My students’ first assignment is always a short interpretive paper in which I ask for their personal definition of marketing; as well as their perspective on marketing’s importance in helping organizations achieve success. Over the years, I’ve discovered that these papers provide a glimpse into the mindset of individuals who are generally not focused on core marketing or business intelligence technologies, and how they view marketing’s role in relation to broader business strategies.
Demographically, the class typically represents a diverse cross-section. One thing they do have in common; they are full-time working adults who are not shy to share their real-world working experiences with the class. More often than not, their original narratives will jump into examples of product-focused mass advertising or publicity activities. The use of sexy and manipulative promotional tactics for selling the audience on why they should want the product is representative of marketing’s tactical purpose in their initial points of view. In fact, for classes that start in January you can bet on at least one reference to a Super Bowl commercial. However; I can tell straight away who is reading ahead in the syllabus, or working for a company that views marketing strategically because those efforts reflect the leadership role that marketing plays as a core business strategy.
An Effective Marketing Strategy
An effective marketing strategy involves a process of narrowing down to a specific target market and marketing mix that represents an opportunity the company wants to compete for based on their business’s mission and vision. Because most company’s resources are limited, and there are usually multiple strategies possible, the ability to consistently zero in on the best market with the best marketing mix will delight both management and the market. Does the previous statement sound familiar? If not, maybe you’ll recognize it in the form of the “right…” phrase that is often found in technology whitepapers. It’s worded as follows; companies that first focus on the customer’s needs, and then satisfy those needs by delivering “the right product through the right channel at the right price at the right time” will build customer loyalty and maximize shareholder value.
Imagine that an organization fully understands the needs and desires of its target market, and that the marketing mix is combined in a way that fully supports the overall business strategy. In other words, manufacturing (R&D), product management, product marketing, advertising & public relations, sales, service, finance and logistics have all pull together to provide perfect alignment. Was that hard to imagine? The perspective painted by my student’s suggests that this is still a highly matrixed environment that yields loosely knit strategies at best. Don’t get me wrong, matrixed environments are not going to go away. Particularly in large organizations where you need specialists because the scope of the whole marketing job is just too big for one person. Yet, the fact remains that alignment breakdowns between these functional areas continues to put business strategies at risk.
A Written Marketing Plan
How can marketing take a leadership position to help reduce risk and ensure strategic alignment? How about another dashboard or scorecard? After all, a relationship with customers is what capitalism is built on, and the great thing about capitalism is that it keeps score. In fact, at this point technology vendors might be tempted to insert the need for a heavy dose of their specific applications to better manage reporting or improve the ability to target customers and predict their behavior. I can’t argue that specific technology might not help any given situation; however, technology alone won’t turn the product-focused dotted-line matrix challenge into a solid-line customer-focused marketing plan.
A simple but often overlooked discipline to ensure that marketing is facilitating strategic alignment and that the marketing mix is focused on the desired customer experience is to use a written marketing plan for each marketing strategy developed. There is value to organizing, documenting and writing down a marketing plan. The very process of bringing functional areas together to ask and answer the questions posed in a comprehensive marketing plan will create a road map to guide your total marketing efforts, and help bring strategic alignment.
My student’s final assignment is a team-based project that involves the design, documentation and presentation of a complete marketing plan based on the launch of a new product. The presentations always generate lively class discussion as each team talks about their target market and the marketing mix that will be crafted to satisfy the researched needs. Although it takes me several days to grade, it’s encouraging to read their new and expanded perspectives, and I can assure you that the strategic transformation of the marketing function as brought to life in their documented plan would warm any CMO’s heart.