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.
The death of marketing as we knew it
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. – October 23, 2000 –Google Inc., developer of the award-winning Google search engine, today announced the immediate availability of AdWords(TM), a new program that enables any advertiser to purchase individualized and affordable keyword advertising that appears instantly on the google.com search results page. The AdWords program is an extension of Google’s premium sponsorship program announced in August. The expanded service is available on Google’s homepage or at the AdWords link at adwords.google.com, where users will find all the necessary design and reporting tools to get an online advertising campaign started.
This is how in 2000, Google announced the launch of its advertising machine, Google AdWords (it would become Google Ads by 2018).
While this was just the beginning of what would become the most potent advertising machine, it was also the beginning of the end of marketing.
In a few years, Google AdWords would completely replace Google Premium Sponsorships (a CPM-based program that placed sponsored links on Google’s search results).
Example of how Google placed sponsored links as part of the Google Premium Sponsorship Program on top of search results (Source and image credit: searchenginewatch.com).
Not only Google AdWords mainly removed the salesperson from the loop (at least on smaller accounts), but it also changed the whole revenue model from CPM (cost per mille, or number of impressions) to CPC (cost per click).
As Larry Page pointed out at the time “Google has carefully built and scaled the AdWords program to address the needs of any business by providing a one-stop resource that is affordable and easy to use,”
And he continued, “AdWords offers the most technologically advanced features available, enabling any advertiser to quickly design a flexible program that best fits its online marketing goals and budget.”
By 2003, as Google AdWords was fully rolled out the advertising revenues (coming from the self-serving advertising platform) snowballed, and went from over $66 million in 2001 to over $770 million in 2003 (FourWeekMBA research and analysis).
It was the beginning of last-mile advertising, with a new manifesto that we can summarize in a few core beliefs.
The core beliefs of markeneers
As Google advertising platform proved to be the most powerful machine ever created, where millions first, and then billions of people each day turned their eyeballs – drawn to the Moutain View’s white page.
Those eyeballs got directed toward blue links and ad results, which turned into clicks.
It was the beginning of last-mile advertising as the only form of acceptable marketing.
Ad platforms didn’t need any more salespeople or marketers but engineers. This is what I call marketeers (engineers turned marketers).
For marketeers, a few core beliefs drove this new world, some of them are:
- There is no marketing if there isn’t tracking.
- Every dollar spent should be a dollar accounted for.
- From the top of my mind to tap of fingers.
Marketers have convinced the world that marketing is an engineering endeavor. And yet here we want to reassess those beliefs.
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 follows:
- 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.
The impact of digitalization on marketing strategy
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 for its products and by leveraging 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, digital platforms have changed how we interact with potential customers.
Better customer experience is indeed the domain of manufacturing design and aligning those designs 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 how 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 is increasingly integrated into 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 understand the customers they want to talk to deeply.
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 must be framed to be understood by the target audience.
In other words, marketers have powerful weapons which, if used sparingly, can have a significant impact on a company’s long-term value.
Globalization’s impact on marketing strategy
Globalization might have accelerated in the last two decades as well. A marketing strategy that doesn’t take into account globalization might be short-sighted.
A media business that publishes an article, that in an instant has the potential to reach hundreds of countries across the world, 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 a proper distribution strategy is just as hard as it has always been.
A message can get easily lost in the Facebook algorithm.
A piece of content properly written can get easily lost in 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 ensure 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 to frame a message to 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 critical to give the maximum message 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 digitally.
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 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 a format that fits the medium and, thus, its audience.
That is why among the most effective marketing strategies, 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 reading or finds reading efficient.
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, 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 more opportunities for us 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.
Moore’s Law impact on marketing strategy
Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, in a paper, back in 1965, foresaw how in the coming decade, the numbers of components would double every year.
Just to confirm this prediction, a decade later, the doubling rate would be every two years.
This heuristic would prove quite powerful.
And this is also one of the reasons why computers keep becoming more and more powerful in the digital age.
And that also affected the rise of certain business models.
For instance, before Netflix could 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 to find 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 use those new media to spread the message effectively.
Business model innovation impact on marketing strategy
The web-enabled new ways of doing business. Business modeling was 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.
The most important takeaway for business model innovation is how it demands a new business playbook.
The web wasn’t just a new distribution or marketing channel. It required a new mindset.
While using the same marketing strategy and bringing it on several channels might amplify the message.
Its impact on your business might be limited in the long run.
As with a new business playbook, you would also need a fresh perspective on marketing strategy.
For instance, consider 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 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.
Marketing strategy vs. marketing plan
From a marketing strategy, a marketing plan can be derived.
Thus, a marketing plan takes the form of a document laying out the activities to undertake in the short, and medium term to implement and execute a marketing strategy.
Therefore, a marketing strategy will have a broader understanding and a long-term view compared to a marketing plan.
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” 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.
Key forces behind an effective marketing strategy
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.
Rather than boil the ocean, a good marketing strategy will allow you to identify the small pond where you can be a big fish.
Once you’ve dominated that small pond, you can move to a bigger one.
This approach works for startups and companies with a minimum marketing budget.
Once you scale and have a substantial marketing budget, 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 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.
Companies like Google and Amazon, seemingly engineering-driven, spent respectively $16.3 billion in sales and marketing and $13.8 billion in marketing alone in 2018.
As a niche player, you can be authentic, as your values, your organization’s values, and your customers’ values are aligned.
Specific but flexible
A marketing plan derived from a focused marketing strategy should have specific goals and actions.
That is also why marketing plans often include situation analyses (like SWOT).
Also, you want to be very specific in identifying a target market. And you want to make sure to set up clear objectives.
However, flexibility is essential, as the actions identified might not work out in the real world; you want to allow tests, experiments, and actions that have a broad spectrum, as you might be surprised to find out something completely counter-intuitive works.
Measurable but not metric-enslaved
Metrics help assess whether a strategy is working or not.
However, it’s essential not to fall into measuring vanity metrics (metrics that don’t impact the business) or misleading metrics.
Indeed, each time you use a new metric, you must ensure it impacts the business.
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 might you 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, the sports brand’s global media director, Simon Peel, explained how Adidas overinvested in digital advertising channels, as those were easy 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 Google Ads or Facebook Ads), which primarily tracked the last mile the consumer went 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.
Still, when you focus on the wrong metrics (most of the metrics which are readily available for measurement) that is how your marketing becomes ineffective and irrelevant, and your brand gets diluted.
As such, the great marketer will need to treasure creativity as the most critical 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
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 can 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 essential 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 one context might not be 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. Mass media requires marketers to frame messages that could be compelling for all but for such reasons, 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 differently- can bring wholly different outcomes. There might be a few objectively bad things.
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 is a powerful weapon, and as a marketer, you must use it ethically!
Types of marketing strategies and channels
There are as many types of marketing strategies as businesses out there. However, we’ll focus here on a primary marketing strategy: digital marketing.
Digital marketing involves taking action and crafting a value proposition delivered via digital devices (smartphones, computers, and any other digital device).
There are many other marketing channels to experiment with in digital marketing.
For instance, in the Bullseye framework and the book Traction, Gabriel Weinberg highlights 19 primary channels for creating a distribution, delivering your message, and executing 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 to your desired audience.
Each of these types of marketing requires a specific strategy and execution. However, it is essential not to get bogged down in details and focus on the types of marketing that can connect your business to its customers.
Marketing strategies examples
TOMS: when the one-for-one becomes an effective marketing strategy
As its value proposition is delivered through its business model.
In short, the one-for-one works as a powerful trademark for the brand, which not only helps TOMS deliver its value proposition more powerfully. It also helps it save on marketing expenses, as the brand is pushed forward by its one-for-one model.
Brunello Cucinelli: when humanism becomes a powerful trademark
Amazon: how a financial model translates into a growth/marketing strategy
Also, Amazon’s 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.
While this is a financial strategy integrated into its business model, it became mighty over the years.
In this case, Amazon better marketed itself by unlocking liquidity to grow the operational efficiency of the business.
Apple: when stores become the cathedrals of the brand
Over the years, Apple has built its stores worldwide in central locations. Many of those stores are now iconic monuments.
And yet, most of the sales Apple make is through indirect distribution channels (third-party stores, carriers, and cellular networks).
So why does Apple build its stores?
While this is quite an expensive branding strategy, yet very effective, another reason for having those stores is the ability of Apple to develop its line of services on top of its products and, in part, to control the overall experience of customers across the world.
- Marketing is changing, and it is getting shaped by forces such as digitalization, globalization, and business model innovation.
- That also implies understanding the current landscape to anticipate how the business world might be changing.
- For that matter, a proper marketing strategy must inform a marketing plan that helps a company focus on a target market and conquer it quickly.
- However, marketing is primarily about understanding hidden psychological levers, manufacturing desires, and building a solid 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 their tribe.
Business pro tips
In a world where former startups turned into incumbents, controlling vast portions of the digital landscape, it becomes important to understand the logic behind those giants and build a valuable business on top of them!
Gain traction in the gatekeepers era
Leverage on digital distribution
Surf the giants
Build your brand
- Evolution of Marketing Strategy:
- Marketing strategy involves creating a sustainable value chain for a target customer.
- A powerful strategy must manufacture desire, amplify the value proposition, and build a unique brand.
- Introduction of Google AdWords:
- In 2000, Google launched AdWords, allowing advertisers to buy keyword advertising on its search results page.
- Google AdWords evolved into Google Ads, changing the revenue model from CPM to CPC.
- Transformation of Marketing:
- Google AdWords marked a shift towards last-mile advertising.
- Engineering-focused marketing (markeneers) emerged, emphasizing tracking and accountability.
- Forces Shaping Marketing:
- Digitalization, globalization, technological innovation, Moore’s Law, and business model innovation have transformed marketing.
- Impact of Digitalization:
- Digital business models leverage technology to enhance customer acquisition and value proposition.
- Customer-centric platforms emphasize creating must-have products and experiences.
- Globalization’s Influence:
- Globalization requires understanding diverse audiences and effective distribution strategies.
- Effective messaging fits platform formats and resonates with targeted audiences.
- Technological Innovation and Consumer Behavior:
- Technologies change habits and content consumption behaviors.
- Adapting content formats to platforms can enhance message delivery.
- Moore’s Law and Business Model Innovation:
- Technological advancements enable new business models and marketing opportunities.
- New technologies drive innovation, create options, and influence communication.
- Key Elements of Effective Marketing Strategy:
- Focused and authentic strategies resonate with specific audiences.
- Flexibility allows for experimentation and adaptation to real-world results.
- Metrics must impact business and avoid vanity metrics.
- Creativity remains essential in an engineering-driven marketing landscape.
Marketing Strategy vs. Marketing Plan:
- A marketing strategy defines “what” and “why,” while a marketing plan outlines “how.”
- A marketing strategy aligns brand elements and has a longer life span.
Forces Behind an Effective Marketing Strategy:
- Proper framing and perspective enhance brand impact.
- Distribution amplifies messages, while context shapes messaging effectiveness.
- Marketers are persuaders and storytellers, creating resonance.
Types of Marketing Strategies and Channels:
- Digital marketing employs various channels for message delivery and execution.
- Identifying effective distribution channels is crucial for connecting with audiences.
Marketing Strategy Examples:
- TOMS’ one-for-one model serves as a powerful marketing strategy.
- Brunello Cucinelli’s Humanistic Enterprise model integrates marketing and business strategy.
- Amazon’s cash conversion cycle strategy contributes to growth and branding.
- Apple’s retail stores enhance customer experience and service integration.
Marketing Strategy Examples
What is a marketing strategy?
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.
What are examples of marketing strategies?
Nike shoes and how they are branded it’s a great example of marketing strategy and how the company differentiates its product through its communication. For instance, Nike has an entire budget dedicated to demand generation, which is a key branding element helping the company be a recognized brand across the globe.
What is the most effective marketing strategy?
There isn’t a size-fits-all marketing strategy. And it will highly vary on the context in which it gets applied. A successful example is how Apple managed to differentiate its products in the marketplace by creating a whole line (iPhone) that opened up a new market, with no competition.
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