I’m a strategic marketer. When I’m asked what I do for a living people quite often just hear ‘marketing’ and proceed to ask me about websites, brochures and advertising.

Whilst the communications and promotional side of marketing is very visible it’s not necessarily, in my opinion, what makes a business successful.

People like to use the term ‘strategic’ because they think it sounds impressive. Only a relatively small number of agencies or marketing specialists truly understand and deliver ‘strategic’ marketing.

See also: The seven essential elements of an effective marketing plan

Strategic marketing is all about the bit that goes on way before we even start to think about how to manipulate the marketing mix (web, SEO, social media, advertising, PR, printed collateral).

Strategic marketing is about establishing a basis for competing in the chosen market place. It is about how businesses differentiate themselves from the competition by understanding, developing and capitalising on their strengths.

The first thing that a business should identify is a goal, their reason for doing what they’re doing (clue – it’s rarely about money. If your sole reason for creating a business is to create wealth then chances are you will fail). What is it that you want to achieve? What are the outputs? Alongside achieving your ‘goal’, most businesses will want a combination of growth in financial terms and an element of visibility in your chosen markets. Of course, in order to achieve any of this we have to look at a number of key elements to establish where, and how, the business will compete. This is strategic marketing.

  1. The competitive marketplace

Developing a picture of the competitive marketplace is imperative to success, and means undertaking some ‘market research.’ It doesn’t have to be complex or long winded. Quite often, most of what a business needs to understand is already available in-house. Staff can play a vital role in helping to define a market, especially those staff in front line positions who are regularly meeting with, and talking to, clients and customers. It’s important that staff are given a channel to feedback information to those undertaking ongoing strategic planning.

See also: Why a competitor analysis is worth its weight in gold

Information about the marketplace, customers, competitors and pricing can be backed up with industry reports and news items, which all contribute to developing an informed picture of the current competitive landscape in which a business wishes to compete, as well as predicting future trends and issues as they arise.

  1. The products and/or services which the firm offers

Usually, a business will already have been competing in a marketplace with some products or services. On occasion these products or services have been developed because of the skills of the business selling them; the product is developed first, then the business sets out to find customers – this approach is not ideal. It can lead to time, money and resource being spent developing products and services that no one wants to buy.

Smart businesses will develop products and/or services which are specifically designed with customers in mind. Businesses spot a niche and develop a product or service to fill the void or solve a problem removing the customers pain.

Both of these approaches can be successful, but what a business definitely needs to do is to keep innovating, keep adapting their offering in line with industry movements, technology and changes in what a customer wants. Not responding to these external forces is a sure-fire way of running a business into trouble.

Businesses need to understand their products (or services) and why they are successful. They need to have a dialogue with their customers which is both reactive and proactive.

  1. Defining the target audience

In marketing speak this is all about ‘segmentation, targeting and positioning’. It’s about understanding all we can about our target audience and engaging with them in order to be able to further develop products and services to meet their needs.

See also: Identifying your target audience

Businesses should match their strengths to a target group of customers and then set about influencing these customers by promoting their key strengths and the unique characteristics of their products.

  1. Pricing

An effective pricing strategy is clearly going to pay dividends for any business. It is however amazing how many businesses do not consider pricing strategically.

For example, I have worked in the Private Healthcare sector. I had one client who 20 years previously had set his pricing by saying, ‘What does he charge down the road?’ And, ‘We’ll go somewhere in the middle.’

Minor inflationary changes since that time had increased pricing but no thought had gone into market forces and why prices were set as they were. I undertook a pricing study and found that some key services were being delivered unknowingly at, or below, cost. Now if that had been a conscious decision then I might say fine – a loss leader to get people through the door can work. But there is no excuse for not knowing what your cost base is and how that affects the pricing decisions that are made.

  1. Strategic branding

Branding is so much more than a logo. It should encompass your businesses vision and values. Visual identity should tell a story, it should resonate with your target audience for reasons that have been thought through and can be understood. When you tell your brand story there should be a moment where people go ‘Ahh, I get it.’

All too often logos are developed at the whim of the seasons pantone colour chart or latest font. Make sure your brand works for you and tells your story.

See also: Is your brand up to scratch?

Often the work I undertake as a strategic marketer will lead to significant changes in the way that businesses operate. By establishing the basis upon which businesses compete this also drives changes in the way that they are perceived externally too.

At such a time that a business has considered its strategic position, and undertaken some strategic planning I would suggest that then, and only then, do they seek a marketing management or marketing communications team to develop and deliver a marketing plan – which is of course based on the strategy.

This enables businesses to more effectively measure success and to hold those being tasked with delivery accountable to their strategic plan. No ‘marketing’ should take place without consideration of how it contributes to the overall vision and ‘goal’ of the business.

Strategic planning needn’t be complex or time consuming, but in order to achieve a business’s goals I believe it is an essential part of the planning process.

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