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If someone wants to start a new business or fix an existing business and asks you for advice, what do you need to ask this person?  What additional information would you need?

Think about your own experiences with a physician or a car mechanic.  The service professionals who leave us with a feeling of confidence are those who seem to know the right questions to ask.  The ones who scare us away are those who ask questions that are irrelevant, who prod in places that are unconnected with what seems to be the problem, who run tests that cost us in time and money but are not needed, and who provide multiple solutions that never seem to completely fix the problem.

In thirty seconds or less, I can tell you if a marketing consultant knows what s/he is doing.  If someone isn't asking the right questions, s/he cannot possibly ever provide the right solution, whether this person is a physician, a car mechanic, or a marketer.  A dead giveaway to someone who doesn't know what s/he is doing is someone who believes that marketing is "creative." The last person I want poking around inside of my body is a surgeon who thinks that medicine is a "creative" art rather than a scientific discipline. I don't want "creative" repairs to my car by a kid who thinks he knows a lot about cars, no matter how enthusiastic he might be; I want my car repaired to factory specifications, no more and no less.  The last person you want poking around inside of your business is an enthusiastic person who thinks that marketing is "creative."

Marketing analysis might rely on subjective assumptions and assessments, and two people can come to completely different solutions that will both work.  But this does not suggest that "seat of the pants" analyses and "shooting from the hip" solutions are acceptable. 


Strategy has to do with creating plans that meet objectives.  It's no more complicated than that.  However, in order to meet objectives, you first have to know what are those objectives.  And in order to create a plan for meeting those objectives, you first have to know what resources you have available and you have to know how external factors might interact with your resources and with your objectives.  Strategy has to do with the overall plan; tactics have to do with how that plan is implemented.

So, in order to formulate a marketing strategy, you need to know:

  • the objectives of the client/business
  • the clients's resources (internal uncontrollable factors, strengths and weaknesses)
  • the proposed marketing mix (internal controllable factors)
  • factors associated with the external environment (external uncontrollable factors, opportunities and threats)
Once you have information associated with these issues, you can then formulate a strategy to create a fit between the marketing mix (controllable factors) and the dynamic external environment (uncontrollable factors) in a way that best meets the client's objectives under its resource constraints.


The class once had a client who owned some beautiful land in a very good location and wanted to build a family resort.  Her personal objective was merely to break even financially so that she would have a place to retire and go fishing whenever she wanted.  Contrast her objective with what Donald Trump might have; I imagine that Mr. Trump would want to develop the resort into a turnkey operation that could be sold in a few years for five times his investment.  These objectives are very different and make a difference in our interpretation of what would be external threats and opportunities and make a difference in what we would assess as viable or as not viable.

When you start a project, you must concurrently consider two different objectives:

  • the objective of the client
  • the objective of the project

In the case of that project, the objective of the client was to simply break even; the objective of the project was to assess whether or not there was a reachable and large enough market of people who might visit a family resort.  Note that the project could have had other objectives, such as to determine what product features would attract the largest potential audience, or what would be the fewest possible features required to get the resort started and still attract customers. 

Solving the wrong problem will result in an unhappy client (dissatisfied customer who won't want to pay you).  The client might not know exactly what it is that is needed or wanted ("Doctor, if I knew what was wrong with me I wouldn't be in your office"), but that is your job to figure it out by asking the right questions. 


Internal resources that are available to the client include

  • access to capital, loans, etc.
  • access to raw materials
  • specialized knowledge, experience, or skills
  • access to people with specialized knowledge, etc.
  • access to special facilities or facilities in a good location
  • access to markets
  •   - etc.

Having or not having these creates internal

  • strengths
  • weaknesses

In the case of the woman who wanted to start a resort, her strengths were that she already owned the property, the property was in an ideal location that was accessible to an interstate highway and surrounded by established bed-and-breakfast businesses, and many relatives and friends were willing and able to help.  Her weaknesses included a lack of capital required to develop the land into a resort and a lack of business experience that was directly related to the hospitality business.

also known as

  • the 4Ps
  • the marketing mix

These are factors that are generally under control of the marketer.  Usually, the marketer has control over:

  • the product: what is sold, how it is designed to meet customer needs and wants
  • the price: high and prestigious, low to penetrate a market, etc.
  • promotion: what media, how often, what is the message, etc.
  • distribution: how buyers acquire the product, where the business is located or has a presence, etc.

In addition to discovering the client's objectives and resources, you need the client's initial ideas regarding the marketing mix as the business currently exists or is envisioned.  In assessing the dynamic opportunities and threats in the uncontrollable external environment, you will probably be recommending changes to the controllable marketing mix factors.

edited 31 MAY 05