You don’t need an MBA to be a great strategic marketer. In fact, many of the best strategists were formally trained in medicine, engineering or even law.

But that “certain something” that ALL great business people do have is called market-savvy. A definition of market-savvy is the ability to a) ask the right questions about your organization’s marketing strategy and b) properly evaluate the answers you get.

This article will show you what those questions are, and provide you with a starting point for holding those who answer the questions to the proper standard — even if that person is you! But first, let’s start with the reasons why you must be market-savvy to be successful both within your organization and in the market.

Why You Must Be Market-Savvy

The one thing that has never changed about business is that you need customers, who have to choose between you and your competitor’s offers. You must provide unique value to customers, or you will fail.

Strategic marketing is the corporate function that connects knowledge about customers with your company’s capabilities for purpose of creating this unique value. Therefore, whether you are currently managing marketers, aspiring to broader management responsibility, or are an entrepreneur hoping to someday delegate your current marketing responsibilities — evaluating marketing’s strategic “output” will someday make or break your success.

The 3 Market-Savvy Questions (FDP)

Full strategic marketing systems typically contain roughly 10 questions that, if answered well, will yield a powerful and differentiated marketing plan. However, under the gun of choosing the most important ones that market-savvy leaders should ask of their marketers, here’s the 3 most critical. An easy way to remember these is by the acronym FDP, for Focus, Differentiate and Position:

  1. (Focus) What are the defining needs of the target segments we will focus on? The answers to this question will indicate whether marketers have made a cardinal marketing mistake: focusing too broadly. Broad focus leads to watered-down value propositions that are not discernibly different to customers.

How to evaluate your marketing team’s response: Ironically, you should ask marketers which customer needs and segments they will ignore. Proper answers will prove to you that the team has actually made some choices that will lead to differentiated value propositions.

  1. (Differentiate) In what ways do our (will our) customers believe our product or service is differentiated from our most significant competitors? Customer perception is all that matters — even if marketers believe these perceptions are wrong. Not facing this reality costs companies billions because they invest in building product or service features that don’t matter to customers.

How to evaluate your marketing team’s response: Counterintuitively, you should ask marketers what disappointed them when evaluating customer perceptions of your product. Their answers will allow you to assess whether they’ve done enough customer research, evaluated it open-mindedly, and come up with a revised product/service value proposition that will change customer perceptions for the better.

  1. (Position) What is our communication/positioning strategy to stand out in the marketplace? Even if you are satisfied with the answers to (1) and (2) above, things can still go wrong. Marketers can make the mistake of taking an overly simplified communication strategy into the market that doesn’t do justice to the uniqueness of your product. If competitors already own the part of the brain your positioning message addresses, it will fall short.

How to evaluate your marketing team’s response: Ask your team to boil down the essence of their positioning to a single word or, at most, a very short phrase. Then ask them what word or phrase the competition owns. Don’t settle for a positioning that is too close to or the same as competitors. When it comes to the brain, first in wins. You want to see a clear contrast to competitor’s positions.

Managers with a non-marketing background can successfully market — and manage marketers. They simply need to understand the most important questions to ask of customers and/or those doing marketing for them. The 3 FDP questions above will go a long way.

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