Achieving high growth levels is not enough to have a great product or service offering and an effective strategy; you also need compelling marketing to attract customers and sell the solution.
But what are the ingredients you need to deliver great marketing? How do you rise above your competitors and the background noise?
This article will look at how we can apply some established business strategy models to marketing.
Firstly, let's look at a classic way of developing a competitor-beating business strategy.
One of the critical ways to formulate an effective business strategy to grow a sustainable business is the resources and capabilities approach.
Leading business strategist Robert M Grant suggests that competitive advantage comes from:
- the resources a business owns and has access to,
- the capabilities it has or can develop.
Let's break down those resources and capabilities.
Business resources can be tangible or intangible:
- Tangible resources are things like access to materials, machinery, processes, location, land, and capital.
- Intangible resources are things like expertise, knowledge, intellectual property, brand image and reputation.
Capabilities from resources
Capabilities are developed from the resources that a company has or has access to.
This means different companies will necessarily have different capabilities as they will have different resources to draw on.
The resources and capabilities you have will then determine strategy. If you don't have access to cheap raw materials and your competitors do, for example, you cannot hope to compete on price.
Competitive advantage, which is a significant driver of growth and profitability, is derived from unique capabilities, which in turn are the combination of unique resources.
For example, if your company alone has particular knowledge, which results in a unique process, that knowledge is a resource that will result in a unique capability. And that unique capability offers a competitive advantage.
Likewise, if your company is the only one with access to a unique raw material, that should allow you to develop a capability that your competitors cannot match.
Unique resources = unique capabilities = competitive advantage
It follows then; a company should possess resources that are unique to them to beat the competition. This is essentially the idea behind the VRIN Model put forward by Jay Barney and later amended to the VRIO model.
VRIO analysis asks four questions of a resource. Is it:
- Is it Valuable?
- Is it Rare?
- Is it costly to Imitate?
- And is a business Organised to capture the value of the resources?
Resources and capabilities that meet all four requirements will deliver sustained competitive advantage and high growth to a company.
We know this tried and tested model works well for business strategy, so could it also be applied to marketing? What can we learn from this approach? Can we use the same resources and ideas to develop effective marketing for growth?
Marketing resources for growth
A business should look for resources to develop strong, and ideally, unique capabilities to rise above the competition. Unfortunately, many companies do marketing well, and it is a well-understood discipline, so developing unique abilities will be quite a challenge.
Ideally, any capabilities need to be sustainable and not something that a competitor can easily replicate.
Let's look at some of the critical marketing resources and their significance to business growth, listing them in two categories, tangible and intangible:
- Marketing budget
Many of these could be easily replicated or matched. The resources that will differentiate your marketing are likely to be your personnel and content. These are intrinsically linked to the list of intangible resources – knowledge, organisation and culture – all rely on people.
So your marketing team's quality and accumulated knowledge are vitally important to growth. The real competitive advantages here relate to how well you know your market, your customers, and how your products or services can solve their problems.
One tangible resource you might overlook is systems. There are many complex strands to effective marketing that need monitoring, controlling, and responding.
You need a system to store customer information and interactions, monitor the market, respond appropriately to both interactions, and run campaigns and create content. And you need to gauge and measure the effectiveness of your marketing efforts.
Few marketing management systems can offer all those capabilities and even fewer that are easy to use and do it well.
A marketing team that uses a modern, well-developed software system to manage its marketing will have a distinct advantage over competitors who do not.
Efficient marketing systems that are integrated and capable of managing all marketing elements are not unique resources, but they are still rare.
Even rarer is a business that deploys those systems comprehensively and gets the most out of them.
Another resource we have listed in the tangible section is content. Here I'm referring to the body of existing content built up by a marketing department.
Whilst it is true that your content could be replicated by a competitor, good, compelling content that meets the needs of its audience will be a strong, potentially 'evergreen' resource that will help to differentiate your marketing efforts.
This content is again directly linked to the skills and knowledge of the marketing team members. The more knowledgeable and insightful your content creators are, the more valuable and targeted the content they create, and the more competitive advantage you will gain.
Last and not least, one resource you may not realise you have, and may not be exploited to its full potential, is the value of your existing customers.
Satisfied customers are by far the most valuable resource you have access to. Firstly, you can create powerful content from their stories – case studies, endorsements, reviews and guest blog posts.
Secondly, they can become influential ambassadors for your business, recommending you to peers.
Thirdly, they can establish your reputation and become part of your credentials when pitching for new business. Just the name of one well-known client can be enough to convince a prospect to consider your proposal seriously.
- Marketing expertise
- Knowledge of a market
- Knowledge of customers
- Knowledge of company's products or services
- Brand worth
The strength and power of your marketing are obviously related to your marketing team's expertise, talent, and skills.
Having a good knowledge of your market and your customers is a prerequisite for doing business. (As this is more to do with capabilities, we will return to this later in this article.) But developing an in-depth and intimate understanding of the market and customers will give you a more significant advantage.
Any employee who interacts with customers or prospects should have a basic understanding of your business and marketing goals, and this understanding should guide their actions.
Equally important, though, is an in-depth understanding of your products and services. As today's buyers will only contact you when they are ready to buy, their questions are likely to be specific and may require complex and wide-ranging answers.
Modern salespeople need to be knowledgeable consultants, offering advice and proposing solutions tailored to the buyer's needs.
Brand worth is an essential resource, and unless you are a start-up, your brand will have some value. Of course, it could be that your current brand value is negative, in which case it's a kind of negative resource dragging you down in all your efforts and should be addressed as a matter of priority.
We have yet to mention organisation and culture – but the impact of these resources should not be underestimated.
The VRIO model we mentioned earlier asks explicitly: is a firm organised to capture the value of the resources?
If you have all the necessary marketing resources but your team is not well-organised, they are unlikely to deliver any lasting competitive advantage.
And culture is important too. In today's competitive landscape, you need to move fast and react quickly – hence the agile marketing trend we see today. You can only do this if you have a motivated, tight-knit team and are all on the same page.
An organisation that places the customer first sees itself as a valued partner and has a culture that embraces a consultative approach. A can-do attitude is vital to gaining a competitive advantage.
That culture also has to be supportive, inclusive, and positive to create the right environment for employees to be creative and proactive in their roles, whether that be creating content, delivering solutions, offering sales advice, or customer service.
From these marketing resources, several strong capabilities can be developed, which should include:
- Content creation
- Targeted marketing
- Effective marketing
- Efficient, reactive marketing
(There is a range of other capabilities a marketing team will naturally require and develop, but these four are the ones I feel are the key to differentiation and growth).
Today's marketing is about being found, providing support and information during the buyers' research process, and providing support to customers after the purchase.
It's also about establishing reputation and authority – so having a pool of satisfied customers to draw on as a resource for credible content is a great advantage.
Both being easily found and providing solid support rely on publishing high volumes of quality content. So having a content creation powerhouse at the heart of your marketing team is vitally important to growth and business success.
Understanding the market is vital to being relevant to that market. So is understanding the buyer. To create this essential targeted marketing, understanding must come from research, industry knowledge and monitoring.
This capability relies on having experienced and knowledgeable people backed up by market research, industry analysis, and insights from past buyer behaviour.
To understand your buyers, you need a deep analysis of your target buyer, their habits, and their buyer's journey. The more you know about your market, and your customer, the more effective your marketing will be.
Having easy-to-use marketing systems that monitor and precisely target interactions, messages, and campaigns is just as important.
These systems are vital for producing effective marketing that delivers results. A sound marketing management system will also facilitate efficient, reactive marketing by allowing instant data analysis and enabling an instant, appropriate response.
Great marketing is a crucial ingredient for high growth. Its contribution cannot be ignored or undervalued.
Making sure you have the right marketing resources in place and then developing strong marketing capabilities to differentiate your industry offering, will provide a solid foundation for sustainable growth.