Marketing strategy: Focus on your strengths

Marketing is probably one of the most misunderstood departments.  It’s the place where the boss’s daughter gets shunted, even though she doesn’t have a marketing degree.  It’s a cost center—even though it is directly contributing to your bottom line.

Marketing strategy is a process-driven application of tools in a scientific way to understand current realities and future opportunities. Effective marketing strategy takes the guesswork out of planning while developing measurable and evidence-based ways to exploit those opportunities.

So when data tells you which of your products is your “cash cow” and which of your products is your “rising star,” you need to focus your efforts on those.  Don’t get distracted by the client or boss throwing money on the table to create something way off the chart for them—unless marketing can identify it as a possible future star.

The art of saying no

So much of marketing strategy is about knowing what to say no to, as much as it is knowing what to say yes to.  Good marketing strategy requires you to be clear about the opportunities you are going after, how to filter those opportunities, and how you are going to go after those you see as worthwhile.

But, of course, you are going to get left-field inquiries and customer requests to do something a bit extra—or those phone calls from publications offering you a great deal on ad space.

So how do you choose which marketing efforts and development projects to pursue? That’s where your marketing strategy comes in.

In his 2013 TEDxLSU talk, Kenny Ngyen likens the word “no” to a protective shield.  He makes a passionate case for

utilizing the power of the word ‘no’ to grow—not only about how to say no but to understand when and why to say ‘no’ to pave the way for future opportunities in the long term and short term.

Saying no to opportunities is difficult.  But when those opportunities take you away from your core strengths and your desired growth trajectory, saying yes isn’t always the right answer.

The risks of saying yes

What happens if you start delivering outside your core strengths or pursuing unexpected opportunities? There are risks: You may under-perform or fail to deliver.  This can result in long-term damage to your brand.  Even if you are successful, you risk spreading yourself too thinly and diluting your message or brand identity.  And you risk drifting away from your long-term goals.

Let me tell you the tale of a software company who did a great trade in a feature-rich solution perfectly tailored to meet the needs of a very specific niche.  One of its largest customers asked it to develop a new product integrated with its existing product—it would cover all the development costs and more besides.  But this new product already existed. In fact, it would drag the software company into a crowded marketplace full of established players.  The company was unlikely to get a foothold in the market, beyond what it could sell to its existing clients.

Nevertheless, they said yes—pulling their developers away from its core product and core strengths.  When they came up for air 18 months later, having spent all that time developing the new product for the client, the company’s management saw that its revenue generation from its cash cow was falling.  It had taken its eye off the ball and its core market was under threat from new entrants.

Only then did awareness set in: It should have said no to its client.

Focus on your core strengths

A good marketing plan will explore and describe your core strengths with clarity.  Promote these strengths (and your goals) internally so that all staff live and breathe your proposition.

This way, when the unexpected opportunity does arrive, your staff understand whether it is something to which they should be saying yes or no.

Promote your strengths, goals, and brand value to your customers and prospects, so they know what they can expect from you now and moving forward.  In this way, you are likely to receive less of the off-field requests that blow you off course. Of course, it is possible to do more than one thing well; your strengths, goals and brand can be expanded at any time.  But growth needs to be done strategically—not in response to ad-hoc demands.

Be clear about where you want to go, what you want to do, and the customers you want to serve.

As Seth Godin states, “No is the foundation that we can build our yes on.”

22-year veteran of strategy: brand, business, organizational, communications. Certified in project management and regulatory compliance. Fan of dark tea, thick books, peace, and unity.

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