What is Strategic Marketing?

Elephant on ball- smStrategic marketing goes by a lot of other terms: business strategy, customer discovery, business planning, etc. But regardless of what you call it, the fundamentals are the same.

One way to dive into the question “What is strategic marketing?” is to think simply define marketing. The American Marketing Association defines marketing as:

Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.

To me the AMA definition sounds like something written by a committee. My definition of marketing is simply:

Marketing is a conversation with customers and users about value.

This definition has many layers. As with all good conversations it starts with listening. The process of listening to customers can be as simple as reading comments on a blog and as complex as a Bayesian clustering exercise combined with a conjoint pricing study. Ultimately, your tactical tool box for listening should include a variety of techniques that you can deploy in different situations.

The other side of the conversation is communicating value to customers. From the decisions on features and functionality to the basic positioning of your product to how benefits are articulated, content on a website, press coverage, pricing and graphical design, there are wide range of ways that marketers communicate the value of their products.

A good conversation goes back and forth — as everyone learns about each other and about themselves. It’s the same with good marketing. The conversation goes back and forth developing and changing over time as each party’s understanding of value shifts.

Getting into this conversation can be systematic, and that’s how this blog is organized. Each section has posts on the fundamental topics of strategic marketing:

1. Customer Discovery
2. User Discovery
3. Competitive Strategy
4. Product Planning
5. Pricing & Editions
6. Positioning & Messaging
7. Customer Acquisition
8. Communication Strategy

1. Customer Discovery

Customer discovery used to be called market research and analysis, and it still is in most industries. But the tech start-up world has started calling it “customer discovery,” which conveniently mirrors product development.

The term was coined by Steven Blank in Four Steps to Epiphany, a great book and a must read. Steven defines customer discovery as a process of “finding a market for your product.” The idea is that most start-ups being with a product idea, and to make it successful they need to find a market.

Whether you call it customer discovery or market analysis and do it before you build the product, after, or during, the questions are the same and they include fundamental issues:

Who are your customers?
What do they value?
How can you segment them?
How do acquire them?

Understanding the answers to these questions is the very bedrock of creating a business strategy. If this foundation is weak, the rest of the house will never holdup. There is a common trope that some of the greatest innovators distain market research. For the most part, they just miss that they are doing it in a different way, and I’ll talk more about that in other blogs.

2. User Discovery

In another post I break down the difference between users and customers. Simply put: users use the product; customers buy it. Of course, the reality is more nuanced.

Before “customer discovery” became the de jour term for understanding markets the process of figuring out what users wanted was usually called user-centered design or user experience design, or any range of other similar terms. Now “user discovery” fits nicely with customer discovery, and the techniques are critical to building products that people passionately love to use.

3. Competitive Strategy

Some might argue that business strategy and competitive strategy are one in the same — the plan for how you’re going to win in the market. But it’s convenient to break this out and look at how one researches competition and more importantly builds a strategy for beating the competition.

Ultimately, growth and profitability come from creating sustainable competitive differentiation, and all the other aspects of a business strategy lead to this core achievement.

4. Product Planning

One way or another, your product needs to create value for customers and meet user needs (it’s even better if it delights users). Product planning is all about the mechanisms that help get market insight into the product design.

5. Pricing & Editions

Perhaps the most powerful way to “talk” with customers about value is through price. Building a great pricing strategy is difficult. It requires first creating a value-based segmentation of your market, estimating economic value, analyzing reference pricing, finding ways to differentiate products between value-based segments, and a lot of testing.

6. Positioning & Messaging

In the remarkably over saturated world of information we live in today, no product can survive if it is not clearly positioned in the minds of potential customers. While it may be your whole world, your product isn’t the only thing your customers care about. For them to give it attention, they need a place for it in their mind. They also need to quickly and simply understand its value, and that goes to the very heart of good messaging.

7. Customer Acquisition

Almost all good businesses have customers. So how do you get them? What is the structure of your sales force? Do you have a channel that carries your product? How do prospective customers learn about your product and then become converted into buyers and passionate advocates? Answers to these questions will lead to a customer acquisition strategy (also sometimes called a “go-to-market” strategy).

8. Communication Strategy

Marketing communications is the other half of the marketing equation. It’s as rich and complicated a topic as strategic marketing. Understanding the nuances of how to implement ever tactic is not something that the business strategy needs to make sense of, but driving a mix of the right tactics and the right levels of investment is critical to successfully participating in the conversation with customers.

Every one of the 7 components of developing a business strategy involves research, analysis, innovation, decision making, and ongoing trial and error. Often the best answers are simple, but getting to them may be hard. In the end the work pays off. If you want your company to succeed, learn the techniques and use them wisely.

Comments

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  • Espen Sivertsen

    Like your article! But.. but… what happened to bullet # 5. Pricing & Editions? Would be interested in what you have to say about that!

  • NinethSense

    Waiting for “5. Pricing & Editions” :)
    Thank you for the article.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for catching this. I’ve updated the article to say a bit about pricing. More in the pricing section of the site.