In many business settings, strategy is a word that has cachet. It seems to have a little less today, with the word execution gaining quickly, but it still carries some weight.

At its essence, strategy (the “how”) is a way to accomplish an objective (the “what”). In terms of a marketing strategy, if the objective of marketing is to select, serve and satisfy customers in a profitable manner, then a marketing strategy is the way a company accomplishes those objectives, which may include segmentation studies, competitive analysis, and the tactical 4 Ps (Promotion, Place, Product, Price).

A famous figure in the world of strategy was a general named Sun Tzu. He lived in northeastern China about 2500 years ago and was considered an expert in military strategy due to his many victories on the battlefield. Many successful military leaders (like General Patton) and business executives (like Jack Welch, the former GE CEO) have attributed their victories to their application of Sun Tzu's principles (see The Art of War for Executives by D.G. Krause and The Six Principles from Sun Tzu and the Art of Business: Six Principles for Managers by Mark McNeilly).

Sun Tzu wrote about four areas, among others, that we could apply to the testing of marketing strategy: speed, strengths and weaknesses, alliances, and successful market capture.


Market timing and speed are critical to many industries, such as technology, pharmaceuticals, and some consumer goods. Although many writers have challenged the first-mover advantage approach, it is still valuable to have the capability to execute quickly and deliberately.

Depending on the current maturity of the market, being able to time a market window and execute a fast launch may be the difference between gaining substantial mind-and-market share or none at all. This scenario has played itself out, writ large, in the chip business—as Intel, AMD and others try to be the first-to-market and the first to capture the “heavy using” innovators and early adopters (see Diffusion of Innovations).

In technology markets, for example, the top three competitors often have market shares of 50%, 15%, and 5%, respectively, depending on being first-to-market, having proprietary technology, and having overwhelming superiority or functionality.

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Michael L. Perla is a principal consultant at a sales and marketing consulting firm. He can be reached at