As I work with marketing organizations around the world, a common gap stands out: the lack of marketing strategy. Perhaps it's because the difficult economic climate has forced marketers into a more tactical mode, with leaner teams trying to execute more with less.

Whatever the reason, the lack of a marketing strategy has huge implications on an organization's marketing effectiveness. When strategy is neglected, the price paid goes beyond just lost revenue; the price is fewer opportunities from the target market, lower inquiry rates, and fewer sales conversions.

Rushing to implement marketing programs and tactics in the absence of a strategy means setting the stage for potential failure.

When we ask what strategy is being deployed, we often here marketers say the strategy is social media, direct marketing, public relations (PR), or advertising. But those are not strategies; they are tactics, and each can be deployed to support any number of strategic options.

So what is strategy? Strategy is how an organization is going to achieve its mission. And marketing strategy is the critical link between marketing goals and marketing programs and tactics.

Moreover, marketing strategy should reflect an organization's overall strategic approach. You probably are already familiar with some common business strategies. Michael Porter, Bishop William Lawrence University Professor at Harvard Business School, has identified three generic business strategies:

  1. Differentiation—used by organizations that focus on the uniqueness and prowess of their products or services by leveraging innovation, design, quality, etc.
  2. Cost leadership—used by organizations to offer products at lower prices than competitors' by leveraging supply-chain management, distribution, process/manufacturing efficiencies, etc.
  3. Niche—used by organizations that leverage domain expertise, service quality, etc., for a particular customer or market segment

A strategy provides focus and enables an organization to concentrate limited resources on building core competencies that create a sustainable competitive advantage that allows the pursuit and securing of the best revenue opportunities.

Marketing strategy complements an organization's overall strategy, keeps marketing in line with the organization's overarching mission, and provides guidance and direction for channeling the organization's marketing resources toward achieving market traction, penetration, and dominance.

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image of Laura Patterson

Laura Patterson is president and founder of VisionEdge Marketing. For 20+ years, she has been helping CEOs and marketing executives at companies such as Cisco, Elsevier, ING, Intel, Kennametal, and Southwest Airlines prove and improve the value of marketing. Her most recent book is Metrics in Action: Creating a Performance-Driven Marketing Organization.

Twitter: @LauraVEM