In sports, if you don't have a goal, and a vision for how to get there, then all you're doing is kicking (hitting or throwing) a ball around a field. Purpose, strategy and measurements for success (market share, turnover, profit) are as vital in business as they are on the pitch. However, the goals are more personal, the purpose is evolving, and the strategy often becomes outdated, especially in established companies with several years' success.
In its purest state, marketing is an intrinsic part of the strategy needed to keep a company relevant, successful, and moving forwards. It is the thing that makes the numbers possible, and yet often, it is not given due consideration. It may be that such a plan is laid out when a company first begins, or in some cases, it is never a formalised action plan with measures, checks and balances.
Whether you're an established business that wants to remain at the forefront of its industry or a scale-up looking to get ahead of larger competitors, the strategy is something that all businesses should be referring back to regularly and reviewing annually if they want to achieve a meaningful market share.
What does 'strategy' really mean?
Strategy is integral to a business plan; it is an intrinsic part of who, why, where, when, how and how much you sell.
Revered Austrian management consultant, educator, and author, Peter Drucker wrote that the purpose of a strategy is to enable an organisation to achieve its desired results in an unpredictable environment. Contrary to what "everybody knows," strategy is not about achieving results in a known and foreseeable environment but in an environment that is unknown and unforeseeable.
American academic Michael Porter, known for his Five Forces, defines strategy as a competitive position, "deliberately choosing a different set of activities to deliver a unique mix of value." In other words, you need to understand your competitors and the market you've chosen to determine how your business should react.
American marketing author, consultant, and professor, Philip Kotler of North-Western University defines marketing strategy as: "the basic approach that the business unit will use to attain its goals and which comprises elaborate decisions (strategies) on largest markets, market positioning and mix and marketing expenditure allocation.”
Turning theory into a strategy to achieve market share
Putting together an actionable business strategy comes down to answering four key questions and revisiting them each year with a combination of experienced wisdom, informed judgement, outside perspective and market insight.
- Where are we now?
- What business should we be in?
- How do we get there?
- How do we know we've arrived?
There's a lot of thinking that goes into a strategy, defining what you're doing and what you plan to do. The vision provides the framework that you are going to operate in and by which you will make your decisions.
Where are we now?
This is a question that requires you to look at the market and the business with insight and honesty. It is not just about you, but your customer, their wants and needs, what they're missing, what you intended to deliver and what you are providing. Where do you and your business fit into the market? How are you differentiated? Where do you expect your customers to come from?
What business should we be in?
In answering this question, you need to take a serious look at your business model and do a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). Is your business model still relevant? Is it still going to be relevant in a year or five years? What's changing in the market? What are the gaps in the market?
Tesla is a brand that does this in exemplary style. They had a clear strategy not just to produce something but to change the environment as well. They know the electric battery is at the heart of their strategy, and that separates them because all other automotive businesses are dependent on the old combustion engine supply chain.
How do we get there?
This is where you have your marketing strategy and your marketing plan with its marketing goals and objectives - what you're actively doing to move things ahead. Marketing management shows its strength here. It is the management of the goals and objectives to achieve the strategy.
How do we know we've arrived?
This isn't necessarily about an end goal, but it might be the end of a phase or a now outdated strategy. It's an often-overlooked marketing strategy area, but it's important to have a measuring system for when goals have been achieved or to work out if they are achievable. It will also inform whether a strategy needs to change because a goal has been completed or the strategy isn't working.
Historically, market share was one of the only tangible ways to measure success. Today we have a myriad of tools, technologies and techniques to measure all kinds of targets. It's easy to forget how empowering that is. To some extent, we take it for granted, but technology gives us the power to measure to track leading indicators not just those which tell us where we have been.
Marketing strategies inspire new possibilities
It is not uncommon under any circumstances for businesses to become detached from their business strategy. However, over the last year, many organisations have been operating under the weight of either disastrous or overwhelming business performance and enormous pressure to pivot at short notice and in a very short-term, reactionary environment.
As we finally seem to have a path beyond Covid-19, it's time to remember that reviewing a business strategy is an opportunity to envisage an exciting new future. Take a look at the landscape and dream about new possibilities. It is about taking a vision and putting the stepping stones in place to achieve it.
Bobby Kennedy was a strategic planner who was known for turning dreams into reality, so perhaps it's best summed up in his words: "Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not."
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