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A Common-Sense Approach to Marketing Strategy: Part 1 - How to do the useful stuff you need to do and ignore the rest

Paul Whitney

Managing Director
24/11/2021

A good marketing strategy is vital for delivering business growth. In this first blog, we’re discussing why a gap analysis is a great starting point for developing a marketing strategy to take your business to where you want to be.

A recent survey asked more than 400 elite CMOs and senior marketers what capabilities they felt would be most vital in the next 18 months. Thankfully, these were grown-up marketers, so they didn’t spout any nonsense or any of the current sparkly trends that distract lesser marketers (note: if it’s a trend, it’s not a strategy – a strategy is something that takes you to a different place to your competitors).

As the Harvard Business academic, Michael Porter said, strategy is:

“...the creation of a unique and valuable position involving a different set of activities”

A company that is strategically positioned... “performs different activities from its rivals or performs the same activities in different ways”

Anyway - a full third of these elite marketers pointed to Brand Strategy as the most crucial capability. A further 22% said Strategy Development and Planning. 14% said Multichannel Marketing Strategy and Orchestration. In short, the 3 key words that most top marketers feel are most crucial to their job are strategy, strategy and strategy.

marketing-strategy-p1.jpg

Source: Gartner CMO Survey 2020

But how do you create a market-changing strategy that will take you to profitable, clear blue water, away from your competitors? And how do you wade through all the useless marketing textbooks and just extract the stuff you need and discard the rubbish?

To misquote Bill Shankly, “Marketing is a simple business, made complicated by fools”. Remember that historically, most marketing textbooks are written by men whose experience is in packaged goods, so their experience may or may not be relevant to you. Then consider that they’re very often looking in a rear-view mirror, looking back over their successes, ignoring their failures and applying their theories only to the cases where they were proved to work. Much of the time, they’ll have met with modest or no success – but that doesn’t sell books.

Which means most marketing theories work on some products, in some markets, on some of their customers, some of the time. Which is why people get marketing effectiveness awards for response rates as low as 3%!

Our job at Hallidays is to help you pick out the useful stuff and discard the theories that will drain your time and your money.

Whilst marketing tools such as SWOT, PESTEL and AIDA can be a great starting point, we’d recommend not relying on them solely. Why? Because these tools can either oversimplify a complex situation, add unnecessary complexity to a simple situation, or drain your resources into areas that don’t return any benefit.

So in the coming weeks, we’re going to concentrate on three key areas:

  1. DIAGNOSIS: defining the business problem or opportunity – where do we want to get to?
  2. STRATEGY: How do we plan to get there? Where To Play – How To Win (WTP-HTW)
  3. TACTICS: The details of how we get there.

Now, if you’ve done some marketing training, you might be familiar with SOSTAC – the planning framework that gets you thinking about Situation analysis, Objectives, Strategy, Tactics, Activities and Control. This is just a simplified version of that.

But how useful are SWOT and PESTEL? We would argue, not very. Doing a PESTEL analysis demands you make a list of all the Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental and Legal factors which may affect your business this year. Then your SWOT analysis sets out a list of your company’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Strengths. Both of which give you a nice feeling of doing something that feels useful, uses up plenty of time and gives you a piece of paper to point at. But ask anyone who’s ever done one whether any blinding insights have ever come out of it and you’ll be met with slack-jawed stares.

Which, given the millions of hours spent prepping and reviewing SWOT and PESTEL analyses, is pretty damning. Strengths and Weaknesses are only strengths and weaknesses in the context of your HTW. For instance, “Huge Product Range” is a strength if your HTW is about universal appeal, but it’s probably not if your HTW is fast, reliable delivery. And at the start of the process, you’ve no idea what HTW you will eventually decide on – so your SWOT and PESTEL are just rabbit holes that waste resources and distract you from building and testing a logical strategy.

Far better to start with a Gap Analysis – what’s the difference between where we want to be, and what possible causes might explain the gap? This gives you a focused, straight-to-the-point analysis upon which you can build solid objectives, upon which you can build a sound strategy, from which you can hang firm tactics, which will take you to where you want to be.

In the next instalment, we’ll tell you how to prepare a common-sense Diagnosis, fit for the real world in which you do business. We’ll tell you how to set SMART objectives, target the right customers, build a funnel and set a realistic budget to achieve your goals.

How Hallidays can support you

If you’d like to discuss any of the content covered in this blog, please get in touch with our business advisers by calling 0161 476 8276 or email hello@hallidays.co.uk.

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