Marketing Strategy: What It Is and How to Create One

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A marketing strategy can set your business up for success. Learn why and how to make one for your business.

[Featured image] A women stands in front of a digital whiteboard and leads a marketing strategy meeting with several coworkers.

A marketing strategy is a long-term vision outlining a business’s value proposition to its customers. Rather than describing the concrete actions required in specific advertising campaigns, marketing strategies are used as a compass to direct overall marketing efforts. 

While it may be tempting to jump ahead and hash out a marketing plan right away, marketing strategies have been shown to improve success. Read on to learn more about what marketing strategy is, why it matters, different types of marketing strategy, and what you need to do to make one yourself. 

What is a marketing strategy? 

A marketing strategy is an overview of how a business or organization will articulate its overall value proposition to its customers.  Generally, a marketing strategy outlines the business’ goals, its target market, buyer personas, competitors, and value for customers. It provides a long-term vision for overall marketing efforts, often looking many years ahead. 

Advantages of a marketing strategy

Marketing strategies can have a measurable impact on success. 

In 2022, for instance, CoSchedule surveyed 3,599 marketers and bloggers to identify their most successful marketing practices. They found that marketers who documented their marketing strategy were 331 percent more likely to report success than those who didn’t. Furthermore, marketers who were the most organized were found to be 674 percent more likely to report success than those who weren’t [1].

Taking the time to create a marketing strategy can pay dividends in the future.

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A lecture video from the "Developing a Winning Marketing Strategy Course" offered by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Marketing strategy vs. marketing plan

People often use the terms “marketing strategy” and “marketing plan” interchangeably, but, in reality, they are two different processes.  

A marketing plan describes the concrete actions and marketing tactics undertaken to complete a marketing campaign. A marketing strategy, meanwhile, outlines the big picture of a marketing effort, such as the business's target audience and their product’s value proposition for customers. 

As a result, it is common to refer to an existing marketing strategy when developing a marketing plan. While the strategy describes what the marketing objectives are, the plan describes how those objectives are going to be achieved. Without a well-thought-out marketing strategy, marketing plans are in danger of missing the mark. 

For example, imagine an e-commerce business that is trying to grow its customer base. They start using marketing tactics like a referral program to encourage positive word of mouth. But their efforts only have marginal success. 

If they had created a marketing strategy, then the company may have realized that they actually needed to grow their customer base by appealing to an untapped target audience. As a result, their marketing plan would have instead outlined a digital marketing strategy focused on content creation through targeted blog posts and search engine optimization.

A great strategy can lead to a great plan. 

Types of marketing strategy 

There are many different approaches to marketing – such as social media marketing or content marketing – but the most elementary strategies for market growth are found in Ansoff’s matrix. These four strategies are: 

  • Market penetration 

  • Product development 

  • Market development

  • Diversification

H. Igor Ansoff created his matrix to help businesses understand the different strategies required for market growth. Ansoff made two basic assumptions about how growth could be achieved: firstly, by varying what product is being sold and, secondly, by varying who the product is being sold to [2]. As a result, each of the quadrants in his matrix feature a mix of these two factors.  

An image of Ansoff's matrix. The matrix includes tiles for "market penetration," "product development," "market development," and "diversification."

In outlining these four growth strategies, Ansoff’s matrix also emphasizes the different marketing tactics that business and marketers must consider when undertaking them. Each strategy requires a different consideration of the the four Ps, also know as the “marketing mix,” which marketers should consider together to ensure an effective marketing strategy. The four Ps are: 

  • Product: What is being sold 

  • Place: Where it is being sold 

  • Price: What the product costs

  • Promotion: How the product is marketed to the target audience

The exact way that a marketer defines the four Ps for their marketing efforts will depend on the growth strategy they are using and the political and economic outlook of their market. 

Let’s take a closer look at each strategy from Ansoff’s matrix. 

Market penetration strategy 

Market penetration strategy is a growth strategy that involves selling existing products to existing markets. It is considered the least risky of all the strategies in Ansoff’s matrix. The strategy is typically considered most beneficial if the market is either growing or the marketer alters its promotional efforts through existing marketing channels [2]. 

An example of a market penetration strategy can be found in McDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ It” campaign from 2003. 

In the early 2000s, McDonald's faced flagging sales and plummeting stock prices. Rather than creating a new product (product development strategy), McDonald's instead focused on attracting existing customers in an existing market with a catchy ad campaign. The result was their wildly successful “I’m Lovin’ it” campaign, which featured a catchy new jingle sung by Justin Timberlake [3]. 

“I’m Lovin It” has since become McDonald’s longest-running marketing campaign since its founding in 1940 [4]. 

Product development strategy

A product development strategy involves the development of a new product for an already existing market. Typically, it is considered riskier than a market penetration strategy because it requires the creation of a totally new product. In order to be successful, product development strategies typically require innovation and further research into the existing market, including the profiles and needs of the target audience [2].  

An example of a successful (and surprisingly interesting) product development strategy can be seen in the Uni Kuru Toga mechanical pencil. 

As odd as it may seem, in the mechanical pencil world the Uni  Kuru Toga is something of a star. “[T]he Uni Kuru Toga is the best mechanical pencil for every day writing,” opined the New York Time’s Wirecutter in a 2018 article [5]. Wired, meanwhile, called it “the ultimate geek tool” [6]. 

What makes the pencil so unique? A specially designed internal gear mechanism that rotates the lead so it stays sharp as you write and diamond infused lead that doesn’t easily break under pressure. In effect, as a 2009 commercial for the pencil demonstrated, it was meant for people concerned with even handwriting and durable lead [7]. 

While the market for mechanical pencils was already well-established, the Uni Kuru Toga was able to find success through a product development strategy that offered consumers something new and useful.

Market development strategy

A market development strategy takes an existing product into new markets. Much like a product development strategy, a market development strategy is considered riskier than a market penetration strategy because it involves introducing a familiar product into an unfamiliar marketplace. While the product remains the same, the new place it is sold requires possibly new pricing and promotional efforts [2].  

An example of a market development strategy is when Microsoft introduced its Hololens technology to an additional 29 markets in Europe in November of 2017 [8]. The augmented reality headset provides a unique user experience that allows professionals to work in a “mixed reality” environment. To promote their efforts, Microsoft released a YouTube video showcasing the unique use cases of the product in the workplace, such as through interactive employee training programs in industrial environments [9]. 

Diversification strategy

A diversification strategy involves the development of a new product for a new market. The novelty required of a diversification strategy means that it is also the riskiest of the Ansoff matrix’s four strategies. Diversification strategies require full attention on all of the four Ps – product, price, place, and promotion—but the biggest risks can also lead to the biggest rewards [2]. 

An example of a diversification strategy is when Apple introduced the first iPhone on June 9, 2007 at the MacWorld Expo. At the time, Apple was new to the mobile phone market, but they innovated in the space by adding a music player and web browser to their new touchscreen phone [10]. 

“Today Apple is going to reinvent the phone,” CEO Steve Jobs declared before an audience of reporters [10]. Through much of the presentation, Jobs outlined the phone’s unique value proposition to customers.

It worked. As of June 2022, there were an estimated 1.8 billion active iPhone users [11].

How to create a marketing strategy

A marketing strategy can set you up for marketing success. As you are creating your own marketing strategy, consider the following steps to help guide your process.

1. Define your business and marketing goals.

The first step in creating an effective marketing strategy is to clarify what your overall business objectives and marketing goals are. In other words: what is the end outcome you are trying to achieve with your market growth strategy?

The answer to this question will inevitably depend on your particular place in the market and your own comfortability with different risk levels. 

Some examples of business and marketing goals include: 

  • Grow customer base 

  • Increase sales 

  • Increase brand awareness 

Whatever you ultimately decide are you objectives, though, the purpose is simply to take time out and consider what you want to actually accomplish by expanding your marketing efforts. These overarching goals will guide you as you further develop your marketing strategy.

2. Conduct market research. 

Strategic marketing requires a comprehensive understanding of the marketplace, its economic and political context, and your place in it. So, market research is a must.

As you are conducting market research, some of the factors will want to consider include: 

  • Competitors, particularly their value proposition and market share

  • Market size, including the realistic number of customers that would be interested in your products  

  • Market gaps where you can provide value

  • Possible economic and political realities that could impact the market in the long-term

 As you gain a better understanding of the market, you will also better understand how you fit into it and where you can grow in it. 

3. Create a customer profile. 

The purpose of every marketing campaign is to connect with a consumer. To help guide the development of a strong marketing plan, then, your marketing strategy needs to include a comprehensive profile of your target audience.

It is helpful to consider your target audience in relation to the four Ps. So, you might ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Based on what you know about the market, who is your target audience? What are their key demographics? 

  • What is your product’s value proposition to your customer? (Product)

  • How much is your target audience willing to pay for your product or service? (Price)

  • Where does your target audience shop? (Place)

  • What marketing tactics are most persuasive to your target audience? (Promotion)

As you research and consider these questions, your customer should come more clearly into view. A comprehensive understanding of you target market will help you create a strategy that has impact with those you are trying to reach. 

4. Synthesize and strategize. 

Finally, you will take the goals you have outlined, research you have conducted, and profiles you have created to construct a marketing strategy. The critical question you will want to answer is: how will you align with your target market to meet your overall objectives?

Your answer to this question will be your strategy.  

Ultimately, your marketing strategy should cover the following: 

  • Business and marketing objectives

  • Market overview, including key facts and figures

  • Competitor research 

  • Customer profile

  • General statement of strategy highlighting the product’s value proposition to customers

While you may have collected much information as you were conducting research, your marketing strategy doesn’t need to be too long. In fact, a strong marketing strategy can be as short as one to two pages. Remember, the marketing strategy is meant to act as long-term guide for directing specific marketing tactics, not an action plan of how a marketing campaign will be done. 

Get market ready 

A great market strategy sets the stage for future marketing success. Whether you are seasoned marketing pro or a budding entrepreneur, develop your marketing prowess with Developing a Winning Marketing Strategy from the University of Illinois. Considering a career in social media marketing? Build job-ready skills from the industry leaders with the Meta Social Media Marketing Professional Certificate or Google Digital Marketing & E-commerce Professional Certificate.

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Related articles 

Article sources 

1. CoSchedule. “The Marketing Management + Strategy Statistics You Need to Know in 2019, https://coschedule.com/marketing-statistics.” Accessed June 2, 2022. 

2. Oxford College of Marketing. “Using the Ansoff Matrix to Develop Marketing Strategy, https://blog.oxfordcollegeofmarketing.com/2016/08/01/using-ansoff-matrix-develop-marketing-strategy/.” Accessed June 2, 2022. 

3. The Take Out. “TIL McDonald’s ‘I’m Lovin’ It’ jingle was born out of desperation, https://thetakeout.com/history-of-mcdonald-s-i-m-lovin-it-jingle-1846400888.” Accessed June 2, 2022. 

4. Chicago Magazine. “Five Things You Never Knew About ‘I’m Lovin’ It’, https://www.chicagomag.com/Chicago-Magazine/November-2014/McDonalds-Im-Lovin-It-Campaign/.” Accessed June 2, 2022. 

5. NYT Wirecutter. “The Best Mechanical Pencils, https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/reviews/best-mechanical-pencils/.” Accessed June 2, 2022. 

6. Wired. “Kura Toga: The Ultimate Geek Tool, https://www.wired.com/2011/11/kuru-toga-the-ultimate-geek-tool/.” Accessed June 2, 2022. 

7. YouTube (Uni Ball UK). “Uni Kuru Togat from Mutsibishi Pencil Company, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80k7Jl1o8Lc&t=22s.” Accessed June 2, 2022. 

8. Tech Crunch. “Microsoft expands HoloLens headsets to 29 new markets, now up to 39, https://techcrunch.com/2017/11/01/microsoft-expands-hololens-headsets-to-29-new-european-markets/.” Accessed June 2, 2022. 

9. YouTube (Microsoft HoloLens). “Microsoft HoloLens: Mixed Reality in the Modern Workspace, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIJM9xNg9xs.” Accessed June 2, 2022. 

10. Computer World. “Update: Jobs touts iPhone, Apple TV, https://www.computerworld.com/article/2549128/update--jobs-touts-iphone---appletv-.html.” Accessed June 2, 2022. 

11. Earthweb. “How many people use iPhones in 2022?, https://earthweb.com/how-many-people-use-iphones/.” Accessed June 2, 2022. 

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