. Look for it on the Report on Small Business website.

Mark Healy, P.Eng, MBA, is a partner at Satov Consultants– a management consultancy with practice areas in corporate strategy, customer strategy and operations strategy. Mark’s focus areas inside the customer strategy practice include consumer insights, customer experience, innovation and go-to-market strategy. He is a regular speaker and media contributor on topics ranging from marketing to strategy, in telecom, retail and other sectors. Mark is known as much for his penchant for loud socks and a healthy NFL football obsession as he is for his commitment to Ivey and recent Ivey grads. He currently serves as chair of the Ivey Alumni Association board of directors. Mark lives with his wife Charlotte and their bulldog McDuff in Toronto.

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