Sunday, February 06, 2011

Marketing Strategy : Flexible or Focused ?

While discussing the components of an effective marketing strategy, marketers often is in two minds about the overall direction of their strategy. Should the marketing strategy be flexible or focused?- this is the critical question that marketers should address while preparing their strategic plan. 
Flexibility in marketing strategy refers to the ability of the firm to adapt their marketing response to the changing environment. Marketing strategy should address the critical issues of (a) response to competitor’s actions (b) response to changing consumer trends (c) response to changing market environment (d) response to changes in technology (e) decisions regarding the entry and exit. Businesses operate in a dynamic environment which is witnessing changes every day. More than ever before, marketers are witnessing disruptive innovations which are changing the consumer behaviour frequently.

Focus in marketing strategy refers to the firm’s ability to consistently explore the depth of the various elements of the strategy. It involves a continuous and in-depth focus on (a) consumer and their behaviour (b) core strength of the firm (c) market in which the firm operates (d) enhancing the depth of marketing mix elements (e) investment in product development (f) investment in product promotion  etc. Marketers now are faced with global competition. Geographical boundaries are now irrelevant as far as marketing is concerned. Indian products are now faced with competition from across the world. Hence is important for marketers to focus on their products and markets.   

When firms become too focused on their products and markets but not flexible, they risk the chance of getting into a state of immobility. This situation may lead to marketing myopia where the marketer becomes too focused on the product but failed to see the market moving in another direction. Focussed marketing strategy is ideal for mature markets where the chances of disruptions are limited.

When firms become too flexible in their marketing strategy, it may lead to a state of disorder and confusion. The firm sees many opportunities and will enter various markets without realizing their competence. This can lead to unnecessary wastage of vital resources and may lead to a financial crunch. Marketing strategies should be highly flexible in those markets which are emerging. In such a market, it will be difficult for marketers to focus because the directions are not visible yet. In such situations, marketing should be flexible enough to embrace any viable opportunities.

When firm’s marketing strategy lack focus and flexibility, it fails in what ever it does. The company thus will not be able to make an impact in any market it enters (because of lack of focus) and also will not be able to respond to changing market dynamics (due to lack of flexibility).
The ideal situation is where firm is able to have both focus and flexibility in their marketing strategies. This may sound impractical but it is not. While focusing on consumers and markets, it is possible for firms to be flexible in their response to changing market environment and competitive actions.

Professor Thomas Kosnik in the book Marketing Management : Text & Cases (Richard D Irwin,Homewood IL,1990) uses the term “Perennial Renaissance “for a flexible and focused marketing strategy. When a firm adopts a flexible yet focused marketing strategy, it is able to fight the competition and at the same time maintain a steady focus on what it is currently doing.
Take the example of Google. While Google tries to make its search engine better, it is constantly innovating and flexible in grabbing new opportunities and challenges as an when it emerges. Gillette is another example of a company that constantly innovates at the same time is very much focused on its current markets.

It is not easy to make a flexible -focused marketing strategy framework. The first task for the marketers is to build this concept into the culture. Flexibility and focus has to be built into the organisational culture. For example, it is very difficult for a bureaucratic organization to practice flexibility in their marketing practices.  Firms need to empower their managers to decide and act fast if they want to practice flexibility. At the same time, managers should establish discipline and process orientation if they want to embrace focus into their marketing strategies.

Another factor which managers should consider is to shift their attention from Products to Consumers. Companies can practice flexibility by focusing on consumers rather than getting stuck with their products. Consumers constantly look for new ways of satisfying their wants. By keeping a close tab on the consumers will enable firms to respond to changing trends faster.

It is also vital for organisations to plan for the long-term. When brands are managed for quarterly results, focus and flexibility gives way to short – term spike in sales. Managers should keep the long term objectives in mind (Focus) but keep their plans tuned according to consumer needs and wants (Flexibility).

Companies also should invest in innovations. Firms cannot aspire to be flexible if they did not innovate. Continuous innovations in terms of product and marketing strategies will raise the stature of the organisation in the market.

Originally published in