Marketing Strategy needs to be carefully thought out to have the desired effects, says Steve Manton.

Whether you think of marketing as a war, a management game or, as I do, the very essence of developing a business, marketing thinking needs to encompass a link between objectives, strategy, and tactics.

A good strategic marketing plan should:

  • Be based on facts rather than assumptions
  • Provide a distinctive direction
  • Match resources to market opportunities
  • Be used to inform and direct the business.

    Marketing strategies flow from overall business objectives. What are the aims? What needs to be achieved? How quickly? Any objective or aim is the result the business wishes to achieve, such as growth in premium income, increase in profit margins, change in marketing position or becoming market leader. The strategy is the course of action to achieve this result. Thus strategy is one of the most important aspects of marketing planning, yet often the most neglected by the majority of businesses, which are frequently obsessed by a tactical approach.

    Before a battle strategy is developed the successful general needs to carry out an assessment of the enemy and the lie of the land. He must use intelligence reports and carry out a realistic audit of his own resources and capabilities. Only with this information is he able to review the options available to achieve his objective of defeating the enemy or defending his territory.

    When establishing the most effective strategy, you must establish your current positioning, take an overview of the market, carry out a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threat) analysis of both internal and external influences, review your products, prices, resources and, finally, set marketing objectives that marry with those of the business.

    All of this means that a strategy should be clear, concise, shared by everyone and adaptable to change. It must also clearly identify responsibilities, be realistic and give detailed guidelines on the practices and sub-strategies which develop as a result.

    Strategic advantage can be created with many different approaches. For example, Direct Line began offering low-cost motor insurance to end-users over the telephone in response to mass-media advertising. The company's original success was in quoting favourable rates to a select segment of drivers, i.e. those who were older and driving lower group cars. Gradually it used its experience to reach other motoring segments and non-motoring sectors, such as household insurance.

    Arguably, Direct Line's strategy has been one of cost-leadership and innovation, but its success came originally from carefully selecting its customers, which suggests that customer focus was, and probably still is, its real strength.

    Another example is how Virgin has chosen to compete through a set of values built around the “rebellious” image of its founder Richard Branson. These values are supported by a clear set of service standards and a fun environment. They bind together a diverse set of businesses, ranging from life insurance through to an airline.

    A golden rule when setting a strategy is to be flexible. As the external environment or your competitors adapt or change, take these changes into account as there will be a need to review your strategy.

    Typical examples of different marketing strategies are:

  • Undifferentiated marketing strategy – the product or service is aimed at a large or complete sector of the market. This can reduce costs in marketing distribution or differentiation but will encounter high wastage. It is not easy to find products and services that are suitable for everyone, unless you're called Coca Cola
  • Differentiated marketing – the market is segmented and different products or services are offered to each segment. This strategy increases costs but should also increase profit levels as the product offering has been targeted more specifically and there is less wastage. For example, deciding to segment private lines business either by specific product type or customer profile and aiming for a position within a high net worth, household or motor market segment
  • Concentrated marketing (niche marketing) – the total business effort is concentrated upon one segment, this gives tighter control and little or no wastage. Useful when times are difficult and non-price factors such as delivery or customisation are much easier to exploit. However, your market size is more restricted.

    Some businesses use a combination of strategies for their product mix. Again, there are no rules when deciding your marketing strategy other than it should be based upon as much management and client related information and data as possible. A strategy based on up-to-date market analysis, research and intelligence is more likely to win the day.

  • Steve Manton is a Fellow of the Chartered Insurance Institute and a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing. He is managing director of specialist insurance marketing, PR and creative agency M Consulting.