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What are the ten questions for a better marketing strategy?

By Simon McEvoy

It seems the more tactics and channels marketers get hold of, the more quality strategic thinking suffers. This is a huge concern, as strategic thinking really, really matters.

The rigorous work of Les Binet and Peter Field with the IPA has identified long-term strategic thinking as the core driver of business effects from marketing.

Marketing which focuses only on bottom-of-the-funnel tactics may drive sales in the short-term, but fails to build a long-term pipeline, defend against competitors or create a price premium.

It’s not just the absence of strategy, but also ‘bad strategy’ which is an issue. Richard Rumelt in the imperious ‘Good Strategy / Bad Strategy’ identifies bad strategy as:

‘….incoherent and, sometimes, totally impracticable. It uses high-sounding words and phrases to hide these failings.’

Bad strategies fail to clearly address the competition, market trends, or identify where the brand has a true source of advantage. Bad strategy hands a huge head-start to a better competitor, not something many brands can afford to do.

The solution to bad strategic thinking is to ask the right questions and take time to identify the answers. In our latest e-book, we have identified the 10 questions which can help to tighten up any strategy and make it more market-oriented. These are:

  1. Is your strategy focused on beating the market?
  2. Does it leverage your true source of advantage?
  3. Is your segmentation model meaningful?
  4. Does your strategy help you ride trends?
  5. Do you have owned customer insight?
  6. Does it embrace uncertainty?
  7. What are you committed to, and where are you flexible?
  8. Are you wrong?
  9. Is there a commitment to act?
  10. Does your strategy have a plan?

Of course, there isn’t space to go into them all here – for that you need to read the book. But there are three that I want to touch on, as they set the tone for the work.

Is it focused on beating the market?

Whilst it might seem obvious to start with competitors, it’s amazing how often strategies ignore competitor moves and their relative strengths. Strategy documents are often a wish list of ‘things we’re going to do’ rather than thinking clearly about how to beat the competition.

It’s vital to think about competitors, because your customers do. People don’t like to make value judgements in isolation, so we are constantly comparing brands to competitors during the buying process.

As Phil Rosenzweig concludes in ‘The Halo Effect’, “Performance is relative…companies can never achieve success simply by following a given set of steps. Their success will always be affected by what rivals do.”

Every marketing strategy should start with a deep competitor analysis. What are competitors in-market messages? What are their SWOTs? What do customers think of them? How often do you share customers? How much do they spend? Are they poaching your people?

Is your segmentation model meaningful?

Marketing segmentation has become a controversial issue over the past few years due to the evidence presented by Byron Sharp and the Ehrenberg Bass Institute for Marketing Science, which shows that many demographic and attitudinal segmentation models are little more than guesswork and poor predictors of real-world buying behaviour.

However, this doesn’t mean we should do away with segmentation altogether. For most brands simply reaching ‘everyone’ is an unworkable strategy that risks spreading resources too thinly.

Some useful ways to segment customers that go beyond demographic or attitudinal are:

  • Job role (eg: Head of Finance)
  • Behavioural (eg: early morning snackers or bulk buyers)
  • Role in buying process (eg: buyer, user, influencer)
  • Buying profile (looking at buying frequency and patters)
  • Life stage (eg: work promotion, getting married)

These kinds of segments can help to identify new opportunities for repackaging existing services in new ways or reaching new markets that were previously not considered. And as they are based on real world customer behaviour, they will be better predictors of buying habits.

Do you have owned customer insight?

The final question I want to pull out here is about customer insight. We have an embarrassing array of customer insight tools available to us as marketers, giving us a quick window into the world which previous generations would be rightly envious of.

However, the downside of this readily available customer insight is that it encourages us to research from the comfort of a desk, never straying into the ‘real world’ to actually speak to real customers.

There are two big problems with this. The first is that this third-party data offers no privileged insight into our customers’ lives – it’s the same data our competitors can access. Second, we have no control over the veracity of these data sources. Important contextual information is often missing in the final report.

Therefore, it is vital that marketers commission their own research, and get into the field to validate it. Privileged insight informs meaningful segmentation and can find new positions of advantage your competitors have missed.

There are 7 more ‘Questions for an Unstoppable Marketing Strategy’ available via download for free in our short ebook here.

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