12th October 2022

5 steps to a winning marketing strategy

The word ‘strategy’ gets banded around boardrooms all the time. If you have ‘strategist’ in your job title, you must be smart, right? Well, yes, you probably are smart, but a strategy isn’t a mystical beast that only a Strategist knows how to tame. This blog aims to demystify the strategy process by showing PROWL – Big Cat’s five steps to success.

At Big Cat, we have a “heard mentality.” Making sure you feel heard every step of the way from briefing to results reporting. Through our client-centric 5-step process, we ensure your marketing goals and objectives are achieved every single time.

Stage 1: 

Parley and partner

Our first meeting is much more than a formality. It’s the start of our working partnership and the chance to establish your true goals. The brief we create together will set us up for mutual success and be a foundation for future ROI.

The IPA and BetterBriefs recently created a useful guide called ‘The best way for a client to brief an agency. Download it - it’s free! Here are a few useful snippets

A good brief is never easy to write. Think of it as a series of decisions that together makes
a well-reasoned case for advertising. It is never a box-ticking exercise. Brands use agencies to come up with ideas they can’t think of themselves.

A few tips in writing a good Client Brief:

  • Define the need for advertising. A good brief is laser-focused on the problem or opportunity the creative work needs to solve and acts as a compass for creative thinking
  • One brief = one strategy. Decide on whether a brief is for acquiring new customers, upselling to existing ones, or increasing frequency of purchase. They are mutually exclusive. You may need more than one brief
  • Build the backbone. The backbone consists of the objectives, target audience and budget. Together they set the parameters of what’s possible and what’s not. They are intrinsically linked, so think about them holistically
  • Set linked objectives. Well-defined objectives outline the desired outcomes a brand aims to achieve. They paint a clear picture of success and how it will be measured
  • Target the right people. A well-defined target audience is a vivid picture of demographics, psychographics, and needs or wants.
  • Marry the message with proof points. A single-minded brief contains only one key message. That message is not a tagline. It does not try to be creative. Its sole focus is pinpointing where the creative solution should be. Good single-minded messages are supported only by relevant proof points.
  • Align on evaluation. Agreeing on how the ideas will be assessed is a crucial part of the process. Decide which brief (client or creative) should be used to evaluate the work and try to include assessment criteria in it.


Client Briefing

Stage 2: 

Research & Discover

A crucial part of a primary marketing strategy is understanding not only what’s going on now, but has happened over the last 12 months. We recommend collecting as much data as possible, online and offline, to help build up a better picture of your brand and the market you operate in.

With the task agreed upon, our research can begin. We’ll gather the data and perform deep dives into the four Cs of Company, Category, Consumer and Culture, to find the insight that will mark the way forward.

Company Questions:

  1. What share of the market does the product have? How fast is it growing? 
  2. What is the size of the category? How fast is the category growing? 
  3. What are the marketing objectives for the campaign? 
  4. What is it about the company that's either contributing to - or failing to solve - the business problem? 
  5. How is the brand currently seen by the growth/opportunity market? 
  6. What must the brand become to penetrate the growth/opportunity market? 
  7. How should we reframe the brand or product to exploit the growth opportunity? 
  8. What are the brand objectives for the campaign?

Consumer Questions:

  1. What do the brand's current consumers look like demographically, behaviorally and/or attitudinally? 
  2. What do "fans" of the brand look like demographically, behaviorally and/or attitudinally? 
  3. What is the current mindset of the consumer that is holding them back from purchasing? 
  4. What do consumers think of the brand, good and bad? 
  5. What consumer trait or characteristic could this brand uniquely celebrate, honor or pay tribute to?
  6. What consumer problem could this brand uniquely solve? 
  7. What consumer desire or aspiration could this brand uniquely satisfy? 

Category Questions:

  1. What are the dynamics of the category? 
  2. Is it changing, growing, or shrinking? 
  3. Who's the category's "Goliath" and what weakness could we exploit? 
  4. Who's the category's "David" and how are they winning? 
  5. What are the cliches in advertising of the category? 
  6. How could we go against the creative grain of the category? 
  7. How could we zag while everyone else zigs?

Culture Questions:

  1. What's going on in culture that the brand could credibly challenge? 
  2. What, in culture, could the brand become a credible champion of? 
  3. What noble purpose could this brand uniquely and credibly pursue?

Each of the 4Cs: company, consumer, category, and culture, can unveil key insights about the question you are trying to uncover. By asking questions about each C, you find answers that move you closer to a clear strategy. Staying curious and asking questions unlock key answers.

Who are we targeting?

Market segmentation should be carried out first to identify who’s out there. Targeting, by contrast, is the start of strategy. By looking at the market, the competitors and your own resources, a decision must be made on where you will play.  If you follow the Ehrenberg-Bass model and have enough budget, you’ll go after every consumer in the category. Not every brand has the funds to do this. And even if it does, it would be wise to follow Peter Field and Les Binet’s 60/40 split of long- and short-term marketing.

Building personas

To help build a picture of your audience, we use qualitative research with the target to help understand their:

Goals – what, specifically, are they looking to achieve?

Needs – based on their current state of mind, what are their needs?

Pain points – what keeps them up at night? 

Behaviours – how do they think and behave? 

Contexts – what media do they subscribe to and read? Who influences them? What networks are they part of?

A problem statement is written for the target, framed from the consumer’s perspective (not the business problem). Using insight, we create well-rounded portraits of the target personas, painting a precise, detailed and holistic picture of the audiences and their journeys.

We go through a 6-stage process to create audience personas:

  1. Find out what their interests and priorities are
  2. Know where they’re spending their time
  3. Understand their perceptions
  4. Put yourself in their shoes
  5. Identify the opportunities
  6. Evaluation of most appropriate human biases

Insight development

A true audience insight should flip and unlock the problem, and provide a unique perspective, leading us to a solution/strategy. 

Having insight makes campaigns more effective because we understand why they are behaving a certain way.

Research & Insight

Stage 3: 

Objectives and plans

Companies with successful business strategies will include a clear set of choices that define what they’re going to do and what they’re not going to do.

We’ll use the insight we uncover to develop and agree on a marketing strategy designed to deliver on your objectives. It will be unique to your challenge and set out clearly how we’re going to rise to it.

A good strategy will include three things:

Segmentation and Targeting – who are the segments, specifically who should we target, and how many? 

Positioning – Once you have worked out who you are going after, you can then answer the follow-up question of what you want to stand for in the eyes of these target customers. Or how you’re positioned in the market. If targeting is who we want to go after, positioning is what we want them to think when they think of our brand. A brand needs the consumer to know that it exists and to think two or three things about it.

Objectives – a strategy must outline the levers that need to be pulled to deliver success (usually more sales, growth, profit, etc.).

That means articulating very clearly and very tightly a short list of objectives that direct the activities of the brand. We know who the target is and what we want to stand for. The objectives add the final piece of the puzzle: what do we want to do to that target?

Start by building a customised purchase funnel. Start with the total population of the market or the target segment at the top. Then identify the 4-5 stages that take a consumer from ignorance to repeat purchase and brand advocacy. Don’t copy the generic funnel. Use qualitative research to understand the specific steps in your business and create a custom funnel.


Stage 4: 

Ways and means

Ideas don’t just fall out of the sky. Solid ideas come from a thoughtful but simple brief. Now we’ll brief our creatives to find a powerful articulation of the strategy, deploying new ways of thinking that will capture the attention of our audience. We’ll also decide on the marketing tactics that will ensure you are set up for success.

Creative brief and strategy
We use an evidence-based approach to strategy and creativity through what we know about behavioural science, rather than relying on gut feel and intuition. As an agency, we are constantly learning about biases and we put our findings into practice to strengthen all of the work we do, meaning this also helps form the insight within the creative brief.

At the heart of compelling creative is a captivating creative brief. A brief is not just a form to be completed, it is an art. Every word counts and should aim to inspire the person who reads it. Our team is well-trained in writing and delivering great briefs because we know better work can be achieved.

Focusing on the framework ‘Get, To, By’, we take the business problem and look at it from the audience’s point of view. We put ourselves in the mind of the consumer and ask the question, 'what is the consumer problem?’. Using the insights gathered in the primary and secondary research helps form the base of the creative brief. We are then able to add details about what we are trying to get them to think, feel and do.

At this stage our Creative Director and Copywriter will work together to produce the branding and name, as well as the key messaging. We usually create three concepts at the initial stage and will explore the application of the concepts, which are presented back to the client with a rationale for each – for review and feedback.

We have a primary research partnership with the University of Birmingham’s School of Linguistics and their internal team EMMA (Exploring Multimodal Metaphor in Advertising) which has been used many times by our clients to carry out testing to identify the effectiveness of creative concepts. If timescales and budget allow, we will mock up the preferred concepts and conduct the research with the team, sharing the findings with you.

Behavioural biases to inform creative and ‘nudge’ the audience
People are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of decisions they need to make each day. People don’t have time to laboriously and logically weigh up each decision. Instead, they rely on mental shortcuts to make decisions more quickly. While these shortcuts enable quicker decision-making, they are prone to biases. There’s an exciting opportunity to increase cut-through and effectiveness by harnessing the power of behavioural science.

When developing a creative idea we aim to work with the grain of human instincts and behavioural biases. We use the ‘EAST’ behavioural science framework that the Government’s Behavioural Insight team uses to ‘nudge’ in their public sector communication campaigns. We add two additional pillars to EAST: Be Contextual and Be Relative.

Creativity in campaigns is the second biggest multiplier of ROI and the effectiveness of marketing communications.

We apply insight-led creativity to all channels in order to get the highest possible reach and conversion rate. We will do this by being:

Distinctive – being outstanding at standing out and demanding attention.
Goal-based – the most sophisticated level of value in the human brain, and it is the key building motivation 
Emotive – the most effective advertising leans into right-brain (emotional) thinking – essential for long-term growth in awareness (aka mental availability)
Attributable – helping to build the salience of the brand (the extent to which the brand has built links to attributes within someone’s memory).


Strategy vs tactics

The marketing strategy will uncover how the objectives will be achieved using the objectives with a set of tactics. We get a lot of people asking us for specific tactics such as ‘social media marketing’ which is absolutely fine as long as there’s a clear strategy in place. However, a tactical marketing plan without strategy is like throwing spaghetti at a wall and hoping it sticks.

We, of course, have a team of specialists in PR, Marketing, Digital Marketing and Social Media, however remember to put these down until the strategy has been agreed.


Stage 5: 

Learn and refine

To determine that success, we’ll set up a shared dashboard to monitor and review performance. Our partnerships with academic researchers mean we can test both strategy and creative, refining them as we go, to ensure we all stay focused on objectives until they’re reached.

1. Establish objectives and goals – as agreed in the strategy
2. Collect data - offline and online
3. Campaign phase (during) – collect offline and online data from the inputs (tactics)
4. Campaign phase (post) – start the process of data interrogation and review performance against targets and objectives

Digital tracking and reporting
Whilst you can track digital marketing instantly, it doesn’t mean you should. Successful campaigns combine two types of marketing: short and long-term tactics, some of which are not digital (yes, you heard it right, just because you can’t track a channel’s performance to the entire degree, doesn’t mean you should discount it!).

Of course, digital marketing is often part of most campaigns. So, we create a shared reporting dashboard to monitor and review the performance of the activity. By monitoring the performance of multiple digital ad versions throughout the conversion funnels regularly we can update and roll out creative that provides the highest level conversion.

Using the media budget and targeting tools on digital advertising platforms, we can forecast digital metrics such as reach, then the desired behaviours such as click-through rate (CTR), conversion rate (CVR) and website visits.

Some benchmarks will be unknown until the campaign starts and is in the testing phase, however we will analyse your historic data to get to an as accurate forecast as possible.

We will set a measurement methodology and digital scorecard and a creative test-and-learn approach to each stage of the funnel.

Measuring ‘awareness’ and attitudes 

Awareness and attitudinal measures are normally captured pre vs post-campaign through surveys either via the telephone or online or in person. A combination of quantitative and qualitative data should be collected to get an as accurate view as possible.


Sign up for our latest insights, ideas and inspiration