A marketing strategy is the “what” and “how” to build a sustainable value chain framed for a target customer. A powerful marketing strategy needs to be able to manufacture desire, amplify the underlying value proposition, and build a brand that feels unique in the mind of its customers.
- How has marketing changed in the digital era?
- The impact of digitalization on marketing strategy
- Globalization’s impact on marketing strategy
- Technological innovation and consumer behavior
- Moore’s Law impact on marketing strategy
- Business model innovation impact on marketing strategy
- Marketing strategy vs. marketing plan
- Key forces behind an effective marketing strategy
- Types of marketing strategies and channels
- Business models as marketing strategies
- Key takeaway
How has marketing changed in the digital era?
Marketing has changed over the years, and it has undergone a profound change in the last two decades due to forces that have changed the business world.
Some of those forces can be summarized as:
- Technological Innovation.
- Moore’s Law.
- Business Model Innovation.
As we’ll see those forces have changed the way we do marketing. However, the underlying psychological forces that shape our minds are still the foundation of a powerful and effective marketing strategy.
And we’ll see how they affect and need to be taken into account, especially in today’s marketing, where engineering trying to rationalize it might make it ineffective.
Digital businesses have become critical players in the marketplace, which has also, in part, changed the logic of business itself.
Where in the past, a good marketing strategy might have meant developing a good product or service. Nowadays, with the rise of customer-centric platforms, having must-have products is really the baseline.
In the era of mass-media marketing (driven by TV and Radio) it was possible to manufacture desire, by creating cultural stereotypes to generate demand for products.
While a few companies like Nike have successfully transitioned through the digital age, by using strategies like influencer marketing to stimulate the demand of its products, by leveraging on cultural memes.
Digital platforms, with a customer-centric approach, have changed the way we conceive marketing. Thus, a platform to be successful has to push as much as possible on customer experience through engineering and product development. Thus, the common mantra today is that if you can build a product sticky enough, people will get back.
However, while digital platforms have changed the way we can interact with potential customers. Better customer experience is indeed the domain of manufacturing design, and aligning those design with your brand.
In short, a brand that drives growth by the sheer force of engineering might gain traction in the short-term, but it might not be strong enough to survive in the long-run
In consumers’ industries, while offering lower prices, comparisons, and options are the ways in which digital platforms are mostly breaking down the traditional trade-off between value (you charge more by offering more) and cost advantage (you charge less by offering a standardized service), what can be defined as a blue ocean strategy.
Today, digital platforms can also offer more at a lower cost. That’s because digital platforms usually don’t own the assets they sell (a classic example is how Airbnb doesn’t own the homes it rents).
In this era, marketing becomes integrated more and more in product development, and engineering processes (disciplines like Growth Hacking look at breaking down the silos in traditional department structures so that engineers and marketers can work together as a growth team).
But it’s important to highlight that marketers are also required to be able to deeply understand the customers they want to talk to.
And as new tools for audience segmentation become available those same marketers can deliver the message to specific intents and smaller and smaller segments. But those messages need to be framed to be understood by the target audience.
In other words, marketers have powerful weapons which if used sparingly can have a big impact on a company’s long-term value.
A media business that publishes an article, which is an instant has the potential to reach hundreds of countries across the world, it has also to be able to deliver that message to each of those locations.
At the same time, the potential access to a global community might give the impression that distribution has become an easy game in the digital era. That is just that, an impression. Building up a proper distribution strategy is just as hard as it has always been.
A message can get easily lost into the Facebook algorithm. A piece of content properly written can get easily lost into Google’s ranking algorithms. And a product distributed across an existing platform can become easily commoditized (think of how users can easily compare products on Amazon).
In short, Globalization works as a double-edged sword, where on the one hand requires a deeper (not provincial) understanding of your potential audience.
While on the other hand, it requires a powerful distribution strategy to get your message across and make sure that in the billions of users available on the web you reach those few hundreds to which your message can resonate.
In this era, it is also important how to frame a message to make it fit the platform desired format. For instance, in an era where platforms like Google, Instagram, TikTok, and others compete for snippets of our attention, understanding what formats work best for each platform is a critical element to give the message maximum amplification.
Technological innovation and consumer behavior
If you haven’t realized it yet, technologies affect our behaviors or more precisely certain behaviors can be amplified through technologies. As a thought experiment, what’s the first thing you do in the morning, as soon as you open your eyes?
Chances are you’ll probably pick up your smartphone, to either go on social media or engage with someone in a digital manner. That might sound trivial. Yet just a couple of decades ago that was unthinkable.
One of the effects of those technologies is to change our habits and the way we do things. If we used to consume most content on a TV screen, now for younger generations might feel normal to consume content on devices that are a few inches wide.
That makes the experience different and also its perception. Armed with that the marketer needs to know how to deliver a message in the format that fits the medium and thus its audience.
That is why among the most effective marketing strategies, that of creating several formats to spread a message might work. For instance, if you wrote an article for the blog, if that article has proved successful why not make an audio version for that or a video that might get more easily shared on social media.
By repurposing the same content on several formats you can also fit it into several media and make sure you give people options to consume content as they like.
For instance, I personally love reading.
But I also realize not anyone does like reading, or find reading efficiently. Therefore, I also launched my own podcast and an online business school that can help people consume content at their own pace, and in the formats, they like the most.
Again if you’re a marketer you might want to create options for your audience. The foundation is great content. And if that content can be delivered in several formats, and delivered across different channels without it losing its intrinsic quality that you’re also creating more options for your audience.
In short, technological innovation changes the way people behave and consume content, thus the way we might need to communicate. But it also creates for us more opportunities to reach our desired audience.
But once again, you need to make sure not to forget that as a marketer you need to make the message compelling, and unique, so that the story told by your brand resonates.
Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, in a paper, back in 1965 foresee how in the coming decade the numbers of components would double every year. Just to confirm this prediction a decade later, but this time the doubling rate would be every two years.
This heuristic would prove quite powerful. And this is also one of the reasons why computers kept becoming more and more powerful in the digital age. And that also affected the rise of certain business models.
For instance, before Netflix would be able to roll out the on-demand content consumption model its founder had in mind, the company had to wait a decade before technology would pick up to that.
But once it did, Netflix became a streaming content company in a blink of an eye and outside its optimistic forecasts.
When new technologies become mature enough they also enable marketers new ways to communicate, which makes more and more options available. That availability of options might make markets lose focus and dilute their strategy.
However, a focused marketer can take advantage of those new media to spread the message effectively.
The web-enabled new ways of doing business. Business modeling once a sleepy beast, it woke up suddenly when the web became commercially viable. Companies like Google and Amazon proved that by building tech empires.
For instance, take the case of a platform business model, which relies on network effects to grow. A marketer to enable a successful strategy should execute that on top of the platform developed by the company’s engineering team.
While marketers need to know how to work with engineers to build growth tools that make the brand go viral. Those same marketers also need to make sure to preserve their discipline by keeping creativity at the center.
Creativity is about loosely held assumptions, tested quickly, and sometimes with what might seem to engineers as “clumsiness” and as counterintuitive, yet for that reason effective.
From a marketing strategy, a marketing plan can be derived. However, where the marketing strategy might be defined as the “what” of an organization, a marketing plan is the “how-to” get that marketing strategy into action.
Therefore, a marketing strategy will have a broader understanding and a long-term view compared to a marketing plan. The marketing strategy allows the creation of a value proposition and all the elements that characterize a brand, which by nature have a longer life span.
Indeed, while a company might change its essential elements and value proposition to adapt to market changes, those market changes depending on the industry might happen every few years to a decade.
Therefore, the primary difference between the marketing strategy and the marketing plan can be generalized to the broader difference between a strategy and a plan. The strategy informs the “what” and investigates the “why.” A plan is all about the “how-to” get there.
From the “what” and “how” the implementation and execution phase takes traction. Indeed, if you had the proper strategy and derived from it an adequate plan, this should make it way easier to take action.
Focused but authentic
In many cases, the failure of a strategy might be due to a lack of focus. A marketing strategy informs a marketing plan that narrows down its focus to a target that can be hit with the maximum precision.
This kind of approach works for startups and companies with a minimum marketing budget. Once you scale, and you have a substantial marketing budget, that is when it becomes critical to manufacturing desire.
Being focused doesn’t mean you don’t have to work on your brand story. Quite the opposite. As you’re a small player you won’t need to spend huge marketing budgets for your story to be appreciated by your potential audience.
Large companies and tech giants need to spend billions on distribution and to make millions or billions of people “believe” their brand story.
As a niche player, you can be authentic, as your values, your organization values, and your customers’ values are aligned.
Specific but flexible
However, flexibility is essential, as actions identified might not work out in the real world, you want to allow tests, experiments, and actions that have a wide spectrum, as you might be surprised to find out that something completely counter-intuitive works.
Measurable but not metric-enslaved
Metrics are helpful to assess whether a strategy is working or not. However, it’s important not to fall into measuring vanity metrics (metrics that don’t have any impact on the business) or misleading metrics.
Indeed, each time you’re using a new metric you need to make sure it impacts the business. For that matter, two or three key metrics might do the job, rather than having dozens of useless metrics.
At the same time, even a simpler approach where you measure impact (a 10X approach on results for tests and experiments you perform) might solve any doubt on whether or not a strategy is working.
What other threats you might want to be aware of?
Beware of the “data scientist mindset” (do not try to make marketing too “SMART”)
In a digital world, where, so far engineering and programming are the protagonists, marketing becomes relegated to being S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely), as marketers try to become data scientists.
Those approaches and methodologies try to reduce marketing to a linear process to follow. Yet human behavior, the pillar of any marketing activity, is not linear. It follows a logic that goes beyond logic itself.
In an interview for MarketingWeek, sports brand’s global media director, Simon Peel explained how Adidas overinvested in digital advertising channels, as those were easily to track in terms of performance.
In short, Adidas, like many other companies assumed that digital channels, as trackable would enable it to drive most of its sales.
Yet by looking at the data with a more holistic approach, Adidas found out that in reality was the brand activities that drove Adidas sales across wholesale, retail and e-commerce. As Simon Peel highlighted for MarketingWeek:
The reason for that is short-termism because we are trying to grow sales very quickly,
And he also added:
We had a problem that we were focusing on the wrong metrics, the short-term, because we have fiduciary responsibility to shareholders.
Adidas had used an attribution model borrowed from digital platforms (like Goole Ads, or Facebook Ads) which primarily tracked the last mile the consumer wen through, as this is the easiest to track, which led to short-termism.
That doesn’t mean digital channels can’t be used to build a brand, but when you focus on the wrong metrics (most of the metrics which are easily available to measurement) that is how your marketing becomes ineffective, irrelevant, and your brand gets diluted.
As such, the great marketer will need to treasure creativity as the most important asset. Where most marketers in the digital world convert in data scientists, those that keep an artistic profile will make a difference in the business world.
Marketers are persuaders
It might sound like an exaggeration, and after all, some digital marketing channels (take a technical marketing activity, like SEO) might not seem suited to generate dreams and drive action. However, you don’t need to lose focus on what marketing is.
On that Seth Godin can help us:
If you need to persuade someone to take action, you’re doing marketing.
Distribution is the volume of your message
In order for a message to be heard it needs to be amplified. Distribution is the volume. While in many cases you don’t need a higher volume to make your message resonate (sometimes whispered messages might work more effectively).
In a crowded space, you have two options to increase the volume or change the frequency. If you don’t have a choice you might want to increase the volume. If you do have a choice it’s important to find the distribution channel that can vehicle your message effectively.
The Context is the message
A marketing message to work has to be in fit with the context. A message that makes sense in a context, might not in another. Understanding the context in which your audience is when experiencing the message is critical.
That is why today’s technology is powerful. It enables marketers to feel the context of the audience. Where mass media required marketers to frame messages that could be compelling for all, but for such reason ineffective. Today’s marketers can frame a message to make it resonate.
Perspective and frame of mind
In life, perspective is all we got. The same event happening to different people, interpreted – thus framed in a different way, can bring wholly different outcomes. There might be a few things that are objectively bad.
For all the rest perspective and framing help us go through anything. As a marketer, you have the power of framing in your hands. If you know how to use it, you can help your customers frame their life for the better, that is how you become a source of inspiration for them. Framing though is a powerful weapon, and as a marketer, you must use it ethically!
Types of marketing strategies and channels
Digital marketing consists of taking actions and crafting a value proposition that gets delivered via digital devices (smartphones, computers, and any other digital device).
Within digital marketing, there are many other types of marketing channels to experiment. For instance, in the Bullseye framework, and in the book Traction, Gabriel Weinberg highlights 19 primary channels for creating a distribution, delivering your message and execute your marketing strategy.
In the book, these are the identified 19 channels for growth:
- Targeting Blogs
- Unconventional PR
- Search Engine Marketing
- Social and Display Ads
- Offline Ads
- Search Engine Optimization
- Content Marketing
- Email Marketing
- Viral Marketing
- Engineering as Marketing
- Business Development
- Affiliate Programs
- Existing Platforms
- Trade Shows
- Offline Events
- Speaking Engagements
- Community Building
Those are just some of the types of existing channels and I’m sure that we can find several classification methods, and lists.
Byt the key point here is about making sure to communicate properly your value proposition and in a way that gets through your desired audience.
Each of these types of marketing requires a specific strategy and execution. However, it is important not to get bogged down in details and focus on the types of marketing that can connect your business to its customers.
Business models as marketing strategies
Also, Brunello Cucinelli Humanistic Enterprise isn’t only a business model but a marketing strategy. That shouldn’t surprise you, as among the critical elements of a business model there is its value proposition and how it gets delivered.
Also Amazon cash machine business model made it possible for the company to offer a wide variety of goods at a lower price, while still generating cash to sustain and quickly grow its operations.
And Apple reversed razor and blade allowed it to make its beautifully crafted devices, like the iPhone, not only perceived as luxury items but also extremely useful, with its iTunes and App Store.
Other companies, like Google hidden revenue generation, has made it possible to deliver a free search engine to billion of users while monetizing via advertising.
Marketing is changing and it’s is getting shaped by forces such as digitalization, globalization and business model innovation. That also implies an understanding of the current landscape to anticipate how the business world might be changing as well.
However, marketing is primarily about understanding hidden psychological levers, to manufacture desires, and build a strong brand that is unique for your tribe.
Marketers that lose sight of that are leaving immense opportunities to build a valuable brand that drives change for its tribe.
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