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What is marketing strategy?

Posted on. 29/01/2021

A lot about marketing strategy is hidden. Below the surface. Rarely seen. Hence the iceberg.

When it comes to marketing strategy, if you think about ‘what good looks like’, the strategy solidly supports everything an organisation does. It gives a purpose, decisions have focus and they come easier. There’s clarity and budget is used wisely.

But the question is, what exactly is marketing strategy and where do I start?


Google ‘marketing strategy’ and you’ll find a range of definitions and opinions. The problem is that ‘strategy’ has become over-used and misused. It’s seen as a term to impress. The result is that ‘strategy’ is liberally used in places where it really doesn’t belong.

The definition of marketing strategy…

Courtesy of Mark Ritson (adjunct marketing professor of Harvard fame and professor on the mini MBA in marketing), I’ve pinched this marketing strategy definition he shared:

Strategy is one element in a 4 stage process. 

  1. First are the ends to be obtained.
  2. Second are the strategies to obtain them, the ways in which resources should be deployed.
  3. Third are tactics. The way resources which have been deployed are actually used or employed.
  4. Lastly are the resources themselves, the means at our disposal.

What makes it good?

It’s straightforward. It gives structure and shows the relationship between strategy and tactics. 

Strategy comes first – that’s the thinking, the analysis, the ‘what do we do, and what don’t we do’ decisions. 

Then come tactics – things like the marketing communications, distribution channels and pricing decisions. The 4Ps if you were (product, place, price, promotion).

It also highlights that strategy and tactics are co-dependent. Strategy goes nowhere without tactics, and tactics are rudderless without strategy.

Another way of looking at it is..

Strategy is the thinking. Tactics is the doing.

Why have a marketing strategy?

In reality, very few organisations have a true marketing strategy. And even less have one based on facts.  This gives you a great opportunity! Create a good marketing strategy and you have the advantage. Deliver against it and customers will come, spend and stay loyal.

Marketing strategy in practice 

You establish your marketing strategy by answering three key questions:

  1. Who are you targeting?
  2. How do you want them to perceive you?
  3. What are your objectives for those targets?

Before you answer any of these, we’ll pause for a moment.

Do you know how to do these well?  

Let’s take a quick look at each one:

1. Who to target?

Who are the most profitable and attractive segments in your target market?  Look at it as mapping out your whole market. The trick here is to map and not make any decisions yet.


The market you’re mapping could be geographical such as your county or the UK, or behavioural groups like magazine readers, or demographic groups like new parents or an industry like construction. 

Whatever your market is like, this is where you split it into segments. Why? Because this helps you group similar audiences together and helps targeting, which comes next.

Use criteria based on attributes that are both relevant and you can measure (these can be consumer related such as age and lifestyle or business related such as sector, company size and buying behaviour). Then populate each segment with data – what you know about them, how they buy, the size of the segment, their spend etc. 

Once you’ve filled in all your segments, now is the time to decide which ones you are going to target. Or more importantly, which you will ignore.  Choose one or two of the segments that are the most attractive and relevant to you. And stick to them. Be brave with this.


2. How do you want them to perceive you?

Another way to phrase this is “what do you want people to remember you for”? When they hear your name, what do they think? 

At this point, note that you are not your customer. You’re too close to the business. The only way to understand what customers think about you or your product/service is by asking or observing them. 

Yes, that means research. This is where you start at zero and build your knowledge.

You can do this through research (online surveys, zoom 121s), and free tools like surveymonkey can be great in doing this cost-effectively. Make sure you keep surveys short and that the answers will give you useful information that you can use. 

Spend time on this. It’s important.

3. What are your objectives?

Now we come to SMART objectives – for reference these are Specific, Measurable, Ambitious, Realistic and Timed objectives.  

Set marketing objectives or goals to ensure all your efforts are going in the right direction - across the company!

With smart objectives you can measure your performance.  

Imagine you’re doing an annual review with an employee. You think they’re doing a pretty good job, but have no way of measuring their success.  How do you decide whether they receive a bonus or not?  By subjectively deciding?  Of course not.

A little note about SMART:  It’s important objectives push you yet are feasible. Having a ‘big, hairy audacious goal’ (BHAG) is great for longer term visions that inspire. However, for shorter term goals of a 1 or 2 years, use SMART objectives to get to your audacious goal. 

Set some figures against it. It could be a 10% increase in market share with architectural firms in Cheshire by December 2023 or 5% increase in unprompted awareness of (baby product) by new dads by June 2022.

You might need to make an educated estimate the first time, but with learnings and experience you can really refine this. 


In summary

Marketing strategy is part of a journey. It works with your business strategy to get you to where you want to be. There are a number of stages to go through to create a good marketing strategy: 

  • Gather lots of information – about you, your customers, your competitors. 
  • Use this information to answer the three key marketing strategy questions of:
    1. Who am I targeting? 
    2. How do I want them to perceive me? (or what do I stand for) 
    3. What are my objectives for my target segments? (making them SMART).

This gives you your marketing strategy and direction.

Once you have this, then you can move on to your tactics and the doing!

Marketing strategy development



If you need any help with marketing strategy or tactics, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me for an initial conversation. It’s all free of charge, there’s no agenda and no obligation. I’m just happy to help and provide clarity!  Adeline