Marketing Is About Strategy


The word marketing has lost its true meaning in common business vernacular. Instead of a strategic activity that contemplates price, product, promotion and place, marketing has largely come to mean tactical execution of advertising or sales materials.

It is commonly assumed that if one is in marketing, they are creative-minded and oversee graphic design. This is just one component of the fairly complex marketing discipline, and sadly, the other responsibilities have been stripped from many marketing executives.

We’d like to bring classic marketing back. The kind of marketing described in business school textbooks. When done correctly, these activities should guide the strategy.

Marketing is formally defined as “the activities of a company associated with buying and selling a product or service.” Taken literally, isn’t this the core around which all corporate activities originate? We like to think of the strategic and tactical elements of marketing as upstream and downstream, respectively.

Upstream marketing, also called inbound or front-end marketing, is the heavy lifting that must be done before a new product or service is launched to minimize risk and ensure the best odds for success. Here the team must size and validate the market through market and user research, answering the standard 5 W’s: what you can sell, to whom, where, why, when, how and for how much.

The outcome is a market strategy that guides product development and informs the launch. It will deliver proof of market and concept and confirm market acceptance. With this work done, the value proposition and key messages are defined, which gives the downstream marketing tactics appropriate framework.

The downstream work begins when the product is ready to be released. Promotional channels need to be evaluated according to the market opportunity defined in the upstream analysis. Consideration should be given to which tactics will resonate with the target buyer and actually move the needle. A strategy rooted in market data and analysis gives the downstream tactics better context and a greater chance for return on investment. Investing in advertising, sales materials and public relations without a validated strategy sets you up for trial-and-error spending, delayed market adoption and reduced market share.

In many cases, when the upstream marketing is light or bypassed, companies move to tactical marketing and invest in tactics they think they should do as a matter of course, rather than those that are most relevant. The team should develop a formal plan that details which tactics will be deployed and defines metrics for how success will be measured.

The strategy work does not stop after product launch and implemented tactics. The team must consistently evaluate the fluctuations in the market as they relate to buyers’ demand triggers. The marketing mix and the four P’s (price, product, promotion, and place) must constantly be evaluated with the dynamic marketplace. Adjustments in the upstream market strategy always mean adjustments to the downstream tactics.

Jocelyn Atkinson and Michael Graber run the Southern Growth Studio, a strategic growth firm based in Memphis. Visit to learn more.