Some see marketing strategy as anathema. Strategy can be extremely difficult to define and can mean many different things to many different people. Marketing is defined as a function within a business unit or service line, and is therefore not identified as a strategic issue.
This article attempts to shed some light on the subject of marketing strategy and where it fits within the strategic planning process. It is suggested that marketing strategy is not a functional role located within the operational planning process but rather a central consideration in defining the corporate strategic position.
What is strategy?
The word strategy is derived from the Greek word meaning generalship, and is a relic of the days when commanders of large armies often made complex and important decisions. The term has now become synonymous with the business world and planning functions.
Briefly, corporate strategy defines the longer-term goals and objectives and briefly outlines how it intends to achieve these objectives. Corporate strategy is not the preserve of detailed planning but rather of defining intent and providing a framework from which corporate plans can be based on. There are a number of ways of defining levels of strategy. These include functional, business and strategic business unit level strategy, however, I prefer to stick with the military metaphor and use the definitions of strategy, operations and tactics.
Aligning strategy terminology
To explain these terms, it is important to relate the different levels to your own organisation. Therefore, I think it would be worthwhile if I illustrate each level.
This is the highest level of planning. It defines the intent of the organisation and will give some idea of how it will achieve that strategic intent.
This is the functional plan. It is where the detail objectives and targets are described. An operational strategy should have sufficient detail to develop campaigns and produce resource allocation against priorities. An operational strategy should have a number of learning / feedback loops which will give real time situational awareness of the emerging opportunities and threats. This is a dynamic environment and needs careful monitoring and an agile approach to ensure opportunities are seized and pitfalls are avoided.
This is the domain of the campaign, it is program driven and should focus on short to medium term objectives. These campaigns should seize opportunities and be able to be adapted to mean the changing environment. Tactics should be well understood and adaptable, every individual should understand the tactical plan in detail whilst understanding the strategic framework of the operation.
Why is understanding the strategic framework important?
When everyone within the organisation understands the strategic objectives it is easier for individuals to make empowered decisions within the tactical plan. They can see the bigger picture and exploit opportunities that emerge within the current operational environment.
Why do companies fail to think strategically?
May organisations do not plan strategic, or they do not effectively communicate the strategy throughout the organisation. Using common terminology and defining levels of strategy are fundamental for individuals to build an effective construct from which they can make informed decisions.
So what about marketing strategy?
It is impossible to develop a strategic plan without a comprehensive understanding of the context, and therefore, the understanding of the wider context must have insight of the market, the drivers, the trends and the emerging forces that will define the new organisational context. This analytical thinking flows throughout the different levels of organisational strategy and must remain connected in order for the flow of logical deductions to remain coherent.
Where do we find marketing strategy and planning?
Marketing planning can most often be found in the operational strategy and is defined as the corporate marketing strategy. This should then flow through to the individual campaigns, which are tactical in nature and should be driven within the framework of the organisational strategic objectives.