What are the first principles of a marketing strategy?

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Credit: flaticon.com/authors/nikita-golubev

Creating an effective marketing strategy can triple or quadruple your growth. That’s easier said than done. Where do you even start? Well, we go to the first principles.

First-principles is a tried and true way of reverse engineering a theory into the smallest fundamental bits that are objectively true. It’s sometimes called “reasoning from first principles.” In fact, many great thinkers from Aristotle to Isaac Newton to Elon Musk all used this method. It got them to the first building blocks of what they were trying to understand and then build up the theory bit by bit. You can do the same with marketing.

First Principles of Marketing Strategy

A great marketing strategy can solve four problems well. Those four problems are the first principles of marketing as denoted by Robert Palmatier who describes it in his paper. I highly recommend checking out the material posted on the University of Washington’s site here.

Here are his four principles of marketing strategy or four problems you’re looking to solve:

  1. All customers differ
  2. All customers change
  3. All competitors react
  4. All resources are limited

All Customers Differ – Managing Customer Hetrogenity

Each customer is different. People go through different experiences, have different personalities, set of rules, values, and thought processes. If you sell or market to everyone the same way you’ll resonate less with others and be less effective in acquiring them.

All Customers Change – Managing Customer Dynamics

People change over time. Even looking at yourself in what you need today versus what you needed 3 years ago or even a year ago. Customer needs change as they go from a first-time buyer to a loyal customer. Try this exercise: when you first bought your computer how did your needs change in the first 3 months compared to the 2nd year? Did you need different apps and protective cases? Were you frustrated with software updates and needed help?

All Competitors React – Managing Sustainable Competitive Advantage

Whenever we launch a campaign, new service, or pivot competitors react. Competitors will react to different degrees. Some will copy what you’ve done. Others will launch a campaign 10X better than yours. And some may not be able to catch up to you. If we take a look at the classic battle of Instagram vs. Snapchat you’ll visibly see a new feature released in Snapchat and then copied in Instagram. It means you have to be a few steps ahead of your competitor and find ways to differentiate yourself. Think about how to gain a sustainable differential advantage over your competitor.

All Resources are Limited – Managing Resource Trade-off’s

No matter how big you get your resources are limited. Even Amazon has limited resources. It goes back to looking at your highest impact and lowest effort opportunities. You want to be efficient as you can as well as making sure you’re moving the needle. Resources will constrain your marketing strategy but it doesn’t mean you can’t be in a David and Goliath scenario. Uber is a great example of how a startup took on the taxi industry. Another example is Southwest Airlines taking on all the major airlines and even came out on top while others like Delta or American Airlines incurred more debt.

Final thoughts or TL;DR

Here’s a summary of what we learned today:

  • Four principles of marketing strategy
    • All customers differ
    • All customers change
    • All competitors react
    • All resources are limited

How can I apply this to my marketing program?

The best way to figure out how to apply these principles to your program is by asking yourself these questions.

All customers differ

  • Is your marketing too broad? Is your marketing efficient? Are the quality of your leads not great? Is your average order value low?
  • Treat your channels differently when communicating with your customers. Display marketing vs. Paid search vs. Paid social vs. SEO vs. Email. Each environment will mean your customer will want to be communicate

All customers change

  • Do you know which customers are first-time buyers vs. loyal? If not, that is a good place to start. It’s helpful to understand what funnel you want to place your customers in. When they’ve bought for the first time you’ll want to send them a welcome email and provide helpful resources.
  • Understand key factors of how to retain your customers and keep them happy. It’s cheaper to keep a customer happy and keep solving their evolving problems vs. constantly acquiring new ones.

All competitors react

  • When is the last time you saw a competitors campaign that made you realize you have more to learn? If you feel you are much better than all your competitors than I urge you to look closer. There is always something to learn from your competitors. Check out their most authoritative pages through a tool like Ahrefs and understand how they’re building value to it. Here’s a lesson on authority building for SEO if you’re new to it.
  • Use tools like SEM rush or Pathmatics to do more competitor research on where they’re spending their display or paid budget. Learn from the different types of creative they’re using in the space. Is it more video or dynamic or is it just a static ad?

All resources are limited

  • What are your highest impact and lowest effort tasks? This is a good place to start if you haven’t created this list yet. Furthermore, you want to understand how to move the needle while using the minimum amount of resources (time, money, labor etc.).
  • What is the ROI on each campaign? Are they effective and efficient or are you finding the value low relative to other campaigns? Set a standard ROI for each channel to help guide you to the promise land.


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