Marketing strategy

Strategy is frequently defined as the means by which objectives are achieved. Although this definition is technically accurate, it throws little light on the nature of strategy. In this text, strategy is taken to mean a set of constantly evolving operating principles or guidelines that coordinate the numerous activities and resources of an organization over time, so that a predetermined outcome is achieved. This definition distinguishes strategy from planning in that the former is only one part of the latter. In the words ‘constantly evolving’ it also refers to the incremental nature of strategy development.

Whereas planning is a deliberate, analytical process, strategy results both from deliberate analysis and adaptation to unforeseen events. According to Mintzberg and Waters (1985), strategy is ‘crafted’ rather than planned, and strategy formulation cannot be separated from experience of implementation. A business unit may begin with an intended strategy based on the planning process, but experience of trying to implement this plan will quickly identify its good and bad elements. Success comes through recognizing which aspects of the plan are working (and why) and updating the plan accordingly into a new emergent strategy. This process cannot happen in rigid, three-year cycles as envisaged in the classical five-year rolling plan, but must be an incremental process of interaction between the plan and its implementation. Planners must constantly receive and interpret information about the performance of the business and the behavior of its environment, shifting the plan to accommodate changing circumstances or to leverage newly developed organizational skills or strengths.

Although this perspective on planning and strategy is only subtly different from the classical approach, it is nevertheless important, since it reduces the role of senior managers in the planning process. Whereas the classical planning process sees senior managers predicting future events and controlling the organization and its behavior, the concept of emergent strategy assumes that successful strategy depends on recognizing and reacting to present events. Successful organizations take a structured approach to these tasks, and are able to consistently learn from implementation experiences, and disseminate such learning throughout the organization. This concept has spawned a wealth of literature on learning organizations and how appropriate systems, structures and skills can be developed to facilitate the process.

The components of the marketing plan

The classical marketing planning process consists of four questions which describe a journey. The model forms the context for much of mainstream management writing, though some authors make minor changes. For example, Wilson and Gillighan (1997) add a fifth stage – strategic evaluation – between those of strategy formulation and monitoring and control. The need for strategic evaluation is based on the assumption that a range of possible strategies by which the organization may meet its objectives will be identified. MacDonald (1999) offers a still more detailed model, consisting of ten stages.



Situation analysis






Strategy and tactics



Monitoring and control