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The Art Of War

Good marketing managers have much in common with good generals. To be truly successful, a marketing strategy must be planned like a military campaign - with precise knowledge of who, where and how to attack. In today's market aiming blindly at your target will get you nowhere, having as much success as throwing mud at a wall and hoping enough of it will stick. Advertising to everyone everywhere is a waste of time and money, but how can you avoid the basic mistakes that many companies make? Three fundamental principles underlie good marketing practice:

  1. The principle of market segmentation and customer value identifies customer groups with characteristics that are significant for marketing strategy. Don't dissipate your energy and resources - determine who your main customers are, and find out as much as possible about them. In retail, for example, knowing their average age, income levels and lifestyle will help you refine your strategy. Then decide how important different customer groups are to your business. Which group is most valuable? Which customers are hardly worth having? You could transform your results by attracting the customers you want and ignoring those you don't.

  2. The principle of differential advantage - your cutting edge - is the preference of target customers for one firm's offer relative to competitors. For example, BMW markets to people who prefer BMWs, and people who shop at Habitat are willing to pay more than they would do at Ikea. Differentiating yourself from the competition in terms of product, price, and service and clearly communicating what your brand or business stands for will help your target customers see themselves in your brand, and identify you as the brand they want.

  3. The principle of concentration and positioning strategy defines where your firm competes - your target market segment - while a choice of differential advantage dictates how you will compete. Your main customers may be retired people with large disposable incomes, or executives in their 30s and 40s with growing families and high expectations. These two groups require very different marketing propositions. Focus on your most valuable customers and get your communications right. People from other market sectors may buy from you, but don't fritter your time and resources trying to say something to everyone or you'll end up having nothing to say to anyone.

These three principles, as any military man will tell you, are the very Art Of War.

Companies with a coherent marketing strategy embodying these principles get away with mistakes that would sink other businesses. And being in the right place at the right time, saying the right things to the right people beats the most sophisticated, big budget, but poorly targeted marketing campaign any day of the week.

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