Marketing Strategy: Definition and Process

Marketing strategy consists of the analysis, strategy development, and implementation activities in: “Developing a vision about the market(s) of interest to the organization, selecting market target strategies, setting objectives, and developing, implementing, and managing the marketing program positioning strategies designed to meet the value requirements of the customers in each market target”.

Strategic marketing is a market-driven process of strategy development, taking into account a constantly changing business environment and the need to deliver superior customer value. The focus of strategic marketing is on organizational performance rather than a primary concern about increasing sales. Marketing strategy seeks to deliver superior customer value by combining the customer-influencing strategies of the business into a coordinated set of market-driven actions. Strategic marketing links the organization with the environment and views marketing as a responsibility of the entire business rather than a specialized function.

Because of marketing’s boundary orientation between the organization and its customers, channel members, and competition, marketing processes are central to the business strategy planning process. Strategic marketing provides the expertise for environmental monitoring, for deciding what customer groups to serve, for guiding product specifications, and for choosing which competitors to position against. Successfully integrating cross-functional strategies is critical to providing superior customer value. Customer value requirements must be transformed into product design and production guidelines. Success in achieving high-quality goods and services require finding out which attributes of goods and service quality drive customer value.

Marketing Strategy Process

The marketing strategy analysis, planning, implementation and management process is described below. The strategic situation analysis considers market and competitor analysis, market segmentation, and continuous learning about markets. Designing marketing strategy examines customer targeting and positioning strategies, marketing relationship strategies and planning for new products. Marketing program development consists of product, distribution, price, and promotion strategies designed and implemented to meet the value requirements of targeted buyers. Strategy implementation and management consider organizational design and marketing strategy implementation and control.

Marketing Strategy Process

Stage 1: Strategic Situation Analysis

Marketing management uses the information provided by the situation analysis to guide the design of a new strategy or change an existing strategy. The situation analysis is conducted on a regular basis after the strategy is under way to evaluate strategy performance and identify needed strategy changes.

Market Vision, Structure, and Analysis. Markets need to be defined so that buyers and competition can be analyzed. For a market to exist, there must be (1) people with particular needs and wants and one or more products that can satisfy buyers’ needs, and (2) buyers willing and able to purchase a product that satisfies their needs and wants. A product-market consists of a specific product (or line of related products) that can satisfy a set of needs and wants for the people (or organizations) willing and able to purchase it. The term product is used to indicate either a physical good or an intangible service.

Analyzing product-markets and forecasting how they will change in the future are vital to business and marketing planning. Decisions to enter new product-markets, how to serve existing product-markets, and when to exist in unattractive product-markets are critical strategic choices. The objective is to identify and describe the buyers, understand their preferences for products, estimate the size and rate of growth of the market, and find out what companies and products are competing in the market.

Evaluation of competitors strategies, strengths, limitations and plans is also a key aspect of the situation analysis. It is important to identify both existing and potential competitors. Competitor analysis includes evaluating each key competitor. The analyses highlight the competition’s important strengths and weaknesses. A key issue is trying to figure out what each competitor is likely to do in future.

Segmenting Markets. Market segmentation looks at the nature and extent of diversity of buyers’ needs and wants in a market. It offers an opportunity for an organization to focus in business capabilities on the requirements of one or more groups of buyers. The objective of segmentation is to examine differences in needs and wants and to identify the segments (sub-groups) within the product-market of interest. Each segment contains buyers with similar needs and wants for the product category of interest to management. The segments are described using the various characteristics of people, the reasons that they buy or use certain products, and their preferences for certain brands of products. Likewise, segments of industrial product-markets may be formed according to the type of industry, the uses for the product, frequency of product purchase, and various other factors.

Each segment may vary quite a bit from the average characteristics of the entire product-market. The similarities of buyers needs within a segment enable better targeting of the organization’s capabilities to buyers with corresponding value requirements.

Continuous Learning about Markets. One of the major realities of achieving business success today is the necessity of understanding markets and competition. Sensing what is happening and is likely to occur in the future is complicated by competitive threats that may exist beyond traditional industry boundaries. For example, CD-ROMs compete with books.

Stage 2: Designing Market-Driven Strategies

The strategic situation analysis phase of the marketing strategy process identifies market opportunities, defines market segments, evaluates competition, and assesses the organization’s strengths and weaknesses. Market sensing information plays a key role in designing marketing strategy, which includes market targeting and positioning strategies, building marketing relationships, and developing and introducing new products.

Market Targeting and Strategic Positioning. Marketing advantage is influenced by several situational factors including industry characteristics, type of firm (e.g., size), extent of differentiation in buyers needs, and the specific competitive advantage of the company designing the marketing strategy. The core issue is deciding how, when, and where to compete, given a firm’s market and competitive environment.

The purpose of the marketing targeting strategy is to select the people (or organizations) that management wishes to serve in the product-market. When buyers’ needs and wants vary, the market target is usually one or more segments of the product-market. Once the segments are identified and their relative importance to the firm determined, the targeting strategy is selected. The objective is to find the best match between the value requirements of each segment and the organization’s distinctive capabilities. The targeting decision is the focal point of marketing strategy since targeting guides the setting of objectives and developing a positioning strategy. The options range from targeting most of the segments to targeting one or few segments in a product-market. The targeting strategy may be influenced by the market’s maturity , the diversity of buyers’ needs and preferences, the firm’s size compared to competition, corporate resources and priorities, and the volume of sales required to achieve favorable financial results. Deciding the objectives for each market target spells out the results expected by management. Examples of market target objectives are desired levels of sales, market share, customer retention, profit contribution, and customer satisfaction. Marketing objectives may also be set for the entire business unit and for specific marketing activities such as advertising.

The marketing program positioning strategy is the combination of product, value-chain, price, and promotion strategies a firm uses to position itself against its key competitors in meeting the needs and wants of the market target, the strategies and tactics used to gain a favorable position are called the marketing mix or the marketing program.

Marketing Relationship Strategies. Marketing relationship partners may include end user customers, marketing channel members, suppliers, competitor alliances, and internal teams. The driving force underlying these relationships is that a company may enhance its ability to satisfy customers and cope with a rapidly changing business environment through collaboration of the parties involved. Relationship strategies gained new importance in the last decade as customers became more demanding and competition became more intense. Building long-term relationships with customers and value-chain partners offers companies a way to provide superior customer value. Although building collaborative relationships may not always be the best course of action, this avenue for gaining a competitive edge is increasing in popularity.

Strategic partnering has become an important strategic initiative for many well known companies and brands. Many firms outsource the manufacturing of their products. Examples include Motorola cell phones, Calvin Klein jeans, Pepsi beverages, and Nike footwear. Strong relationships with outsourcing partners are vital to the success of these powerful brands. The trend of the 21st century is partnering rather than vertical integration.

Planning for New Products. New products are needed to replace old products because of declining sales and profits. Strategies for developing and positioning new market entries involve all functions of the business. Closely coordinated new-product planning is essential to satisfy customer requirements and produce products with high quality at competitive prices. New-product decisions include finding and evaluating ideas, selecting the most promising for development, designing the products, developing marketing programs, use and market testing the products, and introducing them to the market.

The new-product planning process starts by identifying gaps in customer satisfaction. The differences between existing product attributes and those desired by customers offer opportunities for new and improved products.

Stage 3: Market-Driven Program Development

Market targeting and positioning strategies for new and existing products guide the choice of strategies for the marketing program components. Product, distribution, price, and promotion strategies are combined to form the positioning strategy selected for each market target.

Marketing Strategy Process - Positioning Strategy

The marketing program (mix) strategies implement the positioning strategy. The objective is to achieve favorable positioning while allocating financial, human, and production resources to markets, customers, and products as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Strategic Brand Management. Products (goods and services) often are the focal point of positioning strategy, particularly when companies or business adopt organizational approaches emphasizing product or brand management. Product strategy includes: (1) developing plans for new products, (2) managing programs for successful products, and (3) deciding what to do about problem products (e.g., reduce costs or improve the product). Strategic brand management consists of building brand value (equity) and managing the organization’s brand portfolio for overall performance.

Value-Chain, Price, and Promotion Strategies. One of the major issues in managing program is deciding how to integrate the components of the mix. Product, distribution, price, and promotion strategies are shaped into a coordinated plan of action. Each component helps to influence buyers in their positioning of products. If the activities of these mix components are not coordinated, the actions may conflict and resources may be wasted. For example, if the advertising messages for a company’s brand stress quality and performance, but salesperson emphasize low price, buyers will be confused and brand damage may occur.

Market target buyers may be contacted on a direct basis using the firm’s sales force or by direct marketing contact (e.g., Internet), or instead, through a value-added chain (distribution channel) of marketing intermediaries (e.g., wholesalers, retailers, or dealers). Distribution channels are often used in linking procedures with end user household and business markets. Decisions that need to be made include the type of channel organization to use, the extent of channel management performed by the firm, and the intensity of distribution appropriate for the product or service. The choice of distribution channels influences buyers’ positioning of the brand.

Price also plays an important role in positioning a product or service. Customer reaction to alternative prices, the cost of the product, the prices of the competition and various legal and ethical factors establish the extent of flexibility management has in setting prices. Price strategy involves choosing the role of price in the positioning strategy, including the desired positioning of the product or brand as well as the margins necessary to satisfy and motivate distribution channel participants. Price may be used as an active (visible) component of marketing strategy, or, instead, marketing emphasis may be on other marketing mix components (e.g., product quality).

Advertising, sales promotion, the sales force, direct marketing, and public relations help the organization to communicate with its customers, value-chain partners, the public, and other target audiences. These activities make up the promotion strategy, which performs an essential role in communicating the positioning strategy to buyers and other relevant influences. Promotion informs, reminds, and persuades buyers and others who influence the purchasing process.

Stage 4: Implementing and Managing Market-Driven Strategy

Selecting customers to target and the positioning strategy for each target moves marketing strategy development to the action stage. This stage considers designing the marketing organization and implementing and managing the strategy.

Designing Effective Market-Driven Organizations. An effective organization design matches people and work responsibilities in a way that is best for accomplishing the firm’s marketing strategy. Deciding how to assemble people into organizational units and assign responsibility to the various mix components that make up the marketing strategy are important influences on performance. Organizational structures and processes must be matched to the business and marketing strategies that are developed and implemented. Organizational design needs to be evaluated on a regular basis to assess its adequacy and to identify necessary changes.

Strategy Implementation and Control. Marketing strategy implementation and control consist of: (1) preparing the marketing plan and budget; (2) implementing the plan; and (3) using the plan in managing and controlling the strategy on an ongoing basis. The marketing plan includes details concerning targeting, positioning, and marketing mix activities. The plan spells out what is going to happen over the planning period, who is responsible, how much it will cost, and the expected results (e.g., sales forecasts).

The marketing plan includes action guidelines for the activities to be implemented, who does what, the dates and location of implementation, and how implementation will be accomplished. Several factors contribute to implementation effectiveness including the skills and commitment of the people involved, organizational design, incentives, and the effectiveness of communication within the organization and externally.

Marketing strategy is an ongoing process of making decisions, implementing them, and tracking their effectiveness over time. In terms of its time requirements, strategic evaluation is far more demanding than planning. Evaluation and control are concerned with tracking performance and, when necessary, altering plans to keep performance on track. Evaluation also includes looking for new opportunities and potential threats in the future. It is the concerning link in the strategic marketing planning process. By serving as both the last stage and the first stage (evaluation before taking action) in the planning process, strategic evaluation assures that strategy is an ongoing activity.

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