A prior column looked at why building marketing strategies and plans is similar to a golf swing: Success is tied mainly to the backswing and the follow-through, even though most golfers concentrate on the point of impact.
Writing a marketing strategy
The process should start with a strategy statement or mission statement, which captures in one or, at most, two sentences the essence of who the customer is, what you are serving them and why it is special or different. For example, a marketing strategy statement I once wrote for a sports club in Toronto reads: "The [client] is a boutique adult-oriented racquets-and-fitness club with above-average dining and first-class service, complemented by exclusive social programming, for professionals seeking fraternity and a home-away-from home in Toronto's city core."
We have already talked about marketing strategies as the answers to a series of progressive questions. In order they are:
- What is our position relative to competitors, in plain English, and what are our proof points?
- Who are our real customers, including a primary segment and two or three secondary segments?
- What products or services will we sell to each segment?
- What is our brand promise to each segment?
- What type of customer experience are we trying to deliver to each segment?
In our sports club example, the answers in a narrative were: "We will be the racquets club in the core of Toronto with the finest reputation, serving older and established business people and socialites, with tennis, squash and first-class dining. We promise a homey, quirky, fraternal atmosphere, along with white-glove service and gold-plated benefits, in order to deliver a Muskoka-like experience to our members."
Descriptive specificity is really important. To simply say "premium" or "best" in our example, or in any strategy, would not give the reader or implementer of the plan the colour required to set out the action plan, which is our next step.
Marketing plan, including programs or campaigns, and tactics
A marketing strategy should be elegant, simple and short, while the marketing plan is likely to be more involved and a longer document, as it needs to be detailed.
The best marketing plans divide their world three ways: time, customers and activity. The goal is to articulate a blueprint to achieve the strategy by pursuing customers over different time periods, with directed activities in the form of tactics, which belong to programs or campaigns.
Time: Near-term, medium-term and long-term are common, useful ways to lay out a marketing plan. The definition of those terms varies from industry to industry, but near-term tends to mean one or two quarters, medium-term one or two years, and long-term two years plus.
Customers: Assuming a good customer segmentation was done as part of the background work, that segmentation should be used to direct activity, by time period.
Activity: Marketing programs or campaigns can be devised to pursue customers.
Marketing plans can be laid out in spreadsheets or tables, or sometimes in a narrative. A combination of short narratives explaining the objective followed by grids tends to be quite efficient. Here is an example:
"Deep discounting is required to re-establish our market share. We will focus on lower prices, in all but one segment, for the next year."
Segment A: Value shoppers
Segment B: Everyday shoppers
Segment C: More affluent shoppers
Near-term (rest of year)
Medium-term (one year out)
Long-term (two years out)
To be determined
Programs or campaigns, and tactics
We think about the difference between programs and campaigns in the following way:
- Programs are internal-facing, or executed by internal employees.
- Campaigns are customer-facing, and they are typically executed by external partners.
As an example, a customer experience improvement program (CXIP) could easily be initiated, designed and executed by employees, without ever releasing communication to customers, or running ads. A CXIP is meant to improve customer satisfaction, which should lead to more repeat purchases, fewer returns and complaints, and more referrals – definitely part of a marketing plan, but not necessarily requiring, say, media spend.
The release of a whitepaper to draw attention to a new offering, or the design of a series of ads for a new consumer product, are examples of campaigns as they are meant to communicate directly with customers.
Marketing tactics still tend to fall into the four Ps: product, placement, promotion and price.
- Product usually refers to the offering or a version of the offering you are going with, by segment.
- Placement normally refers to both the distribution channel and the marketing channel.
- Promotion refers to the ideas behind, and a copy of, the marketing communication.
- Pricing is a topic on its own, and it refers to both standard prices and discounts required.
Special to The Globe and Mail
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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