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What I’ve Learned: Strategy Before Tactics
Trade Shows and advertising have their place, but not before savvy manufacturers develop a strategic focus and a proactive marketing mindset.
By Roger Hurd
March 2013

Marketing Strategy for Manufacturers

Doing “marketing” is often viewed as finding tactics to dial up revenue. Can we use social media? Should we improve our website? How about advertising? Do we attend a trade show?

Tactics are important in marketing, it’s true, but first – it’s all about strategy. The process of researching and creating a Proactive Marketing for Manufacturers plan presents an opportunity to think deeply about your whole business strategy.

1. Think Strategy.
It is not just about t-shirts, logos, and tradeshows

A sales consultant once complained to me that clients would hire her to help stimulate sales, but her biggest obstacle would be at a very basic level: they often didn’t fully understand who they were selling to or why. Her challenge is hardly unique.

How to begin thinking about your market strategy? Consider how to optimize a strategic fit among:

Our Customers: Why do we choose them? What do they really care about?

Our Company: What do we do exceptionally well? Why do customers choose us?

Our Competitors: What do our competitors promise and deliver? How are we better?

Think of what you offer customers– products, services, experiences – and why they should buy from you. Articulating this three-way fit at a high level is a useful way to describe your current business model and it provides a basis for creating, evaluating and choosing new market strategies.

The approach sounds simple and obvious on the face of it. Of course, the devil is in the details – the strategic market fit may play out differently for every product or service you offer to every target market.

Key to this is being able to identify a specific target “bucket” of customers who have common concerns and priorities – and then match up your capabilities in a way that beats the competition.

Describing your chosen market strategy in this way makes all of those important tactical questions much easier to answer.

2. Look OUT!
Strategic market fit is a moving target

Typically we know our own company quite well, our customers fairly well, and our competitors not so well. And we often overestimate how fully we understand what our customers are up against and how they deal with it. This means we had better look outside of our organization for the knowledge needed to optimize our strategic market fit.

Learning about customers and competitors requires conscious, focused and ongoing effort. After all, they keep changing like everyone else as they respond to pressures and opportunities in their environments. Taking our current assumptions about customers and competitors for granted, without checking them out, can be dangerous to one’s competitive health.

So how can you develop useful knowledge and insights about customers and competitors? Go online, talk to people (inside your company and out), use proprietary databases at the library, be a detective.

A company team recently brainstormed dozens of information sources and ideas for how to extract the knowledge they wanted. You can do it, too. Try it!

And once you gain this precious knowledge, figure out how to capture and share it with your teams.

3. Be Creative.
Develop new ways of thinking

Has anyone ever told you to “be spontaneous?” You can’t really do it. If you’re responding to the request, you’re not being spontaneous. The same can be said of “be creative.” It is not like there is a button you can push that will unleash a flood of creative ideas.

That said, strategic creativity is essential to Proactive Marketing for Manufacturers.

Recognizing that there is no recipe or plug and play method for generating creativity is the first step. There are many tools and exercises that can be helpful, yet we’ve learned that group creativity is enhanced when three conditions are present.

First, actively stimulate thinking rather than trying to brainstorm in a vacuum. Knowledge and insights gained from looking out – toward customers, competitors, suppliers, technology, etc. – can be brought into the room to prime the creativity pumps.

Second, increase the diversity of the team to include varied expertise, experience and thinking styles. Different people will bring different associations and see different connections among the ideas.

Third, as in traditional brainstorming, banish behavior that constrains ideas. “We’ve tried that before.” “The VP wouldn’t like it.” “Too hard to implement.”

Under these conditions, many bits of knowledge are available to diverse minds to be combined in new ways. Together, they are a Petri dish for innovation.

4. Integrate Widely.
It takes a village

Market strategy must integrate with corporate strategy and with every functional area in the company.

A few examples: manufacturing capacity and throughput must be able to meet customers’ demands; engineering can create greater customer benefit in product design; quality and customer service ensure we fully deliver on our marketing promise to customers; and sales takes it to the street and reaps the rewards.

We need to manage costs and track margins so purchasing and finance have parts to play. Human resources engages in many ways, not the least of which is training and development.

The strategic marketing team should include representation from at least a few of these functions to gain their perspectives and to get a head start on integration. As market strategy and the marketing plan take shape, they should be discussed with all department heads.

5. Plan and Act.
Institutionalize the marketing mindset

Market strategy gives rise to goals – or vice versa – which beg for tactics and action plans to achieve those goals. All the best practices of planning and execution apply here, including measurable targets, quick cycles of plan/do/check/act, timelines, accountability, resource allocation, infrastructure to monitor and sustain, and opportunities to review and refresh both the guiding plan and the underlying market strategy.

Capture the essence of this in a written plan. It needn’t be long and exhaustive – details can be filled in as part of execution. Communicate the plan throughout the organization so people know what is going on.

A challenge will be to maintain momentum despite the daily workplace demands. One response is to find more people to do the work. You never have as many resources as you want, but you always have more than you think. Find people you can engage to help move the plan forward and develop them as employees at the same time.

And now determine whether and how advertising, your website and trade shows will contribute to company success.


As one of Enterprise Minnesota’s Business Growth specialists, Roger Hurd provides marketing services that help small and medium-sized companies grow profitably. He specializes in business and market strategy development, innovation, research and analysis, leadership development, and action coaching for success. He is a Manufacturing Extension Partnership certified Growth Coach. Roger was founder and president of Knowledge Based Solutions and head of INFORM Research Service. For more than 25 years he has provided customized consulting services to a wide range of clients including Fortune 500 companies, small firms and nonprofit organizations. Roger has an MBA with emphasis in decision science and strategic management from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, a master’s degree in Library Science with focus on research, evaluation and statistics, and a bachelor’s degree in counseling psychology from Metropolitan State University.