You May Not Have a Marketing Strategy if… Part One

In this lightning-fast technology business, all too often the marketing strategy is just “Do something.” Executing is certainly essential, but having a clear vision while operating at high speed is also a pretty good idea. Effective navigation is equally as important as speed.

A lot of companies don't have a marketing strategy. I have no statistics on this, but I see way too many companies without one. My estimate is 9 out of 10 are lacking a truly competitive marketing strategy. Their Websites are a good giveaway, because the information there reflects no strategy or a very fragmented one. Fragmented strategy is no strategy.

In testing whether there's a marketing strategy in positioning, branding, pricing, and other strategic factors, most tech brands fail. All too often, top executives can't provide a solid reason for the things they are doing and can't explain easily and simply why their marketing will result in superior performance.

Sometimes the main reason behind the failure to have a great marketing strategy is simply that the CEO doesn't get it.

When asked, “What is your strategy?” most CEOs insist they have one and will probably whip out a giant PowerPoint presentation. Occasionally there's a slide titled “Our Strategy.” And even more occasionally, there's substance behind this slide demonstrating how the brand is differentiated and how the company brings value that competitors cannot match. Most of the time, it doesn't.

Other key indicators of a missing marketing strategy include the following:

  1. You lack a sharp focus . Strategy is about narrowing choices about what you do, what you don't do, and how you want to be known in the market. Mini, maker of the Mini Cooper, is focused on small, quick, stylish cars. No SUVs, no trucks, no sedans. Compare that with the Chevrolet brand. What is a Chevy? It's a sedan, an economy car, a sports car, a truck, and an SUV. Little wonder the brand has been in trouble for years. The good news is that focusing doesn't mean you can't sell other things. It means you are very clear about what you want to be known for, and you emphasize that difference in everything you do and say.

    Lots of brands, including many in the tech sector, can't resist the Chevy-like line extension. Companies get into unrelated or marginally related businesses typically for growth's sake, rather than to create more customer value and satisfaction. They're catering to stockholders, not customers. As a result, they wind up with too many or even competing strategic directions, which neither turn profits nor create corporate focus. One of the first things Steve Jobs did following his return to {complink 379|Apple Inc.} was kill off about a dozen different models of printers. He remains renowned for his ability to say “No” to ideas he saw as off strategy.

  2. You are doing the same thing every year . If your strategy continually fits into what the company is already doing, you don't have a strategy. There's nothing wrong with being consistent if what you're doing is an effective, organized group of competitive actions moving the company toward its goals. Unfortunately, a strategy based on habit too often results in cloudy, dull direction, because it's meaningless and provides little if any perspective on what's essential to achieving business goals.

In the concluding part of this blog, I will discuss three other factors that demonstrate the absence of a comprehensive marketing strategy.

23 comments on “You May Not Have a Marketing Strategy if… Part One

  1. AnalyzeThis
    November 4, 2011

    Ford, I actually agree with your estimate that 9 out of 10 companies are lacking a truly competitive marketing strategy.

    I personally would guess that out of those 9, you'd probably get around 3 that would say, “oh, we don't need to do marketing.”

    Most of the companies I've worked at, in fact, did not do anything even remotely significant in terms of marketing. They relied on word-of-mouth or viral promotion not initiated by anyone officially employed by the company (just fans, for lack of a better term).

    There are some out there that believe that a great product or service doesn't really need to be marketed because word-of-mouth is free and commonly believed to be the most effective marketing strategy.

    Now I'm not saying I share that opinion, but Ford, what would you say to someone who doesn't see the need to have a marketing strategy at all?

  2. Wale Bakare
    November 4, 2011

    Good article Ford.

    There are some out there that believe that a great product or service doesn't really need to be marketed because word-of-mouth is free and commonly believed to be the most effective marketing strategy.

    In as much as i like the write up, i partly share from DennisQ's assertions. Why? Marketing strategy can only add more to sales and revenues but once is not happening companies can only be limited to their niche market.

    I dont think i have ever come across any form of marketing or advertisements from the following:

    1 – ExxonMobile, Chevron, Shell, Total and other players in the field of oil and gas

    2 –  Luxury car makers such as Rolls Royce, Lambrougini or Burgatti

    3-   Apple maker of iphone and ipad




  3. Ford Kanzler
    November 4, 2011

    Dennis – Thank for the question. I get that one  from people a lot with a tech background, who love their product and believe a path will be beaten to their web site by people craving their products.

    The quick answer is: How much faster might you create business success,however you care to define it, by employing an organized approach to promoting your brand and products? Certainly nothing wrong with word-of-mouth, which any marketing effort (on or off line) seeks to create. The problem with it is when it fades and it always does.Reliance on any single form of promotion to sustain a brand is poor management.

    Another answer is, your competitors, who are investing and applying an effective marketing strategy and tactics are going to eat you for lunch! You can also row a boat with one oar and an arm tied behind your back as well, perhaps with a crowd of your admirers cheering. But why?

  4. Ford Kanzler
    November 4, 2011

    Wale – I'm unclear on what' smeant in your second paragraph. However, I assure you that ExonMible, Shell, Lambo, Roll Royce, Bugatti, and especially Apple spend a bundle on advertising. That you haven't come across their promotional efforts tells me you're eaithe rliving rather remotely and/or not being exposed to the media they're using to promote themselves. Here in the SF Bay Area we see Apple's billboards (very expensive) for iPads as well as periodic TV advertising. That's likely just the tip of the iceberg.Shell sponsors Formua I auto racing as well as advertises gllobally.Guessing you're reading the wrong publications to miss some of  the other high-end product marketers.

  5. Eldredge
    November 4, 2011

    The word-of-mouth approach sometimes work if you just want to maintain a current level of business, but a more aggressive marekting strategy is needed to promote significant, sustainable growth.

  6. Wale Bakare
    November 4, 2011

    Thanks Ford. What i was trying to pass across, with or without all those sponsorships, market still huge for the likes of Shell, Total and Chevron on daily basis.

  7. Ford Kanzler
    November 4, 2011

    Wale – Yes. The market is huge for those brands and if one on them didn't compete with the others for mindshare with a marketing investment, that company would lose market share and not be around much longer.

  8. prabhakar_deosthali
    November 5, 2011

    It is possible that many a companies may have the marketing strategy ,but will not disclose it to keep their competitors guessing. So when explicitly asked their management may give evasive answers but they will be secretly working on strageies to counter their competition.

    Similarly Many a companies are strong followers. So these companies first see the moves by their leader competitors and plan their strategy in line so that they also get a share of the market created by the market leaders. Their marketing strategy can be summed up in one sentence – Follow the leader. The example of AMD in their earlier years  can be given as the strong followers of Intel.


  9. Ford Kanzler
    November 5, 2011

    Marketing strategy should typically be company confidential. It will become obvious to competitors once you start executing tactics. However, whatever market position your brand is in, it still needs a strategy. From “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing” by Jack Trout and Al Reis “If you are shooting for second place, your strategy is determined by the leader.”

  10. Mary Jefferson
    November 6, 2011

    Ford – I couldn't agree with your comments more. Especially the part about doing the same things over and over again – even without any tracking statistics to support their strategies. It's amazing how so many companies are reluctant to try something new. Or to shake things up a little bit. I just recently posted a blog on the subject – I also agree with Dennis about how many businesses do not market at all! It's hard to convince companies that if they want to grow, they need a marketing strategy – especially now in this economic climate.  

  11. Ford Kanzler
    November 6, 2011

    Mary – Yes, and what's even more amazing is how few companies create clear differentiation in their communications. I won't repeat my comments from the April post on claiming something significant or valualbe to customers -

    The “no marketing” problem is often driven by a cost orientation rather than an investment one. If Marketing is a cost (like rent?) then so is R&D. They both create payback and you lose without doing both

    I'll ask all this column's readers to stop and think about what's your marketing strategy? Can you explain it? Can most of the people in your company? If not there likely isn't one working.

  12. Taimoor Zubar
    November 7, 2011

    I think many a times companies do have to cater to certain product lines even if they do not fit in the overall strategy in order to maintain profitability. In the case of HP, when it decided to shut it's PC business, it did face a lot of criticisms and eventually the company had to roll back the strategy.

    November 7, 2011

    Great article……I always like:

    – aim to be no. 1 or 2 in your field and don't go there if you cannot achieve this

    – get rid of all unnecessary activity that detracts from that goal

    – communicate throughout the organization so everyone is marching to the same beat.

  14. Tim Votapka
    November 8, 2011

    Great post on marketing strategy. Definitely some “out points” in place out there among too many companies. For one thing, people are not encouraged to think strategically. Most likely this is due to the fact that strategy implies long-term, pan-determined thinking and that can be difficult to achieve when so many are living check to check, or are not incented to think along those wavelengths. Another factor is the existence of arbitrary orders or data. In other words, people who don't understand the mechanics of marketing strategy will dub in their own interpretations. In in the absence of well-written policy, you'll have instances where folks will literally fill in their own ideas that may or may not contribute to the intended strategy of the group. That can be deadly as it's often difficult to spot.

    Looking forward to the next post on this.

  15. Ford Kanzler
    November 8, 2011

    Tvotapka – The key challenge after a strategy is developed, is educating the organization, not keeping communcation strategy a secret and also tracking or testing variouos tactics against the strategy. If the tactic does't reinforce or support the desired perceptions and include or reference at least one of the key messages, then its off strategy and needs correcting. This includes directing external resources such ad, PR, web copy writers to assure they're all on the same page.(Pun intended) Once you've got it, then use it…consistently. Is your organization expressing itself in a consistent, competitively-diferentiated way in all its marketing communications?

  16. arenasolutions
    November 8, 2011

    From my experience working with a variety of engineering organizations, part of the problem stems from the fact that many engineers dont value marketing. They think it's something anyone can do, that requires little skills (and of course the real work is in designing and building the product.) So in engineering-dominated start ups, there can be this focus on design, and marketing sort of gets left behind.

    Has anyone else experienced this?

  17. Tim Votapka
    November 8, 2011

    Absolutely. One of the tools we use in consulting is something called a hat pack. This is a written document that contains all of the vital data about a post. It spells out the primary purposes, targets, products and statistics relevant to that post. It also identifies where the post is in relation to the rest of the org board. One policy we often insist upon is a random spot check to be sure staff members are on that same page as you say and that their efforts in alignment with the purpose of the group as a whole. The spot check isn't anything elaborate, it's simply a quick two minute check out in by a supervisor or senior. “What's your product?” “What's the purpose of your post?” “What's the valuable final product of your area?” A quick, certain answer indicates good communication has been in place. A lag means something was missed and needs quick, but thorough clean up on anything misunderstood.

  18. Ford Kanzler
    November 8, 2011

    That says it. Unfortunately even when some tech companies grow, the affects of that kind of ignorance and arrogance and resulting under investment in marketing often continue hurting business progress. There is “real work” in designing the product. Great product ideas come from effective marketing and engineering collaboration. However, discounting the “real work” of marketing and sales is ultimately bad management. Could be one of the reasons why you don't see overwhelming marketing brilliance coming from very many tech marketers. There certainly are notable exceptions from brands that do get that marketing makes a difference. I'm sure you can think of a few and that's exactly the point. The ones that are marketing well, AND creating great products, carve out a reputation that makes them winners.

    Who are your candidates for B2B tech marketing experts? I'll elect Intel. It took them some years but they got it. Who else?

  19. arenasolutions
    November 8, 2011

    Well obviously Apple, but that was the easy out. 

  20. JADEN
    November 9, 2011

    Marketing strategy is an essential task that must be continually undertaken.  For instance, shifting market conditions, including changing customer needs and competitive threats, almost always insure that what worked in the past will not work in the future, thus require strategy and revisions in how products are marketed.

  21. Anne
    November 9, 2011

    A company with no marketing strategies is like having no objectives because it is the strategies that helps to achieves objectives.  Marketing strategies help to achieve corporate objectives and corportate objectives aim to achieve competitive advantage over rival companies.

  22. Tim Votapka
    November 10, 2011

    Marketing lesson: Take this bit of advice from Radio Shack's experience as described in an article by Advertising Age.

    RadioShack began asking those consumers what they wanted, reaching out via its blog and social media. The response was swift.

  23. Ford Kanzler
    November 10, 2011

    Tvotapka – We're getting into another topic. Yes. Engage with customers and listen but also realize oftne they may not kow what they want. Incremental improvements, particularly in service can come from customers' ideas. But they're not the only source and sometimes their ideas can take a company down the wrong path.

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