FIVE Main Reasons for “Tragic” Instead of Strategic Marketing
Did you know that in September 2009 there are at least 26,000,000 keywords search
globally on Google for ‘strategic marketing’? Did you know that when you type strategic
marketing on Google Search it suggests at least another 10 items that carry strategic
marketing phrase at the beginning such as ‘strategic marketing solutions, strategic
marketing plan, strategic marketing process etc..’? Did you know the Cost Per Click (CPC) for
keyword ‘strategic internet marketing’ is USD 20 per click? Make sure you don’t simply click
because it will balloon our friend’s advertising budget!
Why strategic marketing is such an important phrase? What is strategic marketing?
Marketing deals with a lot of activities which we call as programs. Programs entail events,
mailings and press release. Programs are created based on the tactics that have been
agreed upon. Tactics activities include channels, message and sales plan. How to we derive
into tactics? It is from the strategy. Strategy answers our overall business goals which
concern the organization as a whole. So, whenever any activity that affects the organization
as a whole and long term, we called it ‘strategic’. Therefore strategic marketing is extremely
important especially in today’s business.
Strategic marketing is marketing activities that focusing on the business goals for long term
survival of the business. But which organization does not focusing on business goals and
long term survival? Super majority businesses have their strategic plan for their long term
survival but it is rare to find a company that really follow what they have planned. Most of
the time it is just a nice plan. And these people always wonder why on earth they don’t
achieve our goals but been running busy all the while?
Perhaps it is good to analyze what are the reasons for such “tragic marketing” instead
strategic marketing. The following are some of the main reasons.
Lack of Expertise
Actually there are not many “real marketing person” around in the job market. Real
marketing person means someone who can see, feel and understand the total marketing
from business perspectives. Most of the time the marketing person employed based various
criteria. Based on my experience that candidate with event, branding and media
background will have the highest value; at least in today’s world. Therefore you will notice
that some companies overused the event, branding and media such as public relation as
their marketing strategies.
We all know they are oblivious with what they do, but that’s the reality here. The second
highest value now is, if you are from FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Good) company.
Companies such as Nestle, Procter & Gamble and Coke. More so in today’s highly populated
world (around 6.2 billion people) where food needs are in high supply, marketers with
FMCG background know more about consumer than any other people in this world. Some
might argue that FMCG is more of retail than business to business marketing which involves
millions of dollars in transaction, but people in FMCG deals directly with the consumers.
They are usually upbeat and adaptable to change quite easily. They also are very close with
the market and sensitive with the changes around it. Simply because that’s how it is when
you are dealing with highly fragmented customers these days e.g. same product needs
different packaging and size to cater to different needs. Tough right?
Can you guess what type of marketer an organization will employed when they are in crisis?
People with financial expertise and background. They say, now it is the Chief Financial
Officer (CFO) is the number two most powerful person in organization. Sometimes the CEO
assumed position as CFO, in that case they are the number one. To me, typical financial
person only concerns about profit and loss. But the good news when we hire financial
background people for our marketing department; we no longer have any problem with the
CFO. They talk the same lingo and they shared the same values and opinions. They probably
the same person who handles finance and marketing departments! You will see (or rather
experience) budgets slashed in marketing. Of course it will be reflected as higher net profits
by the fiscal year in the balance sheet, but we all know that will not last. Marketing requires
investment, and investment requires time to flourish. Quarter to quarter will not work.
Because of lack of expertise, our dream for strategic marketing is a tragic nightmare. We
spend a lot of money but our return on marketing investment (ROMI) is very poor.
The second reason why our strategic marketing fails to deliver is customer focus.
It’s the Customer, Stupid!
If you have experience working in marketing or sales, you will know what I meant. Not many
organizations know what they can and cannot do when it comes to looking for specialty to
serve their customer. We all want to be everything to everybody but at the end we are
nothing to everybody. So we are nobody. Business wise, we are just a product, not an
experience or utility.
I remember a visit to an organization that wants to launch a new product. I was hired as the
consultant to facilitate the brainstorming and discussion about their new product. They are
in software development and the CEO feels that they can do more with what they have
now. So I was hired. Remember, this was my first time meeting so I don’t have any idea
what is it about but I rather not investigate. I attended the brainstorming session with an
The moment of truth came. That meeting I attended was the 4th meeting (work in progress
meeting) which is conducted bi-weekly. The CEO will be there and the head of departments
will present their progress. I observed through the presentation, trying to grasp what really
happen, watching their face to engage, writing some notes on my book but I still don’t get it.
What I scribbled in my book was, “I don’t understand.”
Then going-roundtable if any question, I asked. “Who is the target group for this product?”. I
got a super laugh from all of them except from the CEO. I concurred something was not in
place. I continued asking all the marketing questions and no one could answer. Aha! Then I
can see the CEO face smiled and he quickly excused himself to another meeting. The CEO
sms’ed’ me and I took over from there.
When we design a product (new, extension or refresh), we need to focus it to the customer.
While all of us know about this because we are customers too to some other service
providers, many didn’t know how to exactly use the marketing tools and direct it to the
customers. We usually jumped into the product features based on our own experience and
lenses. At that experience and lenses are from a provider perspective instead of customer’s.
Peter F. Drucker once said, “The customer sees a product (or service) as their utility. As long
as their needs are satisfied by the utility delivered by the product the customer will continue
to purchase until that product is no longer provide them the satisfaction they wanted.”
Take home point here is, focus all your marketing energy to the customer.
Change in the marketing environment
“Change is the new normal.” That was quoted by Philip Kotler in his new book “Chaotics”.
While many see change as negative, there are a lot more businesses today see change as a
good thing. Peter Drucker wrote in his book, “Entrepreneurship and Innovation”, that
change in organization, industry and demographic are sources of innovation. And from Jack
Welch in his book, “Winning”, he also said “change is inevitable, you got to embrace it!.”
Change means any change that happened in this world that leave impact to your business.
We have witnessed how change in technology has changed the way communicate and
commute these days. We also experienced change in demographic and how it has
transformed many businesses in this world. We also have seen how change in population
has revolutionized the food business and supply chains. We also recently shocked by the
global financial crisis that only happen once in the lifetime for many of us. Change is
inevitable but the ability to respond to change is what matters. As Darwin once said that “It
is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most
responsive to change.”. And it has to be done fast enough.
Let’s take a look of what happen in the recent crisis. Don’t look far, look around us. How
many us realized the subsequent few months after the crisis hits Malaysia (or at least the
spiral effect), the advertisement dollars shaved and subsequently plummeted. You will see
this especially in The Star, English dailies, on their Saturday’s copy because that’s like the
bumper issue of the week. And usually inflated by the job advertising for various companies
but when the crisis hits, it was very thin. I remember holding The Star on two Saturdays of a
Sunday size (usually the Sunday size is the thinnest of all). Is it fair to say the recruitment
was freeze that time? Potentially yes.
I also observed there were less commercial ads filling our TV3. Well, ASTRO advertised itself
in its own channels, so we don’t see much differences. There was a lot of SALE going around
at shopping malls to charge back the economy. Government pump priming few billions
ringgit to cushion the economy a bit. Not to mentioned the stimulus packages and new
projects worth billions of ringgit to give more hope to our business people in the country. All
these changes have a chain effect in our business environment.
Take for example if early of the year we already plan to launch a new premium service and
suddenly the crisis hits, we will think many times whether to launch or postpone. Chances
are we will postpone it. When crisis hits, don’t take chances. Deal with the present first.
Another example is reflecting how Malaysia has evolved so much demographically. And we
are still in the transition period of this change. We haven’t settled yet. Our demographic is
evolving and it is evolving very fast. It is unlikely to slow down. In fact it will not slow down
because it is like a moving average in the financial market statistical tool; the average gets
higher and higher by the day. Look how it has changed the job market, consumer market,
commodity market, technology market, education market and a lot more other markets.
Not to mention the emerging of women purchasing power.
I attended a seminar in Kuala Lumpur recently and bumped into a client. He is now
working with a top public university in Malaysia. We chatted and I asked him why his
university still doesn’t offer distance learning to cater for growing “middles” i.e. middle
class, middle manager and middle age group that account more than 30% of Malaysian total
population of 28 million? Remember he is the Head of Marketing and his answer was, “We
have yet to see a real demand.”
My eyes went rounded and I was shocked. I told her that Open University Malaysia (OUM),
one of the leading pioneer of distance learning universities, has cumulatively more than 90,
000 students, Multimedia University has more than 20, 000 and not to mention other
private universities and colleges that usually cater long distance students in their twinning
programs with United Kingdom, Australia and United States. In total I estimated at least
250, 000 adults now on part time or distance learning and attending weekend classes. If you
don’t call that a niche market and demand, I don’t know what is.
Therefore, changes in the marketing and business environment do affect strategic
marketing, but what are we going to do about it matters the most. Remember, the direction
should be on the customer and not you.
Lack of Support
Heard of NIMBY? It is a jargon word means “Not Invented in My Back Yard”. This is to
explain that when someone doesn’t involve in a particular initiative, he stops providingany
support. It is either because he doesn’t know how to play a role or simply ignorant. NIMBY is
used when you “perform” the later behaviour; ignorant. In some cases, NIMBY type will
sabotage that initiative. And this is intolerable because it will jeopardize the entire
organization. Some places call it NIH, means “Not Invented Here”. The sad part is most of
them are managers that suppose to direct resources and achieve business goals.
To ensure our marketing successful, we need to make it strategic. And to make it strategic,
we need to make it coordinated and integrated. An orchestra will not achieve it’s full
performance if one of the cellists decided to play his own tune, the clarinettist decided to
eat chewing gum and the bassist uses different string quality that was supplied by his friend.
As quoted by Philip Kotler, “Unfortunately not all employees in a company are trained or
motivated to pull together.” There are two common problems observed here. One is
between the marketing functions itself i.e. sales, advertising, research and product are not
coordinated. Worse off when the marketing team has to literally fight with other
departments such as production, engineering, administration and finance. Marketing does
not work when it is only a department. It was well quoted by David Packard of Hewlett
Packard, “Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing department.” Because they
are currently too many goods chasing too few customers, lack of support from other
functional divisions are sure way to close business.
Lack of Involvement
Most of the time any activity that carries “strategic” will be an exclusive event for the top
management. This practice has to go especially if you are running a growing small business
firms; where every dollar is very important and resources are scarce. The last thing you want
to do is to plan something that you suddenly realize not going to work only when it reaches
the customer. Big no no.
Unless you are running a super big multinational such General Electric (GE dubbed as the
world’s 5th largest population if it’s a country), then the central (or sometimes call head
quarters) will do the planning. Nonetheless GE placed many sensors in every place they do
business, so it helps a lot when they have such system in place as their marketing
Former General Electric (GE), Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Jack Welch, in Global
Business Forum 2009 held with University of Miami Alumni quoted, “At GE, the managers
and the employees know exactly what they have to deliver and achieve. They also know
what kind of performance metrics and measures will be used during their assessment. The
employees will rate their managers and vice versa. Top performers will be heavily rewarded
and the underperformers will be fired instantaneously”. GE must have put a lot of efforts to
achieve this level of performance. Unfortunately, not many companies able to do this
especially the small medium businesses.
At least, our strategic marketing planning should look like the following example.
When more people get involved in the marketing planning, we will be able to decipher
greater details that tend to be overlooked in smaller crowds. I don’t mean we need to get
everyone on board, but rather every department must be in the meeting. At least for the
first few rounds. We can ask each department to elect 2 persons from their team to be
present at the meeting. These representatives must be able to represent the department
needs and issues to be escalated in the marketing meetings. It is pointless if they are just
there to take notes and unable to speak up.
Talking about speaking up, the higher management or the chairman of the meeting (usually
the senior manager or managing director himself) must be able to open the discussion and
allow it to gel. As long as there is no chair throwing and emotional bashing, we should allow
it to flow. As the chairman, you should manage and don’t get engrossed in the discussion.
You should ask few questions for clarification and make it firm. Other than that you are
doing too much already.
There are many more reasons to screw up a marketing plan and make it more tragic.
Nonetheless, making it tragic benefits no one to the organization. As you can see, some of
the tragic reasons are internally driven factors and can be mitigated early. It can save the
organization marketing dollars and from “wholesale” public humiliation.
Strategic marketing can bring forth a lot of benefits to the organization and its members in
the long run. Benefits such as higher salary, revenue sharing, job security, self pride and
bonuses to name a few. To make sure strategic marketing planning successful, the
organization needs to ensure its members able to work together and synergize their efforts
focusing to the customers. A concerted efforts by each individual is vital in making strategic
marketing planning successful.
1. “Marketing Management”, Philip Kotler
2. “Chaotics”, Philip Kotler and John A. Caslione, AMACOM, 2009
3. “Entrepreneurship and Innovation”, Peter F. Drucker, Harper & Row Publishers, 1993
4. “Contextual Marketing: The Real Business of Internet”, David Kenny and John F.
Marshall, Harvard Business Review, 2008
5. “Memo to Marketing”, Peter Lorange, MIT Sloan Management Review, Winter 2005
6. “Motivating People, Getting Beyond Money”, McKinsey Quarterly, November 2009
7. http://www.wisdomquotes.com/003120.html , Charles Darwin
8. “Winning”, Jack Welch and Suzy Welch, Harper Collins Publishers, 2007
9. “The Fifth Discipline”, Peter M. Senge, Random House Business Books, 2006