First strategy, then tactics

By Lynn Manternach / Guest Editorial

Most marketers want solid strategy behind their marketing and branding efforts. But wanting strategy and making it happen are two different things.

We work in a fast-paced world where marketing expectations and opportunities are rapidly escalating. Marketers are under heavy pressure to push campaigns out the door, measure activity and fill the sales pipeline.

Developing an effective strategy can be time-consuming and often challenging. In fact, sometimes the very idea of developing a focused strategy sends marketers scurrying back to implementing tactics. But tactics without a strategy are rarely successful.

Marketing strategy has to come before tactics if you want results. Even the best-implemented tactics will be ineffective if you haven’t taken the time to do some critical thinking before execution.

So where do you begin?

Within the context of your organization’s overall business objectives, your strategic marketing focus should be the sweet spot between the target audience, your brand and the competitive environment. That means you need to start with a good understanding of all three areas.

Target audience
Who is your product or service for? The more specific you are about your target audience, the better your value proposition will be and the more success you will have with your message. Today’s consumers want to have a conversation with you and your brand, but in order to do that, your message needs to be something they care about.

We used to define target audiences in terms of demographics, psychographics and geography. For example, women 25-39, divorced, suburban, two dogs and shops at Von Maur. Or generic segments such as high-income Generation Y.

As people engage in social networks, they share more information about themselves that can be used for segmentation. Now we can more specifically target segments such as fitness moms, green activists, food lovers, coupon hunters, bird watchers, etc.

Get as specific as you can about who you want to talk to with your marketing. Humanize them and visualize them. If you keep a clear picture in your head of who you’re talking to, you’re more likely to develop communications they will respond to.

Your brand
Your brand isn’t what you say it is – it’s what consumers say it is. What makes your brand relevant to those who spend their hard-earned money on your products or services? Why do your customers choose your product or service over other options? What are the critical intangibles your product or service provides to customers and potential customers?

It is important to examine these questions from the perspective of your customers. The best approach is to ask them.

Competitive environment
There’s a cacophony of messaging constantly bombarding consumers, and you have to find a way to stand out. How are you different from your competitors?

Differentiation is critical to your success. It will help make people aware of your business and help them understand why they should choose your product or service over other options.

Every business can differentiate in some way that is relevant to the marketplace. If you look closely enough, there is always something that is significant to prospects and customers that they can’t get from your competitors. What’s yours?

Putting it all together
Once you know who you’re talking to, what’s special about what you’re selling and how to effectively position your organization/product/service within the competitive environment, you can develop your strategy.

A clear strategy is a significant competitive advantage. It allows you to focus your resources in a way that multiplies your marketing investment.

A well-articulated strategy should be simple, memorable and repeatable. If you can easily articulate your strategy, you are much more likely to consistently implement it.

Your strategy is the foundation for your marketing plan. It’s your big-picture map for how you get consumers to respond the way you want them to. Stay focused on how you want targeted consumers to think and behave as you refine your strategy.

Don’t confuse strategy with tactics, such as social media, radio or print. The channels you use to connect with consumers are important, but they need to be organized and prioritized within your overall strategy.

When you start with strategy, you have a much better idea of how to prioritize and coordinate resources and messaging in a way that provides measurable results.



Lynn Manternach is brand arsonist and president at MindFire Communications Inc. ( in Cedar Rapids and Le Claire. Contact Lynn at