We read businesses, marketers, CMOs, and authors writing about marketing strategy, about which strategies are working and which aren't. But have we ever asked, "what is the purpose of marketing strategy?"
Defining Marketing Strategy
For the purposes of this article, let's define strategy using the standard definition in Leading Innovation:
Strategy is the menu. Tactics are the cookbook.
Why Marketing Strategy?
In digital marketing, our environment is constantly changing. Yesterday's SEO methods might be completely contrary to today's, as has happened many times. Yesterday's guidance on how to effectively use Facebook might change a minute after I publish this blog post thanks to a News Feed algorithm change. In that sort of environment of unpredictable, frequent change, it's not out of the question to ponder why we need strategy as digital marketers. Wouldn't it be better just to focus on keeping our tactics current, rather than worry about strategy?
In short, no. Strategy is essential because it serves two core purposes: repeatability and scale.
Marketing Strategy Is Repeatable
Strategy is reusable. It may require adjustment or modification, but having a strategy as a starting point makes it easier to replicate results. Without strategy, we have to re-invent the wheel every time we want to do something. A strategy gives us a template for where to start the next time a similar problem appears.
If we use the analogy of strategy as a menu, think about what a menu is. It's a repeatable process, a repeatable framework. If, for example, our Thanksgiving holiday dinner menu is always turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, corn, and pumpkin pie, then we don't have to reinvent the wheel every year. We might change our methods, our recipes, but the core plan remains the same.
As marketers, our marketing menu probably looks similar from quarter to quarter. We work towards a similar outcome, usually brand awareness or lead generation, and we have a variety of "dishes" we prepare, from email marketing to SEO to social media to content marketing to even old methods like newspapers. Our marketing recipes change frequently, but the menu is more or less the same, which means we are free to spend more time improving our recipes than figuring out what belongs on the menu every week/month/quarter/year.
Marketing Strategy is Scalable
Once a strategy is robust enough to be repeated, we take it to the next level: scale. A good marketing strategy is scalable, meaning someone else can use it - another employee, another team, another division of the company. If we have a great mobile marketing strategy in our part of the company, wouldn't it be powerful if the entire company adopted it for all our products and services? If we found a tactic that worked in content marketing, why wouldn't we see if it applied to our entire marketing mix?
Consider the Thanksgiving menu example. Suppose we were on vacation the week before Thanksgiving and we hadn't thought through our holiday dinner. If our next-door neighbor gave us their menu, wouldn't that be helpful? When time is at a premium, having a menu to work from relieves a tremendous burden on us. Instead of having to focus on the why and what, we simply focus on the how, on making the recipes. The menu scales to serve twice as many households. Next, imagine our neighbor's menu was a hit. Suppose we then shared it with the rest of our relatives? The menu scales up to help many homes prepare great dinners.
In marketing, effective strategy that scales is worth its weight in gold. As with the cooking example, we will be free to focus our energy and efforts on making the strategy work or improving it, rather than spending too much time deciding what the strategy should be. This is why having a Golden Cookbook is so essential. With it, our strategies scale to meet any size problem.
Repeatability and Scale Provide Growth
When we repeat and scale our effective marketing strategies, we grow. We amplify our impact. We increase the value of the work we do. We strengthen our competitive advantage. We achieve our marketing goals.
As you build your marketing plan for the coming year, make repeatability and scale key parts of how you design your marketing strategy.
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