This is the most important word in marketing

important word in marketing

Yes, there is a most important word in marketing!

It’s not “niche” or “differentiation,” or even “conversion.” But before I reveal this important word, will you allow me to tell you a little story that illustrates my point?

You will? Of course you will. You really have no choice do you?

The most important word in marketing

A few years ago, I helped a business selling highly engineered metal parts to the aerospace market. A new competitor on the West Coast stunned my customer by taking nearly all of the lucrative California customer business—about one-third of the total market—in just a year.

“What are you going to do about this?” I asked the marketing manager.

“Well, we’re the market leader, and we’re going to go after it and get it all back,” he said. “We’re going to cut the price and sink the competition.”

Sounds like a rational plan, right?

After I conducted some research, here’s what I learned:

  • The competitor had newer, more efficient equipment and a lower-cost non-union workforce — a significant cost advantage over my customer.
  • The California-based competitor went after the West Coast market because it also had a shipping cost advantage over my Midwest-based client. The parts were heavy and expensive to ship, so shipping to nearby customers was more profitable.
  • The end customers usually required long-term supply contracts, so the West Coast business was probably lost for a number of years. Cutting the price wouldn’t matter in the near term.
  • My customer dominated the Midwest market, where it had a shipping advantage and long-term contracts of its own.
  • Customers in Europe were also extraordinarily loyal to my customer. We weren’t sure why, but they never seemed to switch from our supply.

Although a knee-jerk marketing instinct might be to cut the price and regain that market share, that plan seems foolish after looking at the facts, right?

In every business, for every product, you’re dealt a certain hand of cards and your job is to figure out to maneuver.

Maneuver is the most important word in marketing.

The maneuver

100 percent human contentIf the marketing manager went charging back into the California market, he could not possibly compete on price. He might even start a disastrous price war that would lead the competition to lower their prices in our backyard in the Midwest.

As the market leader, my customer needed to exert discipline and look for another way to maneuver. He could not maneuver on price. He could not maneuver by sending in the cavalry to re-take the California market, at least for now.

We needed to defend the Midwest market, grow the loyal European market (and find out why we had an advantage there), and then look toward long-term equipment modernization. Long-term, we needed to consider a disruptive West Coast location with even newer technology that would allow us to compete long-term (they eventually built a plant in Nevada).

Creating strategic leverage

The number one priority for a marketing professional is determining how your company can best maneuver in any market situation. Is it through product development, investment in branding, being the low-cost leader, developing a new distribution channel, or even through social media promotional prominence?

The key to successful marketing is figuring out where to create strategic leverage against your competition — the maneuver. While marketing might seem overwhelming and complicated, it’s not. Chances are, your business is extremely limited in how it can exert market power. Your strategy is usually pre-determined by factors such as:

  • Your competitive position in the industry (leader? new entry?)
  • Growth rate of the industry
  • Entry barriers
  • Nature of competition (is it fierce? Is it cozy?)
  • Technological disruptions
  • Customer buying trends
  • Regulations
  • Globalization
    … and other factors.

So, the most important word in marketing is “maneuver.” Determining where you have room to maneuver in your marketplace aligns all the pieces of your marketing strategy and tactics.

How do you learn to maneuver?

The word maneuver is more often associated with the military than marketing. Martin van Creveld identified six main elements of maneuver warfare:

  1. Tempo – A key to victory is making appropriate decisions faster than the opponent.
  2. Focal Point – Striking the enemy at the right place at the right time.
  3. Surprise – Develop an unexpected or unusual plan.
  4. Combined Arms – Strategic optimization of resources.
  5. Flexibility – Planning and preparation to account for rapid shifts in the market.
  6. Decentralized Command – Leadership must enable lower levels in the organization to respond and react independently to rapidly shifting developments.

It seems like a military maneuver and a marketing maneuver are similar. To win, you can’t copy the competitor. You have to be aware, fast, nimble, and surprising.

This seems like such a simple concept, but it’s often overlooked by marketers obsessed with diving into the latest TikTok trend or AI prompt. Many companies create marketing initiatives simply because competitors are doing it. That’s not a maneuver. That’s copying that will get you nowhere.

Maneuvering into the future

My book Cumulative Advantage is about building momentum for your ideas, life, and business. In that book, I covered the concept of “the seam.” A seam is a fracture in the status quo, a change that creates new un-met and under-served customer needs. Every seam is an opportunity to maneuver, and there are a lot of seams out there right now!

Step back from the daily grind for a moment. Re-assess the competitive landscape. What seams are occurring in your niche, and how will you maneuver?

Need a keynote speaker? Mark Schaefer is the most trusted voice in marketing. Your conference guests will buzz about his insights long after your event! Mark is the author of some of the world’s bestselling marketing books, a college educator, and an advisor to many of the world’s largest brands. Contact Mark to have him bring a fun, meaningful, and memorable presentation to your company event or conference.

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