Your marketing strategy is not a decision. It’s decided for you

marketing strategy

By Mark Schaefer

I get a lot of requests every day from people who want to “pick my brain.”

I can’t possibly spend so much time giving free advice, and yet I’m a softie who hates to tell people “no!” So I created a place on my site where people can buy an hour of my time and get instant marketing advice for a small amount of money. This decision has had two results.

First, indeed it works! 90 percent of the people who seek free advice from me go away and I can still be kind about it.

Second, the 10 percent who sign up because they value my time has provided an endlessly fascinating challenge. It’s fun working with so many diverse businesses and a dizzying array of marketing problems. While this is not part of my core revenue stream, it allows any business owner or fan from the blog to get a piece of my time. And I enjoy staying touch with people in the “marketing trenches.” It’s a way for me to learn, too.

Most of the time, the core issue these business leaders face boils down to one problem: There are so many overwhelming marketing options, they don’t know where to start. I’ve been offering this service for more than three years and I have a 100 percent success rate at helping people get on track.

Here’s my secret to success:

I demonstrate that there really aren’t that many marketing options at all. In fact, most of the time your market strategy is dictated to you and you have little or no choice about what you need to do grow your business.

The dictated marketing strategy

Every good marketing strategy begins with research and data. And the first task should be a comprehensive study to determine where you fit in your market eco-system. I help businesses think through factors like:

Competitive position. Are you the leader? A follower? A disrupter? Do people buy from you because you’re the only option?

The way you go to market is often pre-determined, in part, by the position you occupy in the marketplace. For example, Chevy has been running comparison ads against the market leader in truck sales, Ford. That is a classic approach for a company that is a follower, but usually not something you would do as a leader.

Rules of engagement. Are your competitors killing each other with discounts and aggressive sales strategies (like car dealers), or is there a country club-like atmosphere where each company has found a way to co-exist (like dentists)?

Entry barriers. Is there a high threat of constant technological disruption (like in retail) or a low one (like the timber industry). Is it easy to start a company to compete with you, or is there a high barrier from costs, patents, infrastructure, etc.?

Source of growth. Is your growth coming from organic demand (like global smartphone sales) or by taking marketshare in a fairly fixed or declining marketplace (like milk consumption).

Speed of innovation. Is your profitability tied to the ability to constantly iterate and create new products (like food and packaging), or is to eke out profits by focusing on business efficiency (like generic drugs).

Customer acquisition. How do you acquire your customers today? Is that changing? Is there room for innovation? Do your competitors have a digital presence? Is personal selling a critical component? Advertising? Is SEO the key to growth?

Regulatory environment. Do laws and regulations dictate how you can go to market (like wealth advisors) or is it an open market (like yoga instructors).

Supply chain and distribution channels. Are there opportunities to gain a competitive advantage through new ways to create your product and fulfill orders? In my case, I have innovated by giving people access to trusted marketing advice at a push of a PayPal button. Amazon is an example of a business growing through supply chain and distribution innovation. Whatever company is first with drone deliveries will certainly have an edge.

Finding your “beacon”

The general areas you need to explore vary according to the structure of your industry, but by walking through these factors, it quickly becomes apparent that your marketing options are not arrayed like a complex spider web. No, they look more like an illuminated beacon at the end of a runway! The fact is, for most businesses, there are only one or two ways to go. For my customers, discovering this truth is liberating!

The real complexity may come in on the execution side. How do you choose to innovate and enact the strategy once you have focused on your primary option?

But in terms of WHAT you do, it’s probably not as complicated as you think. Focus on where you can actually maneuver in your marketplace, rather than on the large number of options that probably won’t make a material difference to your business.

What do you think about these ideas? What am I missing that would help explain the dynamics in your business?

SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon. 

Illustration courtesy Flickr CC and Ben Garney.

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