So just what is a marketing strategy anyway?

In marketing, strategy by neville

When you hear about “strategy” one of the first images that comes to mind is sitting on a mountain smoking weird stuff.

OK, maybe not smoking weird stuff, but at least blue-sky thinking that eventually gives you a direction to crush the competition and successfully compete in a crowded marketplace.

But how do you get there, and how do you develop a marketing strategy that is actually useful?

Ask any three business people what they think of strategy and you will get at least three different definitions and opinions.

It’s the same with a marketing strategy. Search the Internet for “marketing strategy” and you will find different solutions based on different understandings of what “strategy” means in the first place.

But there’s at least one thing we should be able to agree on:

Your marketing strategy should support your overall strategy.

One of the first things we can agree on is that marketing strategy should support your overall strategy.

Which of course immediately begs the question “what is your overall strategy?” And that opens a whole new can of worms — if you don’t have an overall strategy how can you develop a marketing strategy to support it?

Recap: a strategy for your small business

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how you can develop a strategy for your small business. (Read the original article here.) Here’s a quick recap:

Some of the world’s greatest business leaders have provided us with a simple and accessible way to develop a strategy. The methodology states that any strategy has to answer 6 questions:

1. What does winning look like?
The first thing you need to do is define what winning looks like. When will you know that you’re successful, that you’ve reached your business goals?

Winning may be when you’ve reached a certain level of gross revenue. Or when you’re able to consistently generate a certain amount of profit. Or when you consistently sell a certain number of widgets every month.

Your measure of success may differ, but this is where you need to start.

2. Where am I going to play?
This determines whether you’re going to play: all over the world or in a specific geographic area. For example, my DIY courses are available all over the world, provided my users understand English.

3. How am I going to win?
What makes you unique? How are you going to stand out in a crowded market? How are you going to be different enough that people pay attention to what you have to say, and the value you can provide?

4. What core competencies do I need?
What are the core competencies you need to win? At the very least, you need your expertise – usually in some specific area where you know better than most how stuff works. To run your business effectively, you will also need to be able to market, manage your money, and so on. What else will you need?

5. What systems and measures do you need?
You need systems to run your business effectively and measures to know when things are going wrong. What are the key ones?

6. What are the short- and long-term consequences of these decisions?
Now that you’ve answered the previous 5 questions, what does this mean for the short- and longer term? What do you now need to do? (This is where strategy turns into business plans.)

So what is a marketing strategy?

At the beginning of this article we agreed that your marketing strategy needs to support your overall strategy. So, if you answered the six questions that determine your strategy, you can now drill down into your marketing strategy and answer the same six questions – but this time for marketing specifically.

1. What does winning look like?
In the Tornado Method we have a very specific definition of marketing: the purpose of marketing is to generate leads for your business. (Marketing is distinct from Lead Nurturing and Sales.)

To know if your marketing is working, you need to answer one question: is my marketing generating enough of the right kinds of leads? If it is, your marketing is working. If not, you need to fix it.

So the answer to this question should really be a number: X new leads per month (or week or day if you like). You are winning at marketing when you generate this number of the right kind of leads.

And note that it’s not just the number of new leads that counts – it’s also the quality of those leads. A thousand new leads per month means nothing if at least some of them are not also the right kind.

2. Where am I going to play?
For marketing, where am I going to play is all about your channels to market. Are you going to market in the real world? In the online world? If so, where specifically? In the real world, this could include signage, give-aways with your name or logo (T-shirts, pens) or sponsoring events.

In the online world you can choose to play on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on ad infinitum.

3. How am I going to win?
Here’s one of the key concepts you need to understand about marketing:

Marketing is the vehicle that gets your brand into the world.

You’ve already decided – in your overall strategy – how you’re going to win. How you’re going to stand out, be different and get noticed. Your marketing needs to do that for you.

Are you going to be over the top? Discreet? Cheap and cheerful or eye-watering expensive? Your brand determines how you’re going to look, feel and sound – and your marketing needs to get the message out.

4. What core competencies do I need?
You will need at least copywriting, marketing automation, content marketing and channel-specific skills (for example if you choose to use targeted groups in Facebook).

You can outsource these or learn to do them yourself – but you have to have the skills to do justice to your marketing.

5. What systems and measures do you need?
If you’re doing online marketing you will need at least some systems to make your life a little easier (manually posting on all your platforms every day gets old very quickly).

Then you need engagement measures – these are usually specific per channel. Tweets, likes, comments, views or reads are all applicable.

But ultimately you need to know if your marketing is working – how many new leads you’re generating every month (or week or day).

6. What are the short- and long-term consequences of these decisions?
So now you know what your marketing is designed to achieve, what do you need to do now? Learn some skills? Start marketing on new channels?


So there you have it – a marketing strategy that aligns and supports your overall strategy. Like many things it’s not particularly complex, but that does not mean that it’s easy.

Just why is marketing so important?

I did not grow up a marketer (and I’m still not a marketer though I have become somewhat familiar with the subject). I somehow had a vague understanding that marketing was important, but I never realised just how important until I came across this little formula.

The idea is as follows:

You get a number of leads for your business. The percentage that become clients is called your closing rate (I’ve never seen a 100% closing rate). Your number of clients multiplied by the average revenue per client determines your total revenue.

For example, if you get one thousand leads and 10% of them become clients, you have 100 clients. If each generates on average $100 your total revenue is $10,000.

This may seem overly simplistic but it is fundamentally true:

Your revenue is directly related to the effectiveness of your marketing.

So even for non-marketers like me this formula is a simple but powerful reminder of why I not only need to market – but also why I need to be really good at it.

So what now?

Now that you have an idea of what a marketing strategy could look like, what should you do about it?

If you feel it’s going to help, build your marketing strategy.

What I’ve shown you here is the simplest way to build a marketing strategy that clearly supports an overall strategy. I like this approach because it’s quick to develop and doesn’t have any bits you don’t need.

If you do plan to do this, you’re probably going to need to develop or update your overall strategy as well. Here’s my recommendation:

  • Only spend the time to craft a marketing strategy if you feel it’s going to add value to your business.
  • If it’s not clear what value a marketing strategy will have for you, don’t do it. Spend your time on something more valuable.

I don’t have a marketing strategy
If it’s any comfort, I don’t have a marketing strategy as a standalone document.

I do have a marketing strategy — but it is so simple that I didn’t bother writing it down. Here’s why:

  • It is so simple I don’t have problems remembering it.
  • It’s only me in my business so I don’t need to communicate it to anyone.
  • All the important bits are captured in my marketing plan.

(My marketing plan is an annual calendar with everything marketing-worthy on it. It’s part of my upcoming Tornado Marketing course – I will add some links here when I’ve got something worth showing.)

Key points to take away

Here are the key points you should take away from this article:

  • You can distill an overall strategy down to 6 questions.
  • Your marketing strategy needs to support your overall strategy.
  • Don’t develop a marketing strategy if it’s not clear how the strategy is going to add value.