But First, Strategize

Want to stand out from your competitors? Avoid wasting money? You can’t afford to skip out on the first step in a marketing plan.

Illustration by Tony Healey

Julia Carcamo is president and chief brand strategist at J Carcamo & Associates, specializing in brand and marketing strategy. She is also the co-founder of espNOLA, a Hispanic marketing and engagement agency. Learn more at jcarcamoassociates.com and espnola.com.


Quite some time ago, I was the beneficiary of a pilot management program developed by Caesars Entertainment. At the onset of the program, the director shared the three common areas where new managers struggle (and sometimes fail): change management, finance and strategy.

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In marketing, a strategy must always come first — before you take out an ad, before you develop your employee manual, before everything. A strategy is the “why” and the signals along the path that tell us we’re on the road to success. A solid strategy simplifies the actual marketing, making it easier to implement the right plan. Many marketing initiatives will fall short when they are executed in a strategic vacuum. I realize that strategy is not as dazzling to work on as your next ad or the design of your website, but skipping this step is a big mistake. As Julia Roberts said in Pretty Woman, “Huge. Huge mistake.”


Strategy means focusing on understanding who you truly are as a brand and the position you can occupy to differentiate yourself. Are you a leader or a challenger? Are you innovative or traditional? By and large, brands fall into one of probably a dozen characters, but understanding the nuances of that character and who you are in the competitive set can open the doors to more creative ways of approaching your marketing. Who doesn’t love a feisty brand willing to cut through the clutter and stand in their own light? Moreover, in an age when “hack” and “disruption” have become the business buzzwords, breaking the mold and offering a new way to look at your brand is almost demanded from consumers.

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Looking for a way to bring more to the bottom line? Stop wasting your time and money on efforts that will not get you to the promised land. Having a strong strategic foundation allows you to better focus your budget and staffing by showing you where to invest. You can focus on only the marketing programs that will support the overall business objectives.


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A well-considered strategy includes an understanding of whom we want to talk to (both internally and externally), what motivates them and how we can consistently communicate our value to them. A well-articulated strategy will provide your agency partners with clear direction so that you can eliminate the need for multiple revisions. The consistency gained by strategy will paint the full picture you want customers to envision when they think about you and when they are deciding where to spend their dollars. “Tactics without a strategy will always leave you reacting to the news instead of creating your own,” warns Brandon Cox, chief storyteller and founder of the Ever After Agency.


When I started my career in marketing, there were four basic ways of communicating with customers. Today, there seems to be an overwhelming number of channels we can use, but not all are the right fit for our brands or our target customers. Armed with a strong strategy, research, and data, we can now pick and choose the most influential channels.

The goal is to have target customers choose you over your competitors. A clear strategy built with the appropriate foundational elements will pay dividends today and tomorrow.


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