Hierarchy Hell

The seven level hierarchy of marketing strategy stackWhile contemplating the content for my upcoming lecture at Draper University (April 20, 2016 at 1PM for any interested Silicon Valley types) I thought long and hard about covering the entire marketing strategy hierarchy. It is essential for startups (and you can learn more about them in the Start-up CEO’s Marketing Manual) but a bit too meaty for that crowd.

Why hierarchies are hip

The concept is simple, the application rigorous, and the outcomes always positive. This is why most startups crash. They don’t do the Tough Things First and build their marketing strategy from ground-up. They instead assemble them sideways, beginning with their native knowledge of a market, and trying to slide a foundation in under a clapboard shed of a marketing plan.

There exist seven layers in the marketing strategy stack. The end goal of marketing is to convince buyers they need and want your product, which is done through communication, which in turn requires messaging.

But you wouldn’t walk up to a prospect and spew out random words about your product. This would be like approaching the attractive girl at the end of the bar and reciting Bulgarian poetry. Either case would be meaningless to the receiver. Hence, the end goal – great messaging – is derived from understanding your customer. This comes from understanding your market, the segment within the market you are selling into, all of the various people you need to sell to and their motivations, what they perceive as a complete solution (and how your product matches this description), where your inherently incomplete product is compared to any other solution, and what people (should) think and feel about your product.

Notice that each layer requires a substantial understanding of the layer below it. In other words, to achieve great messaging, you better start with market definition and don’t move on to segmentation until you are very smart on the layer below that.

Startup struggles

Startups are like race horses – anxious to bolt from the gate. Some founder even fool themselves about the need for speed, using metaphorical excuses like needing ultimate first mover advantage or growth hacking their way to success. Walking through the seven layers is not fun, and it can be tough. But it is not a huge time commitment, not expensive, nor insanely difficult. It is precise, integrated, and in a way boring. Yet it is as essential as pouring a concrete foundation before erecting the first wall frame, much less the first rafter.

If you are a founder, use this as a map (and use the Start-up CEO’s Marketing Manual for a detailed walk-through of each phase of analyzing your marketing strategy hierarchy). If you feel that any layer in your strategy is incomplete, then you know what you need to do next.


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