As a digital marketing agency, we’re familiar with prospective clients coming to us and saying what they would like an agency to do for them. Although this sometimes might end up being in line with what we feel they actually need, it’s important to discover how they reached this idea initially. Has a member of the internal marketing team devised a strategy or has a member of the Board done some online research and come to a conclusions? Or, perhaps, are they fixated on ideas that are simply just the areas they’re most familiar with rather than a solid understanding of all the options?
Quite often, this is the case. However, before any tactics are agreed, a good, solid marketing strategy should always start with market orientation and research. And, even at that point, you are nowhere near ready to jump to the tactics you will carry out (even though this is what businesses will so often be eager to hear!).
After completing Marketing Week’s Mini MBA in Marketing earlier this year, I learned a lot about how to ensure we deliver marketing strategy correctly for our clients. By providing a holistic framework that looks at the business from multiple angles, our strategy team are then able to make recommendations based on what will be the most effective for our clients, which is sometimes not aligned with their initial brief.
Whether you’re looking to review your own marketing strategy or are just interested in hearing our approach, here’s where you should start, including our key insights into how to shape and define your marketing activity.
It starts with market orientation
Put simply, marketing can never be biased and no one should ever use a gut feeling to decide something about their target audience. Very often marketers don’t think they have the time to do proper consumer research but it is fundamental that this is part of the planning before any launch.
Often marketers feel they don’t have the money for research and will go on to spend a huge amount on comms for example, compared to which research would be a fraction of the cost. Actually, research doesn’t have to cost as much as people may think, and even some research done on a budget is better than none at all. What can often happen is fear, arrogance and/or assumptions stop market research from happening and money is spent on a product or service that just doesn’t resonate with the intended audience. So, you may be unintentionally setting yourself up to fail by missing this important step.
Market orientation simply means being market driven and customer-centric, and everything else can fall in place after that. To be market orientated, as defined by Benson P. Shapiro in the Harvard Business Review, it is to ensure:
- Information on all important buying influences permeates every corporate function
- Strategic and tactical decisions are made interfunctionally and interdivisionally
- Divisions and functions make well-coordinated decisions and execute them with a sense of commitment
There are some successful outliers to this approach that are interesting to mention. Steve Jobs and Henry Ford, the famous founders of Apple and Ford, notoriously started out by doing zero research and instead relied on predictive market orientation. Consumers at the time couldn’t have predicted a need for the products they invented. As the alleged (and now infamous) quote from Ford on his reasoning behind no consumer research goes, “if I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses” – understandable given that cars were infrequently used or indeed bought at the time.
However, Ford also said: “If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own”. With this in mind, it’s imperative that brands start with the consumer before any new product or service launch.
What comes next?
At this stage, it’s necessary to understand your audience better. Again, this is an area where often many assumptions are made by marketers. Market research is vital to your marketing strategy and must come before decisions around segmenting your audience and targeting those segments.
At Hallam, there are four key areas of research we explore as part of Strategy projects:
This takes the form of both qualitative conversational research and quantitative surveys of a larger representative sample of consumers to dig into the needs that specific consumers have and the problems they want to solve.
There is a whole spectrum of research areas when it comes to competitors from product and pricing to marketing activity, but the purpose of this research is to understand your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses in comparison to your own in order to find gaps in the market.
Speaking to those who live and breathe a company as part of their day-to-day can be one of the most valuable ways to understand a business, especially speaking to those who work in customer-facing roles. Your staff will understand your customers’ pain points better than anybody.
Having secondary research alongside your primary research is important; plus it’s readily available to us and in abundance with a lot to learn from online sources, from social media to 3rd party reports.
How to progress from here
With research under your belt, you are at a point to really embrace the customer complexity facing your business. You can now see that different customer types have different needs and when you start to group these customer types together, you have segmentation.
This means you can decide on which segments you want to target, considering which would be the most profitable for the business. This moves away from using averages and targeting an otherwise generic audience with the same message or same product which, in many cases, would be completely nonsensical. Imagine this to be like claiming that the average British citizen has one testicle; broadly speaking, it’s a correct average, but it’s also a wildly incorrect statement. Generic targeting such as this would be completely unhelpful if you were a company that designed underwear, for example.
At this stage of your marketing strategy, you are in a far better place to start making decisions around how you position your brand – and to whom. It is only after all of these things are established that you can safely plan your objectives and tactics for a business to really drive marketing success.
So, next time you’re reviewing your marketing strategy, be certain to check whether these foundations have been laid before the work is planned in. If not, then it’s definitely the best place to start.
Sounds like something your strategy is missing but don’t know where to start? We can help. Get in touch with our strategy team today.