The importance of a marketing strategy

How to avoid the common pitfalls in strategic planning

Most business owners I have met lately ask me at the first meeting “What do you think we should do?” or “What do you think the best platform is to use?” I feel it really is the last thing that businesses should be focused on, yet it always seems to be their first.

The quick-fix marketing strategy is not the solution

Business owners today are looking for quick answers to how they should be promoting themselves on the latest platform. For the marketer who doesn’t yet know the ins and outs of the business, it’s almost like wearing a blindfold and being asked to describe what you are seeing!

I’ve met business owners who say, “I’ve spent money on new websites and on this and that, but it doesn’t work, what are we doing wrong? What do you think we should do differently?” It’s not surprising, though, as unfortunately a lot of businesses have been sold the idea that they need to spend money on Google Ads and social media. They think that the way to grow their business is by promoting it on a new magical digital platform that will yield more clients by just spending a few dollars. On the flipside, however, business owners can end up spending a lot of money with very limited results and could in fact get the wrong leads and not land clients or improve the business sales after all.

Many companies out there are selling quick-fix digital strategies that are far too shallow and only focus on the campaign elements or tactics and platforms. This is not a real marketing strategy – at best it is just a promotional campaign and messaging strategy. It’s like the old spaghetti-on-the-wall test – throw it and hope something will stick.

Any marketer worth their salt should never feel pressured to give a 10-minute quick fix answer or opinion on what platform or messaging to use.

There needs to be a shift in thinking and approach, both from business owners and people in “marketing” to give more respect to the craft of planning and the time it takes to understand all the facets of a business that will help to create a clear strategy.

Approach to a real marketing strategy

Strategy has become a very overused term, but its power should certainly not be underestimated. The most successful brands and businesses, both small and large, have a solid plan. And like any other robust plan, a marketing strategy takes time to be crafted well, so as to be effective. Stop before you think “A marketing strategy would be nice to have but I need sales now” or “We can get to strategies later; right now let’s focus on a quick fix to drive the business”. But you don’t call up your mechanic and ask them to tell you what’s wrong with your car before anyone has looked under the hood, do you?

When creating a marketing strategy it is much the same: we start with understanding the issues and thinking about how you can solve customer problems and then work with the leaders to translate this into a marketing plan. A marketing strategy is crafted through a solid understanding of the business, its customers and the marketplace opportunities and challenges.

“Like any other robust plan, a marketing strategy takes time to be crafted well, so as to be effective.”

The strategy is then translated into a communications plan complete with different digital and non-digital tools, platforms and activities to support the strategy. Marketing is all encompassing – it works hand in hand with various other areas of the business: sales/business development, finance and operations. For sales, marketing provides the air cover while sales deliver the strike.

For finance, marketing needs to understand the margins and develop pricing accordingly. For operations, marketing needs to understand the marketplace and ensure they are focused on what they do well and find other market opportunities.

Measuring the plan

Planning and measurement don’t work without each other. One of the key elements within a marketing plan is measurement. And just as the old saying goes, what you don’t plan you can’t measure!

At times the measures may be obvious, like number of new customer enquiries. Other times, they can be hard to lay down. If you’re stumped, ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • What causes a particular goal to be reached?
  • What causes increased sales?
  • What causes operations to improve?
  • What causes an increase in market share?
  • What causes customer satisfaction?
  • What causes employee satisfaction?

For certain businesses, it may also be worthwhile breaking down the measurements into more meaningful categories:

  • Efficiency measures: these measures are productivity and cost effectiveness measured as ratio of outputs per inputs.
  • Outcomes measures: these measures are the end result of whether services meet proposed targets or standards and demonstrate impact and benefit of activities.
  • Quality measures: these measures gauge effectiveness of expectations and generally show improvement in accuracy, reliability, courtesy, competence, responsiveness and compliance.

Once your overall marketing strategy is in place, it will outline the long-term and short-term goals of the business and provide a clear understanding of what needs to be done and when. Now, when actually implementing the strategy, as a business, you need to ensure your message is consistent and that your brand is managed effectively.

This where the digital marketing strategy comes into play – it is the blueprint for all your communications activity and direction. It provides the roadmap to help consistent communications.

A bespoke written plan specific to your business needs, just as we craft at Digital White Space, provides an outline of goals and measures to ensure there is a marketing return on investment.

So stop looking for quick fixes and invest your resources into a bespoke strategic plan!

Angela Mellak MCIM, director and strategist, Digital Women’s Network

This story first appeared in issue 22 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine.

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