Crafting a Marketing Strategy that Doesn’t Suck

And How to Weed Out a Bad One

Photo by Nathan Bingle on Unsplash
Photo by Nathan Bingle on Unsplash

Ask people to enumerate the first things that come to mind when you ask them the question: What do marketers do? And the answers are likely to be a subset of the following:

  • Advertising,
  • websites,
  • viral content,
  • social media influencers,
  • celebrity sponsorships,
  • promotional campaigns,
  • events,
  • millennials (who are becoming passé, so thank goodness, you don’t hear this one so often anymore).

These are all very good and valid marketing deliverables (with the possible exception of millennials), but they are tactical deliverables, and heavy on promotion. They should do a fine job in helping your business achieve its goals, provided they are determined after the strategy has been set.

The answers to this little exercise also hint at the fact that one can find a lot of bad marketing out there. Fortunately, most bad marketing is also easy to spot: Beware the marketers that prescribe promotional or advertising activities without the strategy that explains the why behind such prescriptions.

In other words, beware the marketers who haven’t done their homework.

A Marketer’s Homework

It is easy to fall into the trap of bad marketing because, in organizations, the Marketing Function’s most visible deliverables are promotions and advertising.

This is because of the four Ps in the Marketing Mix, the Marketing Function, usually has more ownership of Promotion but has to collaborate, often as a junior partner, with other functions to determine Price, Place, & Product. So typically, there is pressure for marketers to start showing value by delivering their own P (promotion) quickly, and the rush to do so can be done to the detriment of strategic rigor.

“Marketers are not gurus, they are a toolbox,” my old marketing professor used to say.

At the outset, good marketers don’t pretend to know who the best customer is, nor what she wants, nor whether a digital display or a TV advertising campaign is going to perform better. What they do know, is a systematic way to find out. They do their homework, then the rest follows.

So, a marketers’ job is to answer the question: What is the optimal marketing mix with which to position your value proposition in the market, given our understanding of who our customer is?

A systematic way to answer this question, and hence the start of good marketing, can look something like this:

Photo by the Author
Photo by the Author

First, in order to create a Customer Value Proposition, a company needs to know who its potential customers are. That’s achieved through Segmentation.

Next, the company needs to decide which segment, or segments it has a relative advantage in serving, be it due to some unique characteristic of its product or operations, or competitors’ relative weakness in said segment. This is called Targeting.

Then, the company needs to take the Customer Value Proposition to market. This is called Positioning, and it is accomplished by determining the optimal Marketing Mix: What is the solution for the customer need, or Product. How much you plan to charge them, or Price. How you plan to distribute it, or Place. And finally, how you will make your customer aware of your product’s existence or, Promotion.

Notice how Promotion is the last of all Ps we mentioned.

That’s because it follows the others. Good marketers don’t jump into promotion without knowing what they are promoting and to whom. So, another way to describe a bad marketer is: It’s a marketer who’s putting the cart before the horse.

When to Focus on Promotion

Now, let us get back to the reality of many organizations. You have a small advertising budget. Perhaps it’s your only marketing budget for the quarter. Your CEO and the rest of the organization demand results now. I can’t possibly afford to go through this Marketing Strategy Framework, you think to yourself.

You can’t afford not to.

Marketing’s goal, like most other business disciplines, is ultimately about achieving its goals through an efficient allocation of capital into business activities. So none of the above means that the marketing strategy process needs to be disproportionally expensive. On the contrary, it is to ensure that there is no waste of resources, by eliminating targets where there is bad customer-proposition fit, or would be too expensive to reach or serve, and enabling the crafting of a message that has the highest chance to convert your targeted customer.

The key concept here is proportionality. If your budget is small, you don’t need to hire a media agency to do a full market segmentation research for you. You can, for example, use Google Trends to find the search volumes for keywords related to your product or their users to get an idea of segments and their size within a particular geographical area. You can also use Google Adwords to find out the cost per click for the keywords that interest you, a good proxy for the relative competitiveness within a segment. Both tools are free to use for research, even you do not ultimately advertise on Google.

Once you have an idea of the segment you want to target and you have crafted your message, test it. You can grab the proverbial man in the street or perform a mom test. If possible, do try and select testers who are representative of your target. Usually, between three to five such tests will uncover most glaring issues.

Finally, you can also research by trial and error. If you have no data whatsoever to go by, probe the market by doing your (usually digital in this case) ads and promotions in small batches. Such probing creates data points that will eventually reveal patterns that allow you to optimize and improve your performance.

If you do so, the important thing to keep in mind is the Marketing Framework, and what levers you have at your disposal to optimize your results:

  • Segmentation,
  • targeting, and
  • positioning.

Positioning can further be optimized by adjusting the Four Ps of Marketing Mix:

  • Product,
  • price,
  • place, and
  • promotion.

Invest proportionally in securing that you have the answers that will allow you to judiciously plan and evaluate your promotional activities. At a minimum, craft a working hypothesis of who you will address, what goals you want to achieve, and what levers you will apply to achieve those goals, so that you can follow up by measuring the results, compare them to expectations, and plan next steps to improve your performance.

And for those with small budgets, there are plentiful tools and techniques that are free to use, as we have discussed. There really is no excuse for not using them.

Assessing a Marketing Strategy

Maybe you are not a marketer yourself, but are in charge of deciding whether or not to approve a marketing plan that has been presented to you. Then the two questions that strategy should answer are:

  • Who is your audience, and how and why did you pick it?
    These are the segments into which you divided our potential market, which one(s) you selected, and why.
  • How will you address this segment?
    Deploying the four Ps of the Marketing Mix. What is your product or value proposition, how you will price it, what are your channels to market, and how you will let our target audience about your product.

Now, there really is no excuse for adopting a bad marketing strategy.

Original story first published in Medium.

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