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What is Marketing Strategy?

The other day, I was having coffee with a small group of marketing leaders and consultants and the conversation turned to the question of, “What is Marketing Strategy?” Some of the responses were uncertain. Smart, accomplished marketers responded with “I’m not quite sure.” It occurred to me—if we, a group of marketing leaders don’t know how to describe marketing strategy, our leadership teams and departmental peers don’t know either.

I see this lack of clarity show up almost every time I start working with a new client. Much of the proposal phase and first couple of weeks of work is usually spent educating the leadership team on the role of marketing and its priorities. This gap in understanding of what marketing strategy is and the role of marketing in a business often manifests as internal marketing resources underutilized and overworked. Junior marketers get pulled into administrative tasks, making presentations pretty, and updating headshots on the website, when they should be spending time on things like market research, customers interviews, and revising and refining your company’s message. This situation isn’t anyone’s fault, but if you want your business to grow and your marketing team to be effective, it’s important that we all get clear on the question “what is marketing strategy?”

The reality is that marketing has evolved so fast over the past 20 years, and even faster over the past decade that we’re all trying to find our footing. For a long time, marketing was either PR, advertising, or events. The internet changed everything, from how companies communicate to how buyers buy. New technologies like CRM, marketing automation, and machine learning have created a demand for more technical and operational marketers, and the evolution of more sophisticated reporting and analytics have altered how we target, test, and optimize marketing efforts. And, everything changes so quickly, that marketers are learning as we go. There is no handbook. And if there is, and it was published last week, it’s already out of date.

This has many of us chasing tactics and the latest social media fad. That isn’t marketing strategy. Instead, to get to the core of marketing strategy, we have to quiet the noise of everything I just mentioned and go back to basics. Marketing strategy is the answer to these three questions:

  1. What are we selling? What product or service are you providing that creates value for your customer?

  2. Who are we selling to? Important note - the answer is not everybody and should be more specific than you probably think.

  3. How are we selling it? This answer will define your marketing channels, messaging, and positioning.

You might read these questions and think “Duh.” But I encounter companies who can’t answer these questions more often than those who can. If you have clear answers to these three questions, you have a strategy. And, with a strategy, your marketing planning, budget, and approach will become clear and your marketing team will be more effective and happier. As long as you’re clear on what you’re selling, who you’re selling to, and how you’re selling it—and you don’t change your answers to these questions every three or six months—you’ll be in a better position than 50 percent of businesses.