Geoff Fripp

Apr 162017
 

The introduction phase starts with innovators

Marketers of new products seeking to gain traction for their offering are reliant upon a category of consumers that are classified as “innovators”. Innovators are consumers that are far less influenced by word-of-mouth for a particular product category. Typically innovators have a high level of interest in the product category and generally have a high level of expertise and confidence in their purchases.

For example, you may know people who are quite interested in technology and often seek out the latest innovations. This type of consumer will make decisions based upon their own thoughts and research and review, rather than being overly influenced by other consumers and their purchase activities.

As a result, innovators will trial (undertake an initial purchase) of a new product if they consider it to be of interest or have some additional features or benefits, relative to the existing product solution.

These innovators will form the initial sales volume and customer base of a new product in the introduction phase. Hopefully, for the marketing firm, over time these innovators will influence other consumers through some form of word-of-mouth that will eventually result in significant sales volumes for the new product.

One of the key challenges for the firm during the introduction phase, given the discussion above, is the limited level of sales. This occurs because only a small proportion of consumers – innovators – will trial/purchasing new product in its early stages. Because the firm has its normal cost of supporting a new product and has likely invested a significant amount in its development and launch, new products will be quite unprofitable in the introduction stage.

Related topics

Overview of the PLC

Key aspects of the Introduction Stage of the PLC

Apr 162017
 

How the market operates in the introduction stage of the PLC

  • Sales are typically low
  • Firms are losing money, due to low sales and high costs and the need to support the product
  • There is generally a limited choice of products, as the firm is looking to “prove” the product concept to the market – and there is limited funds to offer a broader product portfolio at this time
  • Innovators are the key target market, as they are more likely to make purchase decisions independent of word-of-mouth
  • There is uncertainty within the firm (and possibly the industry) on whether the product will be successful in the long-term
  • As a result, over time there is growing pressure within the firm to reassess whether or not to continue supporting the new product
  • Retailers are typically less interested in the new product while sales are low – this means that they will often seek incentives to take on the product
  • Blogs and specialist websites and magazines provide an opportunity to reach a select market, hopefully rich in innovators
  • Free samples and initial discounting is often required to generate first-time purchases (trials)

Also see

Growth phase of the PLC

Maturity Phase

Decline Phase

Overview of the Product Life Cycle

 

Apr 162017
 

New-to-the-world products only

When we look at the product life cycle, we are generally considering products that are new to the marketplace. That is, these are products that are not normally purchased by consumers. We are not looking at products that are new to the firm, but are new to the market.

Therefore, in the introduction phase, we have a product that is not consumed in the market, generally because there is an existing product (which is different) which solves the same need. For example, before computers consumers use typewriters to produce documents. There was an underlying need to produce professional documents, and typewriters were a suitable solution. As another example, before MP3 players (iPods) people used portable CD players in transit to play music.

New products in the introduction phase compete against established products

This means that most new products start out by competing against established products in the marketplace. These products may be quite different in design, but essentially provide the same need/solution to consumers. Therefore, the first challenge faced by new products is to convince a proportion of consumers to switch/trial the product.

Obviously, established products in the marketplace have significant advantages over any new product, namely:

  • they are a known quantity to consumers,
  • they have habitual loyalty,
  • they have established retailer support, and
  • they have price and logistic efficiencies.

Related topics

The role of innovators

Marketing strategy decisions in the introduction phase of the PLC

Marketing strategy checklist

Limitations of the PLC

 

 

Apr 162017
 

Product life cycle = stages of “life”

The product life cycle (PLC) is a very common concept across all marketing textbooks. From the words “life cycle”, you should see the connection between a product and a biological life. Just as plants and animals progress through a life cycle, so does a product.

Typically, in most marketing textbooks, there are four distinct phases of the product life cycle, namely:

  • Introduction phase
  • Growth phase
  • Maturity phase
  • Decline phase

If we equate these four phases to the life cycle of a person, we would have:

  • Introduction = baby/toddler
  • Growth = child/teenager
  • Maturity = adult
  • Decline = old age

The reason why the product life cycle is important in marketing is that it provides an insight to the market conditions in which the product is operating at a specific point in time. In particular it takes into account; competitive rivalry and potential new entrants, consumers’ willingness to adopt the product, and likely retailer and supplier support, word-of-mouth support, like cost positions, and so on (as discussed in the individual PLC stage articles on this website).

By creating a stronger and clearer picture of the market conditions, the marketer is then able to create a suitable strategy based upon consumer, competitor, and broad environmental factors. It also provides the marketer with some insight into the future market conditions, which allows the development of suitable and relevant strategies based upon a challenging and changing market dynamic.

Related topics

  • Introduction phase
  • Growth phase
  • Maturity phase
  • Decline phase

Further reading

Using the PLC (HBR article)

Apr 162017
 

Following the period of growth, a market will reach the maturity stage of its product life cycle. This means that there is limited growth – usually in line with the economy – left in the market. Sales have maximized and are unlikely, generally, to change significantly in the foreseeable future. In other words, the market has stabilized in terms of its sales volume.

Reduced proportion of first-time customers

The reason that sales are unlikely to change significantly (and continue strong growth) is that we have the absence of significant numbers of first-time consumers. First-time consumers – typically consumers switching from an older product offering to the new product offering – are the main reason that markets grow. Once we have a situation where “virtually every consumer” who is likely to buy the product, it is buying the product, then we have no “natural” growth left in the market.

Mature markets provide firms with significant stability and generally provide the greatest level of profitability to the firm. In the Boston Consulting Group matrix, market leaders in a mature market are classified as “cash cows”. In other words, they are products that produce ongoing streams of income without too many challenges.

Increased customer loyalty

In the mature phase of the product life cycle (PLC), the aggressive period of the growth stage is behind the market. One of the key characteristics of a mature market is that virtually all consumers have direct product experience – having previously purchased one or more products/brands. This direct buying experience provides them with a good understanding of the various offerings, leading to stronger attitudes and more consistent loyalty and repeat purchase behavior.

While this consumer’s loyalty may be deliberate or just habitual, it does provide a certain degree of stability. While there are still a significant proportion of consumers that will switch between brands, there is also a high proportion of consumers that are relatively brand loyal (perhaps to two or three different brands) on a regular basis.

For example, when considering brand loyalty, think about how people purchase fast foods. They are likely to have two or three fast food chains that they visit on a regular basis. This provides these brands with a solid underlying customer base.

Market shares will stabilize

As a result, a key market condition of a mature stage market is the stability of market shares. While there are some historical exceptions (primarily due to innovation), this principle generally holds in most markets. Therefore, existing competitors tend to develop “a holding pattern” of competitive behavior in order to protect their profitability, customer base, and market shares.

This is because there is limited incentive to overly invest in a “market share grab” because it is generally quite difficult and expensive to deliver on in a large scale. For example, in the 1980s, there were the “Cola Wars” between Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola. During this period of very aggressive promotions, product innovation, and retailer relationships battles – there was limited change in overall market share (some slight shift to Pepsi), resulting in an overall reduced profitability for both firms.

Most established firms realize that profitability is the key goal, in most cases, rather than a constant battle for market share. Therefore, in mature stage markets, there is a willingness to be less aggressive in terms of competitive rivalry.

Related topics

Marketing strategy checklist across the PLC

Feb 202017
 

 

Customers come to you from all different places and entry points. If you have a brick-and-mortar store, they might walk in the door on their own—or they might have been referred to your business by a friend. If they placed an order via e-commerce, perhaps they saw you mentioned in a blog post, or maybe they were doing a search and found you on their own.

 

However they came to you, that’s part of their customer journey. It may be the beginning or the end, but you need to understand critical points along the way. Why? Because understanding and responding to that journey means that you have a better chance of building a relationship with them. Want to learn more? Check out this graphic.

 

Jan 112017
 

Key challenges of conducting international marketing research

So what are the main challenges of conducting marketing research in international markets?

In terms of market research tools and techniques, the approaches are generally similar, with the same intention of gathering and analyzing information for input into key marketing decisions. However, there are a number of additional challenges to consider when undertaking research in international markets, including:

  • There are language issues and associated accuracy of translations,
  • Even with accurate language translation, there are subtle differences in “everyday” terms and their meanings – for example, the word “loyalty” in an Asian market may have far greater significant than in a Western market,
  • The levels of literacy may vary across and within countries – this will reduce the effectiveness of any written research instruments, particularly printed and online questionnaires,
  • There is a risk – due to potential limited understanding of the host market – that the research problem is poorly defined. This generally occurs due to an ethnocentric orientation, where the home country managers perceive the problem from their own perspective,
  • Culturally, in may be unacceptable for females to be interviewed or observed – which would have the impact of not being able to gain access to a key decision maker, for some products, in the family,
  • Also in other cultures, consumers can be quite respectful and prefer not to provide negative opinion – therefore, when researching why a product is under-performing, these consumers will be hesitate to highlight any concerns that they have with the product or brand,
  • Some cultures are also less likely to willingly share information, as there is a general mistrust of authority and record collection – this might be the situation in some countries with a strong military or police background,
  • The infrastructure may not be in place to actually undertake the research fieldwork – such as limited phone penetration (for phone surveys), limited internet access (for online surveys), limited ability to group consumers for focus groups, and so on.

General guidelines and considerations for conducting international marketing research

When thinking about designing marketing research for international markets, given the above challenges, it will be necessary to:

  1. Clearly understand the research problem from the viewpoint of the host market (and not jump to conclusions),
  2. Consider the market research design relative to the available research infrastructure (that is, the ability to implement and execute surveys, observation and focus groups),
  3. Identify the potential cultural limitations (e.g. limited access to females and less willingness to openly share/provide information) and consider how that can be addressed (e.g. by using surrogate information) or how it will need to be considered in the analysis stage of the research, and
  4. It becomes more important to utilize local market research suppliers and agencies, particularly in host countries that are significantly different to the home country in terms of culture and infrastructure.
Feb 032016
 

Measuring Consumer Attitudes

A brand’s ability to measure consumer attitudes provides a very helpful insight into what is driving consumer behavior. Generally a consumer’s attitude towards the various brands in the marketplace has a significant influence over their purchase and word-of-mouth actions. Positive attitudes will lead to positive behavior.

But attitudes are quite complex and have been formed possibly over many years of the consumer’s journey – based upon various brand exposures (touch-points), media and word-of-mouth communication, and possibly direct purchasing experience.

While it can be a challenging task to determine the various possible journey paths and range of brand touch-points – it is possible (via a market research survey) to get detailed information on the consumer’s attitude and build a multi-attribute attitude model.

Please scroll down for the link to the free multi-attribute attitude Excel spreadsheet template

Multi-attribute attitude model

As suggested by the name, this model breaks down the consumer’s overall attitude (that is, view of each brand) into smaller components. These components are the individual product features, functions and perceived benefits – which are collectively known as product attributes.

The structure of the market research questionnaire necessary to obtain the data to construct a multi-attribute attitude model would be:

  • The researcher would determine (probably from initial focus groups) the key attributes of a product category
  • Then for each main brand the respondent (consumer) would be asked to rate EACH brand for EACH key product attribute (on a scale, 1 to 7)
  • The survey would then ask the respondent to also rate (on a scale) how important each attribute is to them in their purchase decision

Here is a graph output for a multi-attribute attitude model:

multi atttribute attitude model

How to interpret the multi-attribute attitude model

The goal is to try and improve the consumer’s attitude towards our brand by concentrating upon the attributes where our brand is perceived weaker than key competitors AND for attributes that are ALSO important to the consumer.

Let’s assume that we are Brand A (first blue column) in this food market. Our better performing attributes (relative to competitors) are “for kids” (we are equal 2nd) and “good snack” (also equal 2nd) – BUT both of these are generally of lower importance to consumers in their purchase decision.

The consumer’s most important attribute is “tasty”, but Brand A is a lower relative performer – therefore, this is a potential attribute to improve (or improve the perception of) to improve the brand’s over score (see next section).

Overall score of the multi-attribute attitude model

Because we have scores for each attribute for each brand and the level of importance in the purchase decision, we are able to calculate an overall score for the consumer’s attitude towards the brand. This score is then used as a point of comparison between the brands. A graphical example – using the same data as above – is shown below:

multi atttribute attitude model total scores

As we can see, Brand A has the lowest overall attitude score – which we should look to improve. Therefore, we use the first graph showing the breakdown of the consumer’s attitude by product attribute and by importance in order to identify which areas that the brand/product should look to improve.

Free Excel template for creating a multi-attribute attitude model

Here is the download link for the free Excel template: multi-attribute attitude model

When you open the spreadsheet it should look like the image below. Please note that there is example data in the template that you should delete.

multi atttribute attitude model free Excel template

Jun 122015
 

What is the internal environment in marketing?

The internal marketing environmentinternal environment in marketing refers to components INSIDE the firm that are unique to the firm. An analysis of the internal environment is critical in the development of marketing strategy to ensure to ensure that the firm’s strategy is based upon its situation, resources and goals.

Firms that do not consider the internal environment when structuring their marketing strategy will end up with a very generic strategy – one that is similar to other organizations in the same market – and will not draw upon their unique strengths and competitive advantages.

What are the main internal environment factors?

The main factors to consider when analyzing the internal environment in marketing are:

  • Resources
  • Employee skills and mix
  • Capabilities and core competencies
  • Management values and corporate culture
  • Stakeholder goals
  • Current strategy and success

Resources

Resources is a broad term that refers to what the organization has. In marketing terms, we are particularly interested in: product range, brand equity, financial position, customer loyalty, customer base size, retailer relationships retailer relationships, access to technology, manufacturing skills and innovation, and so on.

In other words, it should be a list and review of what the firm has to work with.

Employee skills and mix

This is related to resources above, but is a closer focus on human resources. It is particularly valuable in service firms that rely on customer – employee interaction and in organizations that rely upon innovation and improved operations being delivered by key staff.

Capabilities and core competencies

This relates to skill sets and abilities and processes that the firm has AND is really good at. This should be a fundamental building block of the firm’s marketing strategy – as it will create opportunities for sustainable competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Examples of capabilities would include: innovation skills, speed to market, brand building expertise, data/marketing insights, cost efficiencies and processes, customer relationships, use of new technologies, and so on.

Management values and corporate culture

Management values refers to the top management/executive of the organization and how they view strategy and what is important to the organization. For example, some key people in management might see innovation and change as critical to success, but top level management in other organizations may be quite conservative and risk adverse.

What is important to management needs to be taken into consideration, as they are the ultimate approvers of competitive marketing strategy.

Top management values are evident by the overall corporate culture of the organization, which is influenced and guided by management views.

Stakeholder goals

In terms of stakeholder goals, we need to consider the owners/shareholders of the business and what they trying to achieve. Sometimes it is very profit and growth driven, but for some organizations there could be a social goals aspect as well.

Other stakeholders to consider would include employees and what is important to them – which needs to be understood, particularly for a service firm.

Current strategy and success

The current marketing strategy and its degree of success needs to be evaluated. How well is the current strategy working given the firm’s internal and external environments?

Obviously, successful strategies primarily need a fine-tuning only, whereas unsuccessful or weakening strategy positions would need substantial revision.

Jun 122015
 

The three components of the marketing environment

The most appropriate marketing strategy for an organization will depend upon the marketing environment in which it operates. There are three broad categories of the marketing environment, which are:

  1. The internal environment,
  2. The micro environment, and
  3. The macro environment

The internal environment

The internal environment refers to the organization/the firm itself. Using the strategic 4C’s – the internal environment relates to the corporation.

In particular, we are concerned with resources, capabilities, corporate culture, management style and leadership, track record of success, current strategy, stakeholder goals and values, and so on. Based upon these internal factors we are better placed to construct an appropriate marketing strategy.

The internal environment should be the centerpiece of strategy development. That is, marketing strategy should be based upon the strengths and position of the organization. The goal is to leverage the strengths of the organization against the opportunities presented by the marketplace.

The micro environment

The micro environment refers to the industry in which the firm operates. In terms of the strategic 4C’s, the micro environment relates to competitors and customers.

When examining the micro environment we are particularly interested in target markets (consumers), direct and indirect competitors, suppliers (and their bargaining power) and our distribution channels (wholesalers and retailers).

The micro environment requires significant analysis and much of the firm’s market research efforts will be focused on understanding consumers in particular, but also monitoring and predicting competitor activity.

The various factors and opportunities within the micro environment need to be overlaid against the strengths and capabilities of the firm as identified in the internal environment in order to design a successful competitive marketing strategy.

The macro environment

The third marketing environment of interest is referred to as the macro environment. When the word “environment” is used in strategic discussions it is generally referring to the macro environment. In regards to the strategic 4C’s, the macroenvironment refers to context.

The macro environment consists of trends and factors that may influence the firm that are outside of their direct industry relationships.

It is common to structure/summarize the macro environment using the letters PEST or PESTLE. Where P = political, E = economic, S = social/cultural, T= technology, L= legislation, and E = environmental concerns.

The macro environment is more useful for longer term marketing strategies, with the goal of identifying long-term trends and opportunities.

Related topics

Marketing strategy and the marketing mix

Jun 112015
 

Marketing’s View of Price

We often come across the term price; it’s a common term in everyday life.

In general terms, price can be considered as a monetary amount that is charged in order to get something desired from the market (that is, to obtain a product). If consumers perceive value (enough benefits or a good solution for their needs) for the product at that price, then they are more likely to become customers.

The Role of Price in Communicating Quality

Price is a significant factor in determining the perceived value of the product (or brand) to the consumer. Many consumers equate price with overall product quality – and a more expensive product is generally perceived to be better.

The Role of Price in Profit Generation

Price – along with an appropriate unit margin – are fundamental to delivering the firm’s overall profitability. Price decisions are very important and need to be made in conjunction with the expected sales volume in order to get a good unit margin/sales turnover position.

If the price is too high, then sales will reduce – resulting in less revenue. If prices are too low, there may not be enough margin to contribute significant profits.

The Role of Price in Communicating Value

Consumers become customers if they perceive good value from a potential purchase. Consumers will weigh up the potential benefits against the various costs of acquiring the product. As price is the most significant cost that consumers will consider, then the setting of price at a certain level will influence the perception of value.

For example, if a shop offers small pizzas for sale at $5, then many consumers may perceive value and buy one. But if the shop was to price the same small pizzas at $20, then most consumers would not perceive value and would probably not make a purchase.

Related Topics

Customer value

The marketing mix

 

Jun 112015
 

What are the steps in the basic marketing process? As you probably know, the purpose of marketing activities is to create value for consumers and to deliver ongoing profitability (or other success metric) for the firm as a result. Marketing should be a win-win situation for both the firm (or organization) and its customers.

Steps in the marketing process

The overall marketing process can be summarized into five main steps, namely:

  1. Understand the customer and the marketplace
  2. Design a customer-driven marketing strategy
  3. Construct an integrated marketing program
  4. Build profitable relationships and satisfaction
  5. Outcome = Value for customers creates profits

Step One: Understand the customer and the marketplace

Marketing is based upon an understanding of the firm’s potential customers (its target market), as well as its key competitors and the main trends in the market.

By having a good understanding of what consumers want and how they buy, a firm will be in a better position to design and execute its marketing programs.

In line with this point, is the need to also understand competitive offerings. This is important because not only does the firm need to meet consumer needs, but they need to do so in a way that is different to their main competitors.

Step Two: Design a customer-driven marketing strategy

After the firm has a good understanding of the marketplace, they are then in a good position to design their overall marketing strategy. As suggested by the heading, their marketing strategy should be “customer-driven” – which means that it should be designed to meet consumer needs and to provide value.

Step Three: Construct an integrated marketing program

Step three is the detailed execution of the firm’s marketing strategy. For example, in Step Two they might decide that a key part of their marketing strategy is to build a strong brand. Therefore, in Step Three they would create that brand through advertising, social media, celebrity endorsements, sponsorships, events and so on.

As you can see, the marketing program is the actual tasks (which are called tactics in marketing) required to implement the firm’s overall marketing strategy.

Step Four: Build profitable relationships and satisfaction

Once the strategy and tactics are in place, the fourth step involves “making it happen” and going to the marketplace. Step One was research and analysis, Steps Two and Three were planning and documenting, while Step Four is in the market.

During this ongoing stage, the firm attempts to win customers and build repeat sales and loyalty. This is achieved if the firm delivers value and meets customer needs better than its competitors (as they first identified in Step One).

Step Five: Outcome = Value for customers creates profits

Step Five of the marketing process is actually more of an outcome than a step. If the firm has undertaken its first four steps well, then the outcomes should be the win-win situation, where the customers are satisfied and the firm will make ongoing profits as a result.

Related Topics

What is marketing?

Jun 112015
 

Here is a straightforward definition of marketing…

Marketing is the delivery of customer value and satisfaction at a profit

When you first start learning about marketing, you will notice that there are lots of different definitions. The above definition is a nice and simple one to start with – and it’s quite applicable for most profit-driven firms.

From this marketing definition you can see that the purpose of marketing is to balance the needs of:

  • The firm (and their need for profits) and
  • Customers (and their need for value and satisfaction).

The clear intention of marketing is to create a win-win situation for both the firm/organization and its customer base.

It’s fairly clear what profit is, so let’s quickly look at value and customer satisfaction. (Please see the article on the difference between value and satisfaction for more information.)

Customer value occurs when the benefits to the consumer exceed the costs of the product. If a consumer is hungry and they see value in a $3 slice of pizza, then they will buy it. But if the pizza slice is $20, then the consumer will probably not see value and then either buy something else or stay hungry.

Customer satisfaction happens AFTER the purchase – and it can be simplified as “did the product deliver the value as expected?

If a consumer does buy the $3 pizza slice and it’s tasty and filling, then the customer will be satisfied and is likely to become a repeat customer. But if the pizza is dry and does not taste good, then the customer will be dissatisfied with their purchase and will not re-buy.

Therefore, the firm needs to provide both good value (to attract new customers) and deliver customer satisfaction (to retain existing customers).

Related topics

Formal definitions of marketing
Marketing in simple terms
Customer value
Customer satisfaction

 

Jun 052015
 

Firms will often have the goal of increasing market share. Increased market share is primarily delivered through winning a greater proportion of the market’s business. In particular, one or more of the following situations must occur for a firm/brand to increase its market share:

  • A greater proportion of consumers decide to purchase the brand
  • The brand wins a greater “share of customer” and/or
  • The brand attracts a higher proportion of “heavy user” consumers

In many cases, the brand/firm tends to pursue an aggressive market share goal primarily through the acquisition of first-time customers – that is, providing existing consumers with an incentive to purchase the brand. This incentive is typically structured around a sales promotion, a product line extension, increased availability, or is generated by a cut through marketing communications campaign.

Not all consumers are available

When setting market share goals, it is important to consider the proportion of consumers who are either willing or in a position to switch brands. In some circumstances, such as the fast-moving consumer goods industry, brand switching is relatively easy. But in service firms where there may be contractual arrangements, such as a mobile phone contract, switching is more difficult and less frequent.

available v unavailable market

If we look at the overall diagram of the market we can initially classify consumers into the two broad groups of active/current consumers and non-consumers.

Active/current consumers are those consumers who are purchasers of the product category either on a frequent or occasional basis. And non-consumers are consumers who are within the target market but do not purchase the product category. For example, young adults are typically a prime target market for fast food chains, but a proportion of this target market would not make any fast food purchases – therefore these potential consumers would be classified as non-consumers.

Active and non-consumers and the product life-cycle

Within the growth phase of the product life-cycle (PLC), it is common for non-consumers to buy the product category for the first time and become active consumers. In essence, this is what drives the market during its growth phase – it is the reason the market grows so quickly in this stage of the PLC.

However, in a mature market, the activation of non-consumers is relatively small, as these consumers have generally decided that this is not a product category that they are only interested in.

Degrees of Consumer Loyalty and Availability

Referring again to the diagram, active/current consumers can then be classified into four categories:

  1. Loyal to a set of brands
  2. Shopper or variety seeker
  3. Highly or emotionally loyal or
  4. Locked in by switching barriers

As you can see, those consumers who are highly/emotionally loyal or locked in by switching barriers (contracts, time/effort) will be generally unavailable and cannot be considered as a growth opportunity when trying to expand a brand’s market share.

This leaves just two categories of available active consumers which are:

  1. Those who have an evoked set of brands (a set of suitable brands that they will frequently buy) and
  2. Those consumers who frequently shop around due to a price deal or variety.

A firm/brand will need to put the appropriate marketing tactics in place in order to win a greater proportion of these consumers.

Market research helps define the available market

Various forms of market research – typically surveys – can be used to measure the size of the available and unavailable marketplace. Size of the overall available market will give some guidance to the organization to what extent an increase in market share is possible.

Jun 052015
 

There should be clear steps to follow when developing a marketing strategy.

Guidance from the strategic plan

If the strategy is being developed for large organization, then they should be a corporate strategy document – known as a strategic plan – that should be the starting point for the development of marketing strategy and subsequent documentation in a marketing plan.

Where there is no strategic plan

In smaller companies, new businesses, or other organizations that do not have an established strategic plan, then it will be necessary to follow these key steps:

1. Analysis of the resources, skills, competitive position and capabilities of the firm

This requires an internal and external analysis of what the firm has to work with, and how it is placed and positioned with consumers, and how it compares to its competition, as well as some evaluation of current key trends in the marketplace.

At the conclusion of this analytical exercise, a summary SWOT analysis can be prepared. This SWOT analysis should be based upon detailed analysis, rather than being brainstormed. This is because the SWOT is designed as a summary document.

2. Identify strengths and opportunities in alignment

Using the SWOT analysis, identify the strengths that can be leveraged into the opportunities for the firm. This needs to be the foundation of any strategic marketing plan. This is because the firm is utilizing its strengths/advantages and targeting them directly at perceived market opportunities.

This approach is more likely to generate positive and successful results, as opposed to chasing market opportunities where the firm does not have any apparent competitive advantage (that is, no real strengths to leverage).

3. Clarify financial and marketing goals

Most organizations will tend to have financial and marketing goals that they want to achieve. These need to be clearly articulated and structured correctly. Usually you would expect to have financial goals of profitability levels and probably some form of growth target as well. It would be unusual – except for a non-profit organization – NOT to have a profit objective included in their plan.

Marketing focus goals should also be included and clarified – these typically relate to market share, brand awareness levels, retailer penetration, product quality, product range – as you can see, typically structured around the various marketing mix elements.

4. Connect goals and strengths/opportunities

At this stage of your strategic marketing planning process, you should have two key pieces of information:

  • A list of opportunities that can be leveraged by your existing corporate strengths and
  • A list of financial and marketing goals

Obviously the ideal approach would be to work out which strengths/opportunities combinations are needed to achieve the desired financial and marketing objectives. Sometimes this requires a considerable amount of consideration, as often goals are quite challenging and there are sometimes no obvious strengths/opportunities combinations that easily achieve these goals. Therefore, considerable thought needs to be given to how to best get to the desired financial and marketing position.

5. Marketing strategy statement

It is a good idea to develop a straightforward strategy statement that clearly articulates how the firm or brand is going to be successful in achieving its goals. This is somewhat similar to the “30 second elevator speech”, where individual would describe their skills and talents.

In much the same way, it is necessary for a firm to them to quickly describe its overall strategy. This creates significant consistency in the organization and makes it easy to remember and easy to communicate throughout the organization to all staff.

6. Identify appropriate marketing tactics

At this stage of the strategic marketing planning process we have clearly defined the firm’s/brand’s strategy and we have simplified it down to one or two paragraphs.

Therefore, the selection of marketing tactics – the various marketing mix elements to be utilized – should become more apparent and obvious. Obviously we need to be considerate of the overall budget, available resources, and time to execute and implement the various marketing mix elements required to deliver on the plan’s goals and strategy.

7. Development and documentation of the marketing plan

At this stage we’re now ready to document the marketing plan – we should not attempt this task until we have completed the above steps. It is usually a mistake to rush into documentation prior to significant analysis, evaluation, and review of strategic options.

The only additional components of the marketing plan we require in this step is the identification of the timetable for the implementation and the selection of key targets that would be used for control objectives in the marketing plan.

Jun 052015
 

There is generally a clear sequence of steps to follow when developing marketing strategy. Marketing strategy should be highly interrelated to the firm’s overall corporate strategy.

Start with vision and mission

At the starting point of a corporate strategy is the firm’s vision and mission. The mission statement is the firm’s reason for being. It is what the organization is all about – why does exist? What value does it add? What is its scope and purpose?

Some organizations also have a vision statement – a vision statement is a loftier goal/direction for the organization could be one day – it’s like a personal dream or ambition.

Please note that the firm’s vision and mission is set at a corporate level – and is not the responsibility of the marketing area (although the marketing area may be involved in crafting the actual words that are used in the vision and mission statements).

Corporate goals

The next step in the strategic planning process is to identify goals for the organization overall – what is the organization want to achieve over the next 3 to 5 years? Corporate goals typically structured around high level competitive positions – such as, become the market leader, increase market shares, enhanced technology, greater profitability, product range, expand the operations, and so on.

Corporate strategy

In order to achieve the defined corporate goals, the overall organization will need to contribute. For example, if we take the goal of having advanced/enhanced technology – then that would need to be executed through the appropriate IT/manufacturing areas, as well as implemented through operations, and even human resources would have a role to play in training and skilling the organization’s staff to effectively develop and implement the technology improvements.

Allocation to functional areas

As suggested above, the overall corporate strategy needs to be allocated to functional areas. Each functional area would then develop its own plan to assist the organization in executing and achieving the strategy, which in turns delivers the corporate goals, which in turn allows the firm to “live” is mission and progress towards its long-term vision.

The role of marketing in corporate strategy

Marketing strategy development will take its structure and guidance from the overall corporate plan. What are the corporate goals and what are marketing’s responsibilities to help deliver them. These are typically top level goals often centered around product range, product innovation, brand equity, market expansion, and competitive strengths.

Jun 052015
 

There is a direct relationship between the firm/brand’s marketing strategy and its marketing mix design. A marketing mix should be the execution of the firm’s marketing strategy.

In other words, marketing strategy is implemented through the combination and design of the marketing mix elements to meet the identified needs of a selected target market.

Please note that there are two considerations in the above approach to implementing marketing strategy:

  1. the marketing mix elements and
  2. the needs of the target market.

We should start with the blending of the brand’s marketing mix. Depending upon whether the firm is a service firm (and then would use the 7P’s marketing mix) or some form of manufacturer (then they would use the 4P’s marketing mix). And then we should consider how to align the marketing mix to the particular needs of the target market.

This approach to marketing strategy implies a very customer-centric approach, which is consistent with the marketing concept. This means that the strategy is built around customer needs, rather than existing operations of the business. This strategic marketing thinking should provide the firm/brand with a greater opportunity of success in the marketplace.

A strategic error

It is generally a significant mistake to look at the marketing mix elements in isolation, without consideration to an overall strategy. Which products should we have? – is a fundamental question and any business, but we need to consider what sort of organization we are and how have we chosen to compete on a competitive basis in the marketplace?

Unfortunately, this becomes somewhat of a common situation in some firms of lack clear agreement on a competitive marketing strategy.

Components of the marketing mix – such as product mix, pricing, forms of communication and so on – are looked at on individual basis – rather than on a holistic approach in order to execute the overall marketing plan and strategic goals.

Jun 052015
 

Marketing strategy and core competencies

One of the very common analytical approaches in strategic planning is SWOT analysis. The first letter stands for “strengths” and the first letter stands for “opportunities”. These two letters, or parts of the SWOT analysis, are designed to work together.

In other words, we identify the corporate strengths and then try to match them to opportunities in the marketplace. Keep in mind that the SWOT analysis is individualized for the firm/brand, not a generic industry view – which means that the opportunities listed in the SWOT analysis are only relevant to our firm/brand.

Understanding core competencies

Core competencies are special skills and capabilities of the firm that provides some competitive advantage in the marketplace. We are primarily interested in those skills and capabilities that allow the firm/brand to deliver superior customer value.

You should note that core competencies are skill sets that reside in the people and processes within the organization. They are ways that the organization operates, rather than the physical resources that the firm. You should use the words “expertise”, “abilities”, “skills”, “know-how”, and so on.

Probably the best way to understand a core competency is to review the article on core competency examples.

Apple and core competencies

To demonstrate the value of core competencies versus physical assets/resources let’s consider Apple’s skill sets – what are they really good at doing?

Apple has superior innovation expertise – they are very good at enhancing existing technology and improving its capability and making it easy and enjoyable to use. They are also quite good at growing markets and attracting large numbers of consumers to new technology.

This skill set means that they will have ongoing success in the marketplace because they are able to KEEP delivering exciting and interesting new products and generating large scale demand.

Compare this position to Nokia – that not that long ago was a leading mobile phone provider. They had the resource advantage of a larger market share, a larger selection of mobile phone products, and a strong established brand in the mobile phone market. But along comes

Apple who leverages this skill set for innovation into the mobile phone market – the results have been spectacular, with Apple becoming a dominant player in the market and extremely profitable.

McDonald’s and core competencies

Let’s look at another example of core competencies – this time using McDonald’s – so what are they really good at doing?

McDonald’s skill sets are in their system/process of preparing and delivering food in a very fast and consistent manner. Much of their success has been due to its ability in this area. In the fast food sector, consumers expect the food to be “fast” but also to be delivered with a consistent quality and with good value.

McDonald’s expertise in the speed of the process, along with their efficiency of costs, along with their customer service skills – all add up to a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Difficult to duplicate

Core competencies are attractive to firms because they allow the firm to have a relatively unique advantage in the marketplace – again think of the Apple example above – that skill set of innovation is very difficult (or very expensive) for competitors to duplicate, if not impossible?

Here is a link to a Harvard Business Review article that is worthwhile reading on this topic.

You will note that it is suggested that there are three evaluation factors that firms should use to identify the strength of the core competencies in the business. These include:

  1. Ability to leverage into different markets
  2. Extent of customer value added
  3. Degree of uniqueness/difficult to copy

We can consider these three questions as “tests” of the degree of value of the core competencies.

The first point of ability to leverage has been demonstrated by Apple who has been able to take the innovation expertise into multiple technology markets – such as, mobile phones, tablets, watches, computers, and even retailing.

It is also clear that Apple’s expertise in innovation provide significant customer value – as their customers are most appreciative of features and designs of the Apple products. And as highlighted previously above, the ability for competitors to duplicate Apple’s expertise is highly unlikely.

Jun 052015
 

What are core competencies?

Core competencies are special skills and capabilities of the firm that provides some competitive advantage in the marketplace. We are primarily interested in those skills and capabilities that allow the firm/brand to deliver superior customer value.

You should note that core competencies are skill sets that reside in the people and processes within the organization. They are ways that the organization operates, rather than the physical resources that the firm. You should use the words “expertise”, “abilities”, “skills”, “know-how”, “processes” and so on.

Probably the best way to understand a core competency is to consider some examples. Here is a list of some potential core competencies that a firm may have.

List of core competency examples

  • Innovation expertise
  • Speed and flexibility in the marketplace
  • Superior product development skills
  • Greater marketplace and customer understanding
  • Strong analysis and database skills
  • Industry/market knowledge and expertise
  • Experts in marketing communications
  • Fast or friendly customer service
  • Streamlined and efficient processes
  • Logistics expertise
  • Strategic/entrepreneurial insight
  • Skills in the early identification of trends/opportunities

You should note from the above list, that there are no physical resources or assets listed – they are some form of a skill set. So why is that important? It is important because core competencies are more likely to be unique in the marketplace and more likely to deliver ongoing competitive advantage.

Related Topics

Marketing strategy

External links

Core competencies are the collective learning in the organization, especially how to coordinate diverse production skills and integrate multiple streams of technologies.

Read the full Harvard Business Review article

Jun 052015
 

Any organization/brand is faced with an almost unlimited selection of choices and opportunities in the marketplace. For example, there are literally thousands of different ways that firms can choose to promote their activities. There are millions of different products available in the marketplace that firms can choose to produce and market.

So how does a firm/brand choose which is the best options for its competitive market success? The answer is through the development of an appropriate marketing strategy.

The goal of marketing strategy is to consider the best top level approach to acquiring and retaining profitable customers in the marketplace. It is often referred to as the firm’s “game plan”. In other words, how are we going to be successful in the marketplace against competitors?

Marketing strategy is often built around the elements of existing corporate/brand strengths, customer needs, competitive offerings, and changing/emerging environmental issues/trends. The firm endeavors to find the best approach considering all of these factors.

If the firm/brand is able to generate a clear marketing strategy – then the unlimited choices, as described above, become much clearer in the implementation of the marketing program becomes more apparent and even more obvious.

An example for a fast food chain

Let’s assume there is a fast food chain that does not have a clear market strategy and are just looking to grow their business. In this case, every opportunity and consideration looks attractive. Should we offer a broad range of foods such as hamburgers, pizza, hot dogs and even sushi? How do we design our stores? What type of staff should we hire and how do we want them to interact with customers?

Without a clear marketing strategy, this fast food chain cannot really answer any of those questions with certainty. As a result, this business would be to look at each question/decision on individual basis. Long term approach of this would be a very inconsistent offering and positioning in the marketplace – leading to reduced competitive success.

A more structured approach

If this fast food chain had a clear competitive strategy these above questions become very straightforward. For example, let’s assume that they structured their marketing strategy as something like “a specialist hamburger chain, offering make your own hamburger options, in a fun and lively atmosphere with energetic staff”.

This strategy statement would quickly answer those above questions – such as, “Which foods should we have?” The clear and obvious answer would be “a broad range of flexible hamburgers only”.

Linking between marketing strategy and tactics

Once a very clear marketing strategy has been put in place, then the marketing mix elements become easier to define and design. The challenge for the firm and becomes the execution and implementation of the overall marketing mix elements – not continuous choices about which opportunities should be pursued?