Wharton@Work

July 2019 | 

Skip the Trends: Marketing Starts with Strategy


Skip the Trends: Marketing Starts with Strategy

Are you considering using AI chatbots to interact with your customers, creating more video for social media platforms, or investing in content developers? These current marketing tactics can be incredibly effective. But these tactics need to be part of a well-orchestrated, go-to-market strategy, says Jagmohan Raju, marketing professor and vice dean of Wharton Executive Education.

Taking the necessary step back to approach the bigger picture of marketing, however, isn’t always easy. Much of today’s marketing advice centers on the latest methods for enticing consumers, from influencers to SEO (both of which have entire agencies built around them). “Tactics change over time,” says Raju. “They could mean investing in TV advertising or social media, online retail or bricks and mortar, selling directly or going through a channel partner. What you learn in this program is how to develop a successful go-to-market plan for your new product or service or reinvigorate one that is not doing well in the marketplace.”

He says a successful marketing strategy always begins with the customer. Being customer-centric means moving away from “selling what we make towards a ‘make what you can sell’ philosophy, and for that you need to get customer input first.” As the academic director of Strategic Marketing for Competitive Advantage, Raju says that the core skill built in the program is “designing a new product or service based on customer needs, and successfully taking it to market. Doing that requires deep insights into your customers and consumers.”

The six-day program is taught by the same faculty who teach in the School’s popular MBA marketing management program. “The best of Wharton is here: experts in customer analytics, pricing, competitive strategy, communication, contagion and viral marketing, and branding,” Raju says. “Participants engage with these experts during the program and can continue the connection. Connections created with co-participants and faculty become life-long assets.”

That expertise has recently drawn executives from Google, Cisco, Dow Jones, Vanguard, and Merck to the program. And while the classroom has its share of CEOs, CFOs, and CMOs, it also attracts entrepreneurs, physicians, and academics who need a solid foundation in marketing.

Matthew Owenby, chief human resources officer at Aflac, says “the deep subject matter expertise of the faculty doesn’t begin to explain how phenomenal they are. They have access to new research no one else has and they’re in the field working with companies. The practice and learning for them is a continuous loop — it feels like they are a couple of years ahead in terms of knowledge.”

Amar Pandit, founder of the Mumbai-based financial planning platform Happyness Factory, says, “it’s a semester of knowledge condensed into a week. The program goes well beyond tactics and the four Ps of marketing. You not only get to think about many issues involved in marketing in a different way, but you come away with very specific actions to take.”

While the overarching theme has stayed the same — focusing on holistic strategy rather than tactics — Raju says other content has evolved to meet today’s needs. “We never thought of customer lifetime value or social media 20 years ago. Now they’re a key part of the program.” Sessions on pricing strategies, online advertising, customer analysis, and brand management — while still focused on their connection to a holistic strategy — have all been affected by changes in consumer behavior and preferences and in competitive markets.

Pandit notes that he was able to start implementing some of the key learnings even before the program ended, to great success. “I wanted a strategic view that included the impact of various decisions and how best to integrate decisions in areas such as customer segments, go to market, pricing, channels, and communication. I started sharing what I learned during the program, and went back with a very deep understanding. We are now seeing a phenomenal change.”