The differences between marketing, marketing strategy and go to market strategy and why your company’s growth depends on it
Lately, I’ve noticed an unsettling trend among startups and growing companies when they talk about marketing. Some entrepreneurs are casually tossing around marketing buzzwords without a true understanding of the concepts. They assume their go to market (GTM) strategy is all they need. (It isn’t.) They think marketing strategy and GTM strategy are the same thing. (They’re not.) Even worse, a lack of respect for the critically important, early-stage role of marketing can pose serious obstacles for a company’s growth trajectory.
Why is understanding marketing so important? Isn’t it just some cool graphics and social media presence? Maybe a few A/B tests? As one tech founder I recently spoke with noted, “If we had understood marketing properly, and the connection between market knowledge and product development, we could’ve avoided some major pain points.” A-ha.
Marketing is about the efficient deployment of resources that, when applied correctly, can drive your top line growth. The key word here is “efficient.”
I often use the analogy of a road trip to explain marketing strategy to my clients. If you’re planning a trip out West, you can simply pack the car and drive off into the sunset and eventually you will get there, but not before taking a few wrong turns, running out of gas, and spending lots of time and money. Or, you can rely on tools of modern technology to map out a timesaving route, plan where to stop to eat and save money by booking the best rate for overnight stays.
If you have endless resources or are a fan of the free-spirit motto “it’s the journey, not the destination,” it doesn’t really matter what route you take. But, if you have limited time, money or people -- or answer to a higher power, such as investors or shareholders -- then you need to harness your marketing. If you care about your valuation or the efficient management of your company, you need to become a better champion for effective marketing at the onset.
To start, learn to recognize -- and be able to demonstrate to your team -- the difference among some basic concepts and terms.
Old school marketing was defined as the way a business approached its potential customers with a transaction or sale of its good or service. We used to think of the traditional 4Ps of marketing: product, place, price and promotion.
But, now we have the modern update. Marketing is the way an enterprise approaches its potential users with an exchange of value. I often apply the 4Cs of marketing to analyze businesses: channel, customer, communication and cost. Many of today’s most successful enterprises have placed a significant emphasis on this more adaptable interpretation of marketing. That is, they focus on the holistic process of that value exchange rather than simply the transaction. See Amazon, Uber, or GE for some examples of successful market-focused transformations.
The concept of “market”-ing demands you first acknowledge the market, a reference to the grouping of individual customers within a certain space or boundary sharing common criteria. Who are they? What do they think they want? What do you think they really need? Gaining this crucial understanding is often a step overlooked by many technical or IP-based companies who fall victim to the inventor’s ego: “It’s the most elegant design and innovative technology. Of course, people will want it. It’s the best.”
It very well might be the best. But, markets can be stubborn. They might not feel they need the best… right now. Maybe they just want “good enough.” Maybe you need to show them they need it. This is the crux of the difficult challenge to find product-market fit and the subject of a posting for another day.
Take the time to analyze your market -- your grouping of customers. No, your potential market is not “every OEM manufacturer that ships product,” nor is it “everyone who uses a computer.” The largest corporations devote significant effort to diving deep into a potential market to identify characteristics, needs and wants. Needless to say, you should, too, but in a way that is appropriately right-sized for your company. Think about market segmentation and aligning your value proposition in order to improve traction.
By placing an understanding of your market at the forefront of your market-ing strategy, you can link your tactics and actions to your customers in ways that are meaningful and potentially transformative.
Marketing strategy is the body of thought you undertake to analyze, consider and address your market. The end result of your critical thinking process is the distillation of your strategy into a roadmap for navigation with a clear explanation of your rationale. Your strategy should articulate where you are going and why. Most importantly, it should frame this direction with respect to your client/customer/user.
By investing the time and effort into building a robust strategy, you gain a touchpoint and reference for any company decision that affects your customer interaction. A good marketing strategy will outline priorities, articulate direction, and capture ideas.
How to make a marketing strategy even more effective? Document it -- create a marketing plan -- and make it accessible, so that your team is literally on the same page (or link.) It’s much easier to make progress when all oars are in the water and rowing together.
Note that a marketing strategy is a time-based entity. Therefore, it needs to be re-evaluated and updated, as your market or market’s needs change. Depending on your industry, this may be a frequent revisit. You may want to gain additional diagnostics about the success of your strategy and plan. You might want to design and apply key metrics, such as cost of customer acquisition, increase in monthly recurring revenue or freemium conversion rates. This feedback will also help you test your key assumptions.
Go to Market Strategy
Finally, I’d like to address the trendy use of the term “go to market strategy.” You should only use this term if you are a startup, just entering the field. If you are an established business, you aren’t “going” to the market; you’d better be there already. . . unless you intend to breach a new market, or shift to new customers.
A go to market strategy is really a tactical plan for overcoming inertia and reaching your customers. “If we build it, they will come,” is not an acceptable go to market strategy. A go to market strategy addresses the last mile, the final link between you and your customer. It answers the question, “how?”
It’s a favorite curveball question asked by venture capitalists and investors because it demonstrates how you think, or even whether you’ve thought deeply enough. It will also show how responsible you might be as a steward of their investment.
Too often, I’ve seen startup founders describe their go to market strategy as a list of ways they can communicate with the market: “We plan to use social media, including LinkedIn and Twitter to announce product updates.” That’s not really a strategy, or even a tactical plan. That’s a menu list of tactics available for use.
When I hear SaaS companies talk about GTM, it’s usually in the context of user acquisition. This used to be called “sales.” But, in a digital world, you may want to think of it as a fusion of marketing communications with the sales function.
For other technical or industrial B2B companies, a go to market strategy needs to address the unique way you plan to reach a wide range of potential buyers and buying influencers. Targeted communications are required, in addition to careful consideration of the channel used for closing sales.
Think of your go to market strategy as the critical phase in your customer relationship to take the next step -- to move a contact from target to user, or from trial to purchase. If you have created an effective marketing strategy on which your GTM is based, this is the moment where you are reaching your customer with targeted messaging and meaningful value propositions. This is the place where your branding, communications, and relationship-building efforts take center stage. It’s the culmination of all your hard work and planning. It’s an exciting point in time and space where you can get closer to your customers and dive into their feedback for future innovation.
But, if you take shortcuts and lead with a go to market strategy that bypasses the process of marketing strategy, and ignores fundamental principles of marketing, you may find yourself quickly enmeshed in tactics that may hamper your own growth with misdirection and chaos.
The friction caused by an inefficient misalignment of marketing effort will sap your time and money and ultimately hamper your corporate growth.
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