SOSTAC marketing model

Using a marketing model to develop your strategy

A review of PR Smith's SOSTAC guide

Since I completed by Postgraduate diploma at the IDM I’ve used the SOSTAC model for client marketing strategies. Whilst my approach has developed overtime, I still use the basic framework to structure my strategy. When I started teaching marketing strategy I decided I’d invest in my own copy of SOSTAC – The Guide to Your Perfect Marketing Plan to strengthen my knowledge.

Breaking down SOSTAC

The genius behind SOSTAC is its simplicity. And like all things simple, it took a long time to develop. In the intro, PR Smith explains that it took nearly 10 years to perfect. The marketing model has 6 component parts; situation analysis, objectives, strategy, tactics, actions and control.

I, like most people, initially struggled to differentiate between strategy and tactics. Something that I continually see repeated with my marketing students. But, over time, and through practical application, the difference between the two becomes clearer. As Sun Tzu in The Art of War says:

All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved

At the start of the book the 3Ms are also introduced which cover human resources, budgets and timescales. These are three considerations that are incredibly important in developing marketing strategy. I’ve found adapting the 3M’s into the 3P’s works well for client projects:

  • People
  • Pounds
  • Process

People are always central to project success, as are budgetary considerations (pounds here for the Brits). However, rather than focusing on timescale, I think process is more important. Because you must review the internal processes at play and how the different systems (marketing and other) interplay.

Benefits of the marketing model

A marketing model ensures consistency of result, much like a well designed checklist. It also stops you running with a ‘great’ idea and following your gut, which whilst tempting, has been shown by both Malcom Gladwell and Daniel Kahneman to have negative consequences.

You can have wonderful, creative, inspirational ideas. But marketing doesn’t just need to be entertaining or follow the latest trend, it also needs to move the needle. This might be in terms of positioning, sales or brand recognition, but what is important is that the drive forwards is aligned to the mission and vision of the company.  A good marketing model, like SOSTAC, ensures that you stay on track. That you aren’t waylaid by your boss saying Clubhouse is the next big thing, or complacent by churing out the same old content with diminishing returns.

There are a few models that I continue to use in addition to SOSTAC that I’d recommend:

Key lessons

SOSTAC - ask why

Be a toddler

Ditch the tantrums and start asking why. This is the most valuable question you can ask yourself when developing a marketing strategy. The 5 W’s have long been touted as an effective way to problem solve and gather information. Marketing strategy should be both; situational analysis is your problem solving and your strategy is your resolution.

Asking why (as well as what, who, when and where) can ensure that you are aligning your strategy to commercial objectives and mission of the business. Marketing strategy is about asking the right questions during the situational analysis. The SOSTAC book is incredibly useful for those starting out in strategy as it has an abundance of suggestions.

Evaluate the triggers

There is always a reason for a purchase, it might be implusive, but certain factors increase our propensity for impulse purchases for example. This is why parents are so heavily targeted, they are time-poor and tired with an overwhelming need for help, perfect for late-night impulse buys.

For example, lockdown has accelerated a number of businesses because our rituals changed and new triggers were created. Increased home cooking triggered the need to buy new kitchen equipment and recipe books. Social media consumption went through the roof, giving brands increased opportunity to drive awareness and loyalty.

This is why it is so valuable to use SWOT in situational analysis, external factors always impact the triggers of a target audience. Whilst there will always be Black Swans like COVID-19, it is better to review strategy with a wide frame.

Strategy is the most difficult part

This is why most companies don’t have a marketing strategy. Most have an abundance of marketing tactics, but very few have an effective strategy. Tactics in isolation can be effective and sometimes businesses luck out and a random tactic reaps huge rewards, but the reality is that most businesses tend to waste money and resources through a ‘spray and pray‘ approach. And as I mentioned earlier, anything that seems simple, like strategy, is inherently difficult to develop.

To have a successful marketing plan you have to understand your targeting and positioning. Positioning isn’t what you think of your company/project/service, but how your intended audience perceives it. This old, but amazing presentation from Steve Jobs nails it:

PR Smith recommends using TOPPP SEED to formulate strategy. This is a useful mnemonic and you’ll have to buy the book to understand it further! The formula works because it ensures you are covering positioning, personas and process.

“Develop credibility before you develop visibility”

In contrast to the old media adage that

all publicity is good publicity

In fact, PR Smith is correct in focusing on the ability to deliver before developing the buzz. Fyre festival anyone?

There is more than one answer

One of the hardest things for my students to understand is that there is no ‘right answer’ when it comes to strategy. There can be a number of approaches. PR Smith highlights the importance of developing multiple strategies before deciding the most suitable. This might not be the best, but it might be right given the time constraints, budget or resources. This approach is similar to what is recommended by Chip and Dan Heath for making good decisions; it is far better to view with a wider frame and question what other answers there might be prior to deciding.

In conclusion

SOSTAC – The Guide to Your Perfect Marketing Plan contains a lot of valuable information but, like any book about marketing strategy, the examples and tools date quickly. However, there are some consistent truths:

  • Attention spans are decreasing
  • People buy from people
  • You need to understand the terrain to make the right decision
  • Don’t settle on the first strategy you develop
  • Check that you have the capacity to deliver on your strategy

The book also contains lots of valuable frameworks to use. Over time you are likely to adapt these to your specific requirements and specialisation, but they are a useful foundation for strategists. Social media has moved incredibly quickly so the questions and templates need updating, but again, the questions you need to ask (why, why, why) don’t really change.

We all fall victim to habit and routine and it is handy to refresh our approach to ensure we haven’t become complacent in our questioning and methodology. I refer back to the book on an annual basis just to keep myself in check and to see how I can apply the fundamentals.



Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

Photo by Hello I’m Nik 🍔 on Unsplash

About Good Words Online

This blog was designed to be a home for all the content I’ve created over the years. It is a mix of book reviews, personal reflections and business learnings. There is no definitive way to live or work, we all make our own choices. I in no way think I am right about any particular subject. This is simply about sharing what I’ve learnt and creating an online reminder for myself.

The name, good words, has no religious references. We can’t be good all the time. Each of us will make mistakes. All we can do is try to learn from them and try and attempt to be a little better next time.

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