Don’t settle for moderate growth—plan 2021 around market takedowns

Eric Meerschaert

Eric Meerschaert

Executive Director of Strategy

Eric has a deep background of marketing leadership at Global 500 software companies, and was President of Click Commerce. His strategy roots grow from McKinsey & Co, where he learned that analytics, not instincts, drive the best corporate and market strategies.

Download PDF​2021 planning is uniquely challenging. We’re coming off one of the most unpredictable years ever, and the reality is most marketing teams have experienced at least one reduction in budgets. Yet the economy is showing signs of strength, and sales teams and executive staffs are considering their growth scenarios for next year.

Facing this situation, how do you define campaigns that successfully drive better lead flow against constrained near-term budgets?

You might think you’re stuck planning for only moderate growth—staying afloat, basing your plan on whatever happened to work this year and growing at essentially the market growth rate. The problem with that approach is you’ll exit 2021 having gained nothing relative to your competition.

There’s a better way—an approach we at StudioNorth call “market takedowns.”

Done right, market takedowns let you make bolder moves, leverage scarce money more effectively, and take share from those who merely hope to grow.

StudioNorth Workshop
on finding your beachheads.

Three critical components of a market takedown

So what exactly is a market takedown strategy?

A market takedown approach is a bottom-up strategy that focuses your sales and marketing on narrowly defined market targets you can own and win. (For a more complete introduction to the market takedown concept, watch our brief on-demand webinar.) There are three critical components of a market takedown that distinguish it from merely targeting a market.

1. You start by selecting beachheads.

A beachhead is a small border area that becomes a stronghold from which you can advance into enemy territory. In marketing terms, a beachhead is a highly focused market, sized so you can own measurable share. (This concept was first defined by Geoffrey Moore in his book Crossing the Chasm, Collins Business Essentials, 3rd Edition, 2006.) Beachheads should be carefully selected to be related to adjacent markets.

Beachhead Concept

A marketing executive who joined our recent webinar said, “I get it. It’s better to plant our flag firmly on a few related hills than it is to stand with others on lots of small molehills. You stand out more and create a more meaningful brand.”

2. You don’t attack all the beachheads at once.

Instead, you start with your most important market—the one that is most adjacent to other critical markets. Then, for each market, you pick a beachhead from which you can gain a substantial share. Your first market should rise to comprise perhaps 40% of the three-year revenue target you’ve established for the full program.

Beachhead Strategy Graph

Market takedowns require patience. You’ll target other beachheads and their markets later, since they typically comprise a lower percentage of the target. And what about keeping the lights on in markets you’re not targeting? We’ll discuss that later in this article.

3. You must connect emotionally to your buyers to stand out in a sea of sameness.

It’s not enough to have well-defined offers with measurable value—after all, most marketers have figured out how to get past feature wars. You have to shape each offer of value to connect to buyers’ (not their companies’) most urgent moments and connect with highly emotional reasons. Then your ads, points of view, and offers will stand out in a sea of sameness.


Oracle’s beachheads take it from player to leader in pharmaceuticals

Here’s an early example of a market takedown, executed by Oracle two decades ago when they captured a leadership position for ERP software and databases in the pharmaceutical marketplace. They even announced what they were doing and advertised their progress via airport ads!

Here’s what they did, based on our observations:

1. They picked a large enough objective in an attractive market. They started with a simple idea: If we can own the top 10 companies in a sector, then we can own the sector. (Picture bowling pins: They started with the 1 pin.)

2. They started with a clever beachhead. Most billion-dollar companies would start top down. That’s not what Oracle did. Yes, they were attempting to sell to large companies, but to own the market they focused their efforts on mid- to late-stage companies. When those companies succeed, they grow extremely quickly, and Oracle was there to help them.

3. They turned their focus from high growth to market leadership. As Oracle gained share with the innovators, they also grew their share with larger companies, which themselves have innovation pipelines. Getting noticed for winning these companies helped them gain share with other large companies and innovators.

4. They announced their intent to own and lead. Over a relatively brief period of time, Oracle’s airport ads went from announcing their solution (“Five of the Top Ten Pharmaceutical Companies Use Oracle”) to claiming victory (“Ten of the Top Ten Pharmaceutical Companies Use Oracle”). From a small beachhead, they had taken the market—step by step.

There are many success stories with this strategy from marketers small, medium, and large. And there are many ways to think about beachheads. You can:

  • Find a larger partner in the market and hook your wagon to their revenue.
  • Target a specific size of company with a unique problem.
  • Solve a part of the problem first.

The common thread is that each beachhead must be large enough to give you strength to spring forward into adjacent markets to take a larger market or healthy portion of adjacent markets.

Deploy Takedowns

Deploying market takedowns for your 2021 planning

Like any realistic strategy, a market takedown approach takes patience and political savvy to implement. You can’t eat the whole elephant at once—you need to understand the true incremental growth it takes to establish beachheads. And you have to build commitment throughout your organization—with strategy, theater, industry, and product line executives—for what may sound like a high-risk plan.

Here are the four steps we recommend for refining your 2021 plans based on market takedowns:

1. Clarify your market math to select the right beachheads.

This topic can take a whole workshop to explore, but very simply, you want to figure out what deal sizes are likely and reverse-engineer the pipeline—backward from close to awareness—to make them happen. You’ll base these calculations on your conversion ratios from upper funnel through the marketing process and from qualified sales leads through close.

Critically, market math clarifies the offers and lifetime value of deals and customers, and gets your executive staff on board with the number of MQLs you’ll need to hit booking targets. That agreement, in turn, drives more accurate budgets.

2. Choose up to three targeted markets to hit your three-year objective.

Start with a question—“Can I get all the incremental growth from a single market as a way to start?” Say you’ve been challenged to grow 10% year over year for the next three years. That’s an easy gross number to calculate. Which markets can you define where gaining meaningful share would generate that number?

With your strategy and sales teams, look at existing revenue and incremental growth to define a strategy that gives you measurable market share in three years in the fewest markets possible. Once you’ve picked your markets, pick a beachhead for each market and set your 2021 goals for those markets.

(Note: In your first year, do not take on more than two beachheads—and don’t budget to start beachhead #2 until you’ve started to hit your leading indicators in market #1. Patience, remember?)

When you match market attractiveness with competitiveness, you can define beachheads that let you spring forward from strength to capture the broader market.

3. Fund each beachhead from the bottom up.

Bottom-up plans start with your objective; you design the tactics (and assign budgets) to achieve that objective. (In contrast, planning from the top down starts with the budget and then asks, “How much can I accomplish for this money?”)

Since your first program will serve as a benchmark, start with an ideal view of a program to achieve your goals. Use your first beachhead to fine-tune your approach, refine your management mechanics, and create momentum and organization commitment.

4. Address other markets top down.

What about your other markets? Your plan for other markets (and their budgets) will come once you’ve set your strategy for your takedown markets. The top-down funding also requires creativity to transfer dollars to the beachhead markets without hampering near-term sales objectives.

Try focusing on a careful analysis of wallet share opportunities (sometimes called “retention”) and carefully constructed ABM to drive mid- to bottom-funnel leads.

McKinsey & Company

Don’t make your market takedown a hidden science project

Special projects like these often die quickly inside companies when you don’t have consensus. To be successful, market takedowns require a cross-functional team to not only form the plan, but also tune execution and guidance throughout the program. McKinsey research shows that change programs with a formal governance structure that clearly identifies roles and responsibilities are 6.4 times more likely to succeed.

Your market takedown plan can’t be a hidden science project inside marketing. Early on, your strategy team must help pick markets and beachheads. Product or market owners must agree on achievable targets. And, when planning your top-down market investments, sales and product executives also must be on board with the strategy.

Unlock a more valuable plan for 2021

Don’t settle for just revenue growth. While your competitors limp into 2021 planning to simply grow revenue, you can build your 2021 plan on delivering measurable market share gains by owning a significant share of better targeted markets. With market takedowns, you’ll think about your budgets differently, build consensus more powerfully, and make 2021 about more than just growth. You can:

  • Drive higher returns on your marketing investment
  • Increase brand awareness—with lower spend—in the markets that matter
  • Improve marketing and sales effectiveness
  • Create longer-term value for your brand and your shareholders

By forcing choices that are often not articulated and showing the math where everyone can understand it, building your 2021 on a market takedown strategy gives you power, focus, and clarity in a really uncertain time.

StudioNorth Workshop

Sign up for our FREE THREE-HOUR WORKSHOP on finding your beachheads.

Eric Meerschaert

Eric Meerschaert

Executive Director of Strategy

Eric has a deep background of marketing leadership at Global 500 software companies, and was President of Click Commerce. His strategy roots grow from McKinsey & Co, where he learned that analytics, not instincts, drive the best corporate and market strategies.

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