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12.4. Tactical Planning

Because marketers are usually looking for a competitive edge, they will usually try to offer their customers something that is unavailable elsewhere. In this respect, marketing differs from the other main business disciplines. If the legal directors were swapped over from one competing firm to another, they would have no trouble in carrying on with their jobs; the law remains the same for firms in the same industry. If the finance directors or the production managers were exchanged they would simply carry on working, because each industry operates with its own financial structure and production techniques. If the marketers were swapped, though, they would probably be completely lost for the first few weeks, because each should be addressing a different segment of the market, dealing with different distributors, different clients, different overall philosophies and different promotional campaigns. There are three generic strategies:

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  1. Cost leadership, which is about keeping costs low enough to be able to maintain high profits even when competition is strong;
  2. Differentiation, which means distinguishing the firm and its products from all competitors; and
  3. Focus, which is about concentrating on specific segments of the market.

Marketers usually need to concentrate most of their attention on the second two strategies, and in particular on differentiation. Competitive tactics will depend largely on the company's current product portfolio, and on the activities of competitors. The Boston Group matrix will help in making strategic decisions about which products to keep and which to discard, but the tactical problem still remains of attacking the appropriate markets.

The tactical possibilities in a marketing campaign are huge in number. Most of the tactics of marketing involve creativity on the part of practitioners, so it is virtually impossible to lay down any hard and fast rules about approaching different marketing problems. However, the following might prove to be useful guidelines:

  • Try to do something that the competition has not thought of yet.
  • Always consult everybody who is involved in the day-to-day application of the plans. Salespeople in particular do not like to be told what to do by somebody back at Head Office.
  • Do not expect instant results from anything you do – but monitor the results anyway.
  • Ensure that the messages you give the consumers, the middlemen, the suppliers and all your other publics are consistent.
  • Be prepared for a response from your competitors – try to anticipate what it might be when you are formulating your plans.
  • Communications tools cannot be used to achieve marketing objectives; they can only achieve communications objectives. Marketing objectives may well follow on from this, but this is not a good way to judge a communications medium.

Cost-effectiveness will always be an issue in promotional campaigns and it is for this reason that there has been a growth in direct marketing worldwide. The accurate targeting of market segments made possible by computer technology has enabled marketers to refine the approach, and hence increase the response rate. Marketers now talk in terms of response rates from promotions, not in terms of contact numbers. When considering tactical options it is useful to remember that marketers talk about mixes: the marketing mix, the promotional mix and so forth. This implies that each area of marketing impinges on every other area, and that decisions about (say) advertising tactics cannot be taken independently of decisions about pricing.

Having determined the details of what is to be done, the programme can be implemented. Sometimes the marketing managers will meet with resistance from colleagues from other disciplines and sometimes the plan will need to be revised in the light of experience and later events. There will therefore need to be a degree of flexibility in the plan.

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