Why a Marketing Strategy is Like a Soap Box Derby Race


You're in position with tunnel-like vision, focusing on nothing but what's coming next. It could be generously described as a maniacal stare. You're in the racing zone and everything else fades away. In your pre-race plan did you decide to be aggressive or play it smart? Are you entering the race as an underdog or the defending leader? Is it about this race or setting up the next one?

Whether you are perched on the ramp at the start of a race or planning the details of a marketing strategy, these big questions are often surprisingly similar. Embarking on strategic development for your company and its brands, products or services is never as simple as it sounds and it can be a daunting task. Whether you're a long-shot underdog or defending champion, soap box derby racing has an interesting correlation to building a marketing plan.

Build your race strategy ahead of time and you’ll have more success during the race.

If you are a start-up or an established market leader, there are many variables that come into play. Just as in racing, the conditions and contenders change. Regardless of how much planning you do, you can never be prepared for everything in your business. You may ask, "Why should I bother planning at all with so much out of my control?" Don’t be discouraged. During a race, you can’t control the weather, lane selection, who you are racing against, etc. However, you can control your race strategy and its implementation.

Planning ahead and focusing on what you can control, including elements of production, distribution, pricing and service offerings, allows you to be more responsive and proactive when addressing events or elements beyond your control.

Answer the hard questions honestly.

When deciding to enter a race or developing a marketing strategy, answering any combination of these questions will help you create or evolve your marketing strategy. This means answering them honestly and realistically to be effective.

  1. Do we focus on the short-term, here and now?
  2. How and when should long-term objectives factor in?
  3. Who is my target audience and how do I most effectively reach them?
  4. Does the company, products or services have any brand awareness? What is the brand strength, if any at all?
  5. In the competitive landscape, how do we compare?
  6. What is the impact of the current (and future) economic stabilities?
  7. Are new products or services being introduced into the marketplace?
  8. How much can I afford to spend, or how much can I afford NOT to spend?

This is the critical starting point and represents only a handful of sample questions that must be asked and answered. You are now one step closer to developing a comprehensive marketing plan.

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What is the basic foundation for successful strategies?

The following outlines some key components of a successful plan.

  • Objectives
    In their purest form, what are you trying to do? Build awareness, maintain market share or grow sales of the units/services or conversion goals for online activities.
  • Strategies
    A brief outline of how you are going to achieve the objectives.
  • Tactics
    What is the right combination of communication vehicles to bring your go-to-market strategy to life? You can't be all things to everyone, fiscally responsible decisions must be made by selecting one or a number of mediums to effectively reach your target. Your consumer’s demographics, psychographics and user experience metrics must be researched and understood.

    Tactics may include: eBlasts, direct mail, brochures and collateral materials, radio, newspaper, Out of Home, Twitter, Facebook, events, PR, promotions and the list continues.
  • Evaluation
    Often overlooked, this is one of the most crucial components of a marketing plan. Define your analytics and metrics. Start out simply by asking yourself what is being measured, how it’s being measured, frequency levels for review, etc. Create items that are actionable and don’t do it for the sake of measuring it. Advertising and marketing has always been about interactions with your consumer, especially now that you can evaluate and respond to results with unprecedented deftness.
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When do you involve your agency?

A driver competes in the heat of battle during a race, but they always rely upon a strong pit crew to achieve the desired result of winning it. Ideally, this means involving your agency as early as possible in the process. This allows them to provide input, share insights and recommendations before any commitments or decisions are finalized that may or may not handcuff future strategic planning or creative development. They will review challenges with fresh, unbiased eyes, can assist in uncovering ‘real truths’ quicker, plus moderate and help resolve fragmented internal opinions.


Come out ahead of the pack in fine racing form.


Strategies are living, breathing entities that require adjustments as your company, brands, products or services and most importantly, consumer and market segment evolve. Something might have contributed to successes along the way, but that doesn't mean it should go unchecked. In this brave new world of marketing and advertising, campaigns and initiatives should be monitored vigilantly and refined when necessary to obtain the desired results. Don't be afraid of the unknown or unforeseen. Embrace it and learn from it.

Whether competing in a soap box derby or developing marketing strategies, many of the same principles apply. There might be short term pain, time constraints, unavoidable truths and game changing realities for better or worse. The potential long-term results far outweigh any initial inconveniences and growing pains.

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