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You May Not Have a Marketing Strategy If…

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By Ford Kanzler
Marketing/PR Savvy
Special to Santa Cruz Tech Beat

February 22, 2017 — Santa Cruz, CA

“Sometimes the main reason behind the failure to have a great marketing strategy is simply that the CEO doesn’t get it.”

This is aimed directly tech company managers here in Santa Cruz and nearby who may be missing an important piece their business game. In this lightning-fast technology business, all too often the marketing strategy is just “Do something.” Executing is essential, but having a clear vision while moving at high speed is also a darn-good idea. Effective navigation is as important as speed.

From 30+ years working with a dozens of tech companies, including ones here in the Santa Cruz area, I’ve discovered the problem is many engineers who’ve become tech company execs don’t value marketing. They think it’s something anyone can do, requiring few skills and that the real work is in designing the product. So with engineering-dominated start-ups, there can be a huge focus on design, and marketing often gets little or no talent and investment.

Lots of companies don’t have a marketing strategy. I haven’t any statistics on this, but I see way too many companies without one. My estimate is 9 out of 10 are lacking a truly competitive marketing strategy. I’ve even seen business plans without a section on competition and heard a CEO say, “We have no competition.” These companies’ websites are a clear giveaway. The site content reflects no strategy or possibly a very fragmented one. Fragmented strategy is no strategy.

In testing whether there’s a marketing strategy in positioning, branding, pricing, and other strategic factors, many tech brands of all sizes and stages of development fail. Too often, top executives can’t provide a solid reason for the things they’re doing and can’t explain easily and simply why their marketing will result in superior performance. Ask them, “How will you win?” and there’s rarely a clear simple answer.

Sometimes the main reason behind the failure to have a great marketing strategy is simply that the CEO doesn’t get it.

When asked, “What’s your strategy?” most CEOs insist they have one. Then they whip out a 40-page PowerPoint deck. Occasionally there’s even a slide titled “Our Strategy.” And even more rarely, there’s substance behind this slide demonstrating how the brand is differentiated and how the company brings value that competitors cannot match. Most of the time that’s missing.

Key indicators of a missing marketing strategy include:

ONE: You lack a sharp focus. Strategy is about narrowing choices about what you do, what you don’t do, and how you want to be known in the market. Mini, maker of the Mini Cooper, is focused on small, quick, stylish cars. No SUVs, no trucks, no sedans. Compare that with the Chevrolet brand. What is a Chevy? It’s a sedan, an economy car, a sports car, a truck, and an SUV. Little wonder the brand has been in trouble for years. The good news is that focusing doesn’t mean you can’t sell other things. It means you are very clear about what you want to be known for, and you emphasize that difference in everything you do and say.

Lots of brands, including many in the tech sector, can’t resist the Chevy-like line extension. Companies get into unrelated or marginally-related businesses typically for growth’s sake, rather than creating more customer value and satisfaction. They’re catering to stockholders, not customers. The result is they wind up with too many or even competing strategic directions, which neither turn profits nor create corporate focus.

A bit of history: One of the first things Steve Jobs did following his return to Apple was kill off about a dozen different models of printers. He’s remembered for, among other things, his ability to say “No” to ideas he saw as off-strategy.

TWO: You are doing the same thing every year. If your strategy continually fits into what the company is already doing, you probably don’t have a strategy. There’s nothing wrong with being consistent if what you’re doing is an effective, organized group of competitive actions moving the company toward a defined objective. Unfortunately, a strategy based on habit too often results in cloudy, dull direction, because it’s meaningless and provides little if any perspective on what’s essential to achieving business goals.

Three more…

Many companies, including Santa Cruz tech brands I’ve encountered, assume they have a vibrant marketing strategy, but they may simply be recycling old ideas that have ceased to resonate with their varied audiences. Above I discussed two indicators that execs can use to confirm the lack of a strategic marketing program. Here are three more.

THREE: You’re not creating customer value. Companies have to make significant choices. The problem is when it’s unclear why a choice will benefit the business or the customer. Strategic choices are about having a good explanation why the action will create value for the company and its customers. Without that, it’s not a strategy. The larger the company, the more likely the wrong kinds of choices will be made. I refer to this as “The Dis-economies of Scale.” Big for big’s sake can be a killer.

Huge, multinational conglomerates are highly prone to this kind of non-strategic decision-making. Applying an apparent matrix-based logic, they put countries on one axis and lines of business on the other. The alleged strategy is having all your businesses in as many countries as possible in the least amount of time, typically via acquisitions. The question is whether having all those businesses in all those countries constitutes a strategy, good or otherwise. Where’s the value in that?

FOUR: You think having an objective is a strategy. Aiming at being first or second in your target market is an objective. It may certainly be a good one, but it’s not a strategy. It’s like an Indianapolis 500 driver saying, “I’m going to drive really fast and not crash.” Hey, that’s great! However, wanting to be “the leader” and similar statements are goals. They’re valid ones, but they’re definitely not strategies. Strategies equate to ideas and actions. Think verbs. There needs to be some answers to how the goal or objective will be achieved, usually by a certain date. This would show up in a business plan, maybe even in a PowerPoint deck. If it doesn’t, there’s no strategy.

FIVE: You’re keeping strategy a secret. The biggest mistake among those who think they have a strategy and don’t, is not letting the employees in on it. A strategy only becomes a strategy if everyone in the company gets it and, ideally, is on board with it. Everybody needs to act in concert with the strategy as they’re executing tactics that move the strategy toward the objective. To do that, they must understand and adopt the strategy.

Having a great strategy that’s merely a file on someone’s hard drive is almost as bad as not having one at all. In spite of the strategy’s potential brilliance, unless the proposed direction is pointing to q desired result (that’s the objective), it’s of no value unless people across the business are acting on it. The best way to discover whether a strategy is being kept a secret is simply asking around. If you don’t get very similar answers about how the company is addressing competitors, you can bet your outfit is lacking a strategy.

Message to senior management: Don’t keep the strategy a secret from your team. Also, check to learn whether its being consistently applied.

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Ford Kanzler is veteran tech business communications pro residing in Aptos. He’s a former newspaper reporter and magazine editor and published author, including the forthcoming, Savvy Tech PR and Connecting the Mind and Voice of Business (2011). His company, Marketing/PR Savvy helps tech clients in Santa Cruz, Silicon Valley and Globally discover their marketing edge and create greater influence, more pipeline and increased profits.

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