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Guest Post: 8 Important Points about Marketing Strategy

NOTE: The following is a guest post by Mike Boudreaux. If you want to submit your own guest post, click here for more information.

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I’m a huge fan of Al Ries and Jack Trout. My top two favorite marketing books are Marketing Warfare and Positioning, both by Ries and Trout. I enjoy watching the Ries Report videos in YouTube.

Jack Trout on strategyAl Ries went a long time without posting video until just recently. Hopefully he’ll start posting new ones again. I also just found some interesting audio feeds on Jack Trout’s website too. I can’t wait to listen to them on my iPod.

I’ve had another book by Trout on my nightstand for a few months and I haven’t found the time to open it up until just today. Boy, was that a mistake! What was I thinking?

Jack Trout on Strategyturned out to be one of the best and most useful marketing strategy books that I’ve read. In the preface, Trout describes the book as a “short course on what I’ve learned about strategy in my long journey through the business world.”

He has extracted the important principles to follow from his many books that he has written on strategy in the past. This relatively short book of 8 chapters and 150 pages is a golden nugget! Don’t wait to read it like I did. Get a copy and read it NOW.

The 8 chapters each explain how strategy is all about survival, perceptions, being different, competition, specialization, simplicity, leadership, and reality.  It is hard to summarize a summary, but here is an overview of the key points. The book is a treasure trove of concisely written quotes, ideas, references, and examples. This isn’t going to do them justice, but I’m really excited to share some of the major insights that I collected from the book. These are my notes. You can read them here, but I urge any product manager to read the book.

It’s all about strategy.

Success is all about having the right strategy, and marketing and strategy must be combined. “Marketing is what drives a business. And a great business strategy without proper marketing will often fail in a highly competitive world.” Strategy must be the one word in the English language that has more definitions than any other.

I have no idea how many different definitions for strategy that I’ve seen, with many of them being more analogy than definition. Trout offers his own: “What makes you unique and what is the best way to put that difference into the minds of your customers and prospects.” Personally, I am a bit disappointed by this definition because it doesn’t consider your resources or opportunities.

My favorite definition for strategy is from Michael Porter’s HBR article What is Strategy, “Strategy is making tradeoffs in competing. The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do.”

1. Strategy is all about survival and in a tough world, using strategy is how you will survive.

Trout describes the tyranny of choice, and how there has been an explosion of choice in the marketplace that leads to increasing competition. This is driven by the law of division, which is an unstoppable process whereby product categories continue to divide into more categories. This is only getting worse, as change is accelerating and the world is becoming increasingly complex. What really works isn’t implementing programs like CRM, TQM, and other tools and fads. What works is “devising and maintaining a clearly stated, focused strategy.”

2. Strategy is all about perceptions. Perception is reality. Don’t get confused by facts.

This is really all about positioning and if you’ve read Trout’s Positioning books then you’ll get this very quickly. Minds are limited, they hate confusion, they’re insecure, they don’t change, and they can lose focus. So, there are things that marketers can do to deal with this.

For new products, tell the market what it isn’t – like a horseless carriage or sugar-free soda. Present information as news to trigger interest. Keep your message simple and avoid confusing concepts.  Because minds are insecure, they try to manage risk by following the herd and they respond to social proof in the form of testimonials, bandwagons, and heritage.

Don’t set out to change people’s minds, because they are difficult if not impossible to change. Let your brand be a focused expert and don’t fall for the line extension trap.

3.  Strategy is all about being different. If you don’t have a point of difference, you’d better have a low price.

Trout starts out by saying how not to differentiate: quality and customer satisfaction only keep you in the game. He then describes how to differentiate: Be first, own an attribute or a category, be the sales, technology, or performance leader, brag about your leadership, have a heritage, have a magic ingredient, make products the right way or the old fashioned way, promote your hotness, or get the press revved up about how hot you are.

4. Strategy is all about competition. Know your competition. Avoid their strengths. Exploit their weaknesses.

This is all about Marketing Warfare, and some of the things that Trout says here are highly contentious and edgy. “Business today isn’t about reengineering or continuous improvement. Business is about war. It’s not about better people and better products.”

Don’t be customer-oriented, be competitor-oriented. Successful marketing campaigns should be planned like military campaigns. Companies need to learn how to attack and to flank their competition, how to defend their positions, and how and when to wage guerilla warfare.

Strategy should be built from the bottom up with tactics dictating strategy, and not the other way around. A strategy isn’t a goal, it is a coherent marketing direction. Find one tactic that works, and then turn it into a strategy. Find a tactic that you are skilled at when compared to the competition.

5. Strategy is all about specialization. It is better to be exceptional at one thing than good at many things.

Be better than the competition at one thing. Build your strategy around your core competency. A specialist has power over an generalist. Be an expert, and people will give you more credit than you deserve. A generalist won’t be given credit for expertise in many fields – you can’t be expert in everything. Position yourself as the specialist.

Specialization is the counterpoint to growth, and specialists need to stay specialists or else you will erode your perception of expertise. The ultimate weapon is for a specialist to become generic, where your brand represents the category.

6.  Strategy is all about simplicity. Big strategic ideas almost always come in small words.

Simplicity is the holy grail and complex strategies are doomed to failure, but people don’t trust simple and they admire complexity. I’m an engineer and I often see this same trait in fellow engineers like myself. We like to create complex and fascinating designs, losing sight on our ultimate goal of providing robustness and efficiency.

Simple ideas are best, and they’re rooted in common sense. However, people don’t trust common sense and want some grand strategy instead. When developing strategy, treat market research like intelligence gathering.

Don’t get mesmerized by the data, by focus groups, and test markets. People talk one way and walk another. Use research to measure perceptions of you and your competition and how well you own an attribute or word in the mind. Don’t use complex language – it is confusing.

7. Strategy is all about leadership. No one will follow if you don’t know where you are going.

Leadership isn’t as complex as people make it out to be. Drucker says how to be an effective leader in a few sentences. “The foundation of effective leadership is thinking through the organization’s mission, defining it and establishing it, clearly and visibly. The leader sets the goals, sets the priorities, and sets and maintains the standards.”

To find the right direction, go to the front lines. Get honest opinions. Be a visible storyteller, cheerleader, and facilitator. It’s not about the numbers, it’s about perceptions. It’s about thinking long term and hanging in there. To be a good leader, adopt the qualities of a good general.Be flexible, have mental courage, be bold, know the facts, and be lucky.

I recently had the rare opportunity to see a strong leader in action. He exhibited all of the qualities that Trout described. The most pronounced were his storytelling and cheerleading. You can’t help but be inspired and motivated when you’re around a person like this.

8. Strategy is all about reality. Goals are like dreams. Wake up and face reality.

We’ve seen big corporate icons fail – Polaroid, AT&T, Xerox, Levi Strauss, Enron, Lucent, etc.  They all lost touch with the reality of the marketplace. The growth trap is created by Wall Street.

Growth is the culprit behind impossible goals. People do damaging things to their brands in order to force unnecessary growth. Goals muck up marketing plans by introducing unreality into the marketing process. Managers try to force things to happen rather than looking for things to exploit. Bigger isn’t necessarily better. With bigness comes conservative behavior, organizational problems, personal agendas, and struggling CEO’s.

I have first-hand experience with the goals trap and so this resonates with me. Growth outside of the core strategy can cause the organization to lose focus. Losing focus can draw attention away from your strengths, and your ultimate goal of driving home profits will suffer.

Now go read the book, along with the other books by Jack Trout if you haven’t read them already.  You’ll be glad you did.

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Tweet this: Guest post  by @MikeBoudreaux – 8 Important Points about #Marketing #Strategy http://wp.me/pXBON-2bK #prodmgmt (@onpm)

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Mike is a product manager at Emerson Process Management and he is the marketing director for ProductCamp Austin.  Mike has global experience marketing products for the refining, chemicals, oil & gas, solar power, and defense industries. He holds a BS degree in Chemical Engineering from the University Houston and a MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

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