Strategic marketing, or marketing strategy, is a term that you may hear quite a lot, but perhaps not quite understand it fully.  It is sometimes dismissed as only being of relevance to larger enterprises. But, in actual fact, strategic marketing thinking should underpin every marketing activity that an SME business undertakes.  This article will explain what it is, and why is so critical to commercial success.

Firstly, what is Strategic Marketing?

Put simply strategic marketing is what is being carried out by those businesses who have a clear, documented marketing strategy, which is guiding all activity.  It is long-term in its nature and is the bedrock upon which all marketing decisions are made.

A marketing strategy will have some very clear objectives and targets it is trying to achieve, but ultimately it is around creating a sustainable competitive advantage which enable future profitable growth for the business.

How Strategic Marketing integrates with a Marketing Plan

Marketing Plan document

Consider a marketing strategy to be the ultimate top-level guide which dictates the direction the business is going in.  This will then inform the marketing plan which is the more detailed blueprint of how the marketing strategy is going to be actioned.

Beneath the marketing plan, you will have specific tactical activities which are delivered in line with predetermined plan.  This is important to understand, because this is where many businesses go awry.

So many businesses, in particular SMEs, jump straight to the third stage of activity, before carrying out any strategic marketing thinking, and with no marketing plan in place.  The result of this is that inevitably results in a lot of noise being made, which ultimately leads to nothing.

What happens when Strategic Marketing is overlooked?

It is an old overused cliché but “failing to plan” will result in you “planning to fail”.

Now the problem with SME’s is that they are typically started by people with a passion, an interest or a skill in whatever the company is offering as its product or service.  They are not run by strategic marketers.  So, it is inevitable that to them marketing is more like a checklist. Logo-check. Website – check. Social Media presence – check.  They rush in to getting all this collateral ready because they need it, but it is not “informed” by anything.  There is no sound rationale to what they are doing.

As you read through this article and you consider all the different elements that go into creating a marketing strategy, you may start to realise the madness of this approach.  But, at the end of the day, business owners “don’t know what they don’t know”.

So, what does Strategic Marketing cover?

Before we go any further, what you are about to read will seem obvious.  We make no apology for this, as marketing is actually a very simple discipline and makes complete logical sense.  However, as obvious as it may seem, few SME’s actually go through this structured strategic marketing thinking process.

What is my life purpose?  Handwriting on sticky notes with multiple question marks

#1 Mission, Vision and Values

It is critical at the onset of any business to fully understand what your purpose is, where you ultimately want to get to and how you want to get there.  Unless these are fully understood and appreciated by everyone within the business, then how can they guide you to make the right decisions for your business?

#2 Objectives

Weekly goals and objectives

So, you may have an ultimate vision of where you want to aspire to reach, but in the next 12-36 months, what are your objectives for the business.  What are the metrics against which you can effectively measure how you are performing, and again inform decision making?

#3 Clearly define your product offering

Abstract colourful segments of pearl necklaces

This sounds really obvious, but actually a lot of business owners can find this difficult.  It is particularly tricky when the business has been going a few years and evolved into offering quite a wide range of products and services.  Consider how you can segment your offering.  If you can do this with clarity it makes the customer experience much easier – which ultimately means they will be far more likely to buy from you.  For example, Opportunity Marketing offers marketing strategy and implementation.  Within those two areas we have different packages, but at the top level we keep it simple, which in turn makes our communications much clearer.

Target_audience

#4 Target audience

This is probably the most common area where SMEs make their biggest mistake.  Time, energy, budget and resources are all wasted because they don’t take the time to narrow down their ideal target audience.  Inevitably what this means is that they end up attempting to stretch a budget too thinly, trying to market to anyone who may have a need for their product or service.  What’s more is because they haven’t defined any target markets, their communications are also very generic in nature.  It is critical to understand your target audiences and what makes them tick.  Without undertaking this element of the process, you are merely relying on pot-luck and timing.

Positioning Icon GPS

#5 Competitive Positioning

Once you have absolute clarity on your offering and your audience you can then consider how you want to be positioned in your chosen marketplace.  No matter what anyone says, no-one operates in a sector without competition.  It is true that there may not be any like-for-like direct competition, but there are always indirect competitors (alternative things that customers could be spending their money on).   We have written an article previously on positioning which you can reference, so we are not going to go into lots of detail here.  However, please identify who the competition is, and how you want to be positioned against them in the mind of the customer.  What makes you different?  Why should they choose you over them?

#6 Key routes to market

Graphic showing different routes to market

Routes to market is all about which are going to be correct channels to get your defined product and sell it to your defined audience.  For some businesses this may be a really simple process.  For others there may be a plethora of different options, all with different pros and cons.  What’s more is that the route, or routes, to market that you choose for your business will dramatically impact on your overall strategy, marketing plan and activities.

#7 Key Processes

Process is one element of marketing that is often overlooked and only considered when it is forced to be addressed due to performance issues within the business.  However, if you have already mapped out and considered all of the above, then you should be in a good position to highlight what are going to be the key processes to absolutely nail.  Don’t underestimate a good process.  You could have absolute clarity on all of the above and, on the face of it, a really solid marketing strategy.  However, if your processes let you down, it could end up a disaster.  Think through your ideas logically.  Is, what looks good on paper, feasible in reality with the resources that you have?  An average strategy with brilliant processes will always outperform a brilliant strategy with poor processes, over a sustained period.

#8 Messaging

Marketing Messaging Graphic

Now, when you consider points 1-7 above, you have to wonder how on earth a business can gets its messaging right if it hasn’t gone through this process.  You need to understand your purpose, your values, your offering, your audience, your competitive positioning and your routes to market before you can even begin to consider your key messaging.  However, this is the reason that many marketing activities simply do not work.  If the marketing messaging is not aligned with everything else that goes into strategic marketing, then it is never going to maximise its impact.

Why is Strategic Marketing so important?

We have explained what strategic marketing is and what goes into the process, but why is it so important?  There are a number of reasons, and they will all ultimately contribute to the performance of the company.

Firstly, unless you have a solid marketing strategy, whatever you do will never yield the maximum returns.  The basic function of marketing is designed to generate a business a much higher uptake in profits than it costs to invest.  Return on investment can never be maximised unless a more strategic approach to marketing has been considered.

Secondly, how you can ever evaluate opportunities effectively if you have no guiding marketing strategy to “sense-check” it against?  How can you possibly know if a specific activity is correct if you don’t know your values, your objective, who your target audience is and how you want to be competitively positioned?

Thirdly, without an overriding marketing strategy across the business, how can you ensure that all staff are pulling in the same direction.  We all know how important a united workforce working towards a united cause is to the success of a business.  When Leicester City won the Premiership at odds of 3000-1, it wasn’t because they had the best individual players or the best manager.  They won the title because they were the team that worked most efficiently together.  

Teamwork efficiency graphic

Finally, without the clarity of marketing strategy, the business can not run efficiently.  Resource, money and time will be wasted on activities.  It could be a business is investing in completely the wrong activity.  It could be the right activity, but the wrong messaging.  Alternatively, it could be the right activity but aimed at the wrong target market. 

What deepens the problem even more is that, often a business without a strategic approach to marketing, will not even be tracking performance accurately.  This could ultimately end up costing the businesses thousands in wasted budget, which they could have identified much earlier with the correct tracking processes in place.

So, before you dismiss strategic marketing as only being relevant to larger companies, with big budgets, consider some of the points we have raised.  When you think about it, it all makes logical sense.  Marketing strategy is a crucial element to any business that is looking to grow profitably.

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Ian is the founder of Opportunity Marketing marketing, with over 18 years of experience in successfully setting up marketing departments, creating marketing strategies and implementing these strategies across a wide number of SME companies in both the B2B and B2C sectors through a variety of channels.