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Marketing Strategy

The marketing concept of building an organization around the profitable satisfaction of customer needs has helped firms to achieve success in high-growth, moderately competitive markets. However, to be successful in markets in which economic growth has leveled and in which there exist many competitors who follow the marketing concept, a well-developed marketing strategy is required. Such a strategy considers a portfolio of products and takes into account the anticipated moves of competitors in the market.

The Case of Barco

In late 1989, Barco N.V.'s projection systems division was faced with Sony's surprise introduction of a better graphics projector. Barco had been perceived as a leader, introducing high quality products first and targeting a niche market that was willing to pay a higher price. Being a smaller company, Barco could not compete on price, so it traditionally pursued a skimming strategy in the graphics projector market, where it had a 55% market share of the small market. Barco's overall market share for all types of projectors was only 4%.

Even though Barco's market was mainly in graphics projectors, the company had not introduced a new graphics projector in over two years. Instead, it was spending a large portion of its R&D budget on video projector products. However, video projectors were not Barco's market.

Barco's engineers had been working long hours on their new projector that would not be as good as Sony's. Some people thought they should not stop work on that product since the engineers' morale would suffer after being told how important it was to work hard to get the product out. However, even considering the morale of the product team, it would not have been a good idea to introduce a product that was inferior to that of Sony. Barco wisely stopped working on the inferior product and put a major effort in developing a projector that outperformed Sony's.

The Barco case illustrates several marketing strategy concepts:

  • Price / Selling Effort Strategies: A firm that follows a skimming strategy seeks to be the first to introduce a product with very good performance, selling it to the innovator market segment and charging a premium price for it. It makes as much profit as possible, then moves on when the competition arrives. The price is likely to fall over time as competition is encountered. Such a skimming strategy contrasts with a penetrating strategy, which seeks to gain market share by sacrificing short-term profits, and increasing the price over time as market share is gained.

  • Competitors have certain strengths and abilities. To succeed, a firm must leverage its own unique abilities.

  • A firm should prepare defensive strategies before potential threats arrive. If the competition surprises a firm with the introduction of a vastly superior product, the firm should resist the temptation to proceed with its mediocre product. A firm never should introduce a product that is obsolete when it hits the market.

  • The competition's probable response to a firm's actions should be considered carefully.

Marketing Research for Strategic Decision Making

The two most common uses of marketing research are for diagnostic analysis to understand the market and the firm's current performance, and opportunity analysis to define any unexploited opportunities for growth. Marketing research studies include consumer studies, distribution studies, semantic scaling, multidimensional scaling, intelligence studies, projections, and conjoint analysis. A few of these are outlined below.

  • Semantic scaling: a very simple rating of how consumers perceive the physical attributes of a product, and what the ideal values of those attributes would be. Semantic scaling is not very accurate since the consumers are polled according to an ordinal ranking so mathematical averaging is not possible. For example, 8 is not necessarily twice as much as 4 in an ordinal ranking system. Furthermore, each person uses the scale differently.
  • Multidimensional scaling (MDS) addresses the problems associated with semantic scaling by polling the consumer for pair-wise comparisons between products or between one product and the ideal. The assumption is that while people cannot report reliably which attributes drive their choices, they can report perceptions of similarities between brands. However, MDS analyses do not indicate the relative importance between attributes.
  • Conjoint analysis infers the relative importance of attributes by presenting consumers with a set of features of two hypothetical products and asking them which product they prefer. This question is repeated over several sets of attribute values. The results allow one to predict which attributes are the more important, the combination of attribute values that is the most preferred. From this information, the expected market share of a given design can be estimated.

Multi-Product Resource Allocation

The most common resource allocation methods are:

  • Percentage of sales
  • Executive judgement
  • All-you-can-afford
  • Match competitors
  • Last year based

Another method is called decision calculus. Managers are asked four questions:

What would sales be with:

  1. no sales force
  2. half the current effort
  3. 50% greater effort
  4. a saturation level of effort.

From these answers, one can determine the parameters of the S-curve response function and use linear programming techniques to determine resource allocations.

Decision algorithms that result in extreme solutions, such as allocating most of the sales force to one product while neglecting another product often do not yield practical solutions.

For mature products, sales increase very little as a function of advertising expenditures. For newer products however, there is a very positive correlation.

Portfolio models may be used to allocate resources among major product lines or business units. The BCG growth-share matrix is one such model.

New Product Diffusion Curve

As a new product diffuses into the market, some types of consumers such as innovators and early adopters buy the product before other consumers. The product adoption follows a trajectory that is shaped like a bell curve and is known as the product diffusion curve. The marketing strategy should take this adoption curve into account and address factors that influence the rate of adoption by the different types of consumers.

Dynamic Product Management Strategies

Two fundamental issues of product management are whether to pioneer or follow, and how to manage the product over its life cycle.

Order of market entry is very important. In fact, the forecasted market share relative to the pioneering brand is the pioneering brand's share divided by the square root of the order of entry. For example, the brand that entered third is forecasted to have 1/√3 times the market share of the first entrant (Marketing Science, Vol. 14, No. 3, Part 2 of 2, 1995.) This rule was determined empirically.

The pioneering advantage is obtained from both the supply and demand side. From the supply side, there are raw material advantages, better experience effects to provide a cost advantage, and channel preemption. On the demand side, there is the advantage of familiarity, the chance to set a standard, and the choice of perceptual position.

Once a firm gains a pioneering advantage, it can maintain it by improving the product, creating a standard, advertise that it was the first, and introduce a new product in the market that may cannibalize the first but deter other firms from entering.

There also are disadvantages to being the pioneer. Being first allows a competitor to leapfrog the early technology. The incumbent develops inertia in its R&D and may not be a flexible as newcomers. Developing an industry has costs that the pioneer must bear alone, and the way the industry develops and its potential size are not deterministic.

There are four classic price/selling effort strategies:

Selling EffortPrice
LowNecessity Goods

Classic Skim Strategy
Vulnerable to new entrants


Classic Penetration Strategy


Luxury Goods


In general, products are clustered in the low-low or high-high categories. If a product is in a mixed category, after introduction it will tend to move to the low-low or high-high one.

Increasing the breadth of the product line as several advantages. A firm can better serve multiple segments, it can occupy more of the distributors' shelf space, it offers customers a more complete selection, and it preempts competition. While a wider range of products will cause a firm to cannibalize some of its own sales, it is better to do so oneself rather than let the competition do so.

The drawbacks of broad product lines are reduced volume for each brand (cannibalization), greater manufacturing complexity, increased inventory, more management resources required, more advertising (or less per brand), clutter and confusion in advertising for both customers and distributors.

To increase profits from existing brands, a firm can improve its production efficiency, increase the demand through more users, more uses, and more usage. A firm also can defend its existing base through line extensions (expand on a current brand), flanker brands (new brands in an existing product area), and brand extensions.

Recommended Reading

McGrath, Michael E., Product Strategy for High Technology Companies

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