(Originally written for Quora in response to the question “What is the best marketing strategy that you have every heard of?”)
There is no “best” strategy because every business, organization, and institution is different. A brilliant strategy for one company might be disastrous for another.
Trending in the news is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. The marketing strategy was probably initially perceived as whack-a-doodle. Using social media, people challenge their friends, family and acquaintances to pour buckets of ice water over their heads to raise money for the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association. Over 17 million people accepted the challenge, raising $115 million for research, patient and community services, professional education, and fundraising.
It’s a darn good strategy. However, if dozens of non-profits used the same ploy to fundraise, it’s doubtful they’d all have similar success.
That’s not to say you can’t copy a winning marketing strategy. You simply need to take into account your audience, the products or services you’re touting, and brand personality of your organization. For instance, many products, universities, and events have a mascot, which reinforces their brand, strengthens awareness, and sometimes adds a bit of levity.
Chester Cheetah has been peddling Cheetos since 1971. He disappeared for a few years, got a make-over, and then reincarnating as a readily recognizable prankster, goading consumers to turn their fingers orange by dipping into a bag of Cheetos.
In 1921, home economist and businesswoman Marjorie Husted became the face of Betty Crocker. Her face, clothing and demeanor have morphed numerous times over the years with the latest version in 1996, featuring bobbed hair, pearl jewelry, and a red sweater over a white blouse. In spite of her frequent make-overs, she fell out of favor. The brand is now associated with a spoon with “Betty Crocker” in cursive lettering inside.
Larry, the Quaker Oats mascot has survived over the years, abet with help from graphic designers who slimmed his face, cut his hair, and gave him a bit more modern appearance. Aunt Jemima, associated with pancake mix and syrup, has also had numerous transformation, but like some professional baseball team names and mascots, her image is controversial. M&M characters, representing the colors of M&Ms, have freshened the brand. While Ronald McDonald, with his painted face, clown outfit, and floppy shoes, seems out-of-touch.
A marketing strategy, therefore, of associated a product or brand with a mascot has the potential to be a run-away success or a colossal mistake.
It can be said, the best marketing strategy is one that continues to evolve, engaging and delighting existing and new audiences. My favorite is Harley-Davidson. Found in 1903, the brand was initially associated with hard-edged, anti-establishment bikers on “choppers,” dressed in black leather, combat boots, bandanas, and vests with numerous patches touting their brotherhoods and outlaw clubs.
I know what you’re thinking. The audience hasn’t changed. Not only have they retained their original audience, but intrigued and won over new ones, and massively expanded the appeal of motorcycling, resulting in new luxury brands entering the market – BMW and MTT – and revitalizing beloved brands like Indian, MV August, Ducati, and Triumph.
Today 15% of Harley-Davidson buyers are under age 35 with the median age around 47 years old and median household income of $83,000. Dealerships are conveniently located off major highways with immaculate parts and repair facilities, comfortable lounges for riders, free bike washes, highly trained staff, and regular events and rallies to connect riders of all ages.
Because new vehicles – whether a car, motorcycle or boat – are long-term purchases, marketers in these industries are constantly gauging customer behavior and preferences, along with economic trends, which could impact buying decisions. For this reason, studying car manufacturers’ marketing strategies can be valuable.
One car manufacturer that has dramatically invigorated its brand and offerings in recent years is Cadillac. A professed luxury brand, it had become stodgy with uninspiring behemoth, gas-hungry vehicles.
Today, if you lined up their vehicles, masked-out the make and models, and then asked a range of individuals to name the manufacturer, many would be stumped. The styling, features, and performance of Cadillacs have evolved to an “art and science.”
More telling, the brand is no longer associated with the graying generation. Many of their vehicles are being snatched up by affluent millennials who don’t have memories of their grandparents’ finned DeVille’s and El Dorado’s. To showcase the performance of their V-Series cars, Cadillac has even ventured onto the race track.
Lincoln has undergoing a similar re-invention, listening to customers, evolving their brands, and going from continental to international with customizable interiors with names like rhapsody, chalet, thoroughbred, vineyard, indulgence, and modern heritage.
Customization, personalization, and laser-focus on customer needs comprises another theme in marketing strategy. Companies like Amazon, eBay, and Etsy has mastered the concept of not only supporting buyers, but people selling products and services. They have dual customers, each with unique requirements and needs.
End-customers want to be able to quickly finding what they’re seeking, easily pay, and receive their purchases when promised. Equally important, they expect products, which are purchased online, to meet their expectation (or at least match what was touted). They welcome personalized content, which enables them to compare similar products, and add complementary products and accessories.
Sellers, whether offering name-brand stiletto shoes on Amazon, vintage peep-toe high-heels on eBay, or hand-knit booties on Esty, want to be able to easily upload information and photos about their products, effortlessly set-up payment options, create attractive pages to promote their products, and assist customers in finding what they need via intuitive filters, categories, and digital ads.
Amazon, eBay, and Esty haven’t necessarily had the cleverest interfaces. Their success is the result of their ability to consistently meet buyers’ needs, and also ensure a great customer experience for buyers.
In summary, the best marketing summary is the one that enables a business or organization to reach and engage customers, turning them not just into buyers, but loyal fans. After all, a company can make a profit through a range of sale tactics, but if customers aren’t fans, the company will need to perpetually appease existing customers and attract new ones.