There’s a difference between marketing well and marketing like a true leader – a market maker – in your industry. It’s a hard job to do and it doesn’t happen automatically. That’s why you must always be thinking like a leader – to either remain one, or to break through to the next level.

In my career, I’ve had the opportunity to manage several teams at Fortune 100 companies, helping them either maintain their position in the market or grow to new marketing heights. With all of them, the framework for marketing like a leader is the same. First, start with a solid foundation and then move yourself up through the ranks.

As you do this, you move from being a vendor (competing on a narrow single-product field), to becoming a solution provider, and eventually evolving into that coveted market leader position – one who’s trusted by the C-Suite and thought of as a partner.

Great Vendor Marketing

The first and essential step is doing great marketing at the vendor level, as it helps you establish a strong base that will act as a springboard for your marketing success. Though the first tier of marketing, this isn’t for the faint of heart. You must understand the needs of your customers, the functions of your channel, and the products of your competition. This is where you focus on your ‘better’ – be it in the form of product attributes, customer service, or exclusivity – rather than priced-based marketing. Why? Because even if you are a price leader, that’s a lead someone can take from your company in a day.

Mastering the value equation for your brand is vital to its longevity. However, vendor marketing does come with limitations: In B2B marketing, you are expected to say “yes” to most or all requests from your channel or customers, while in B2C, you must have a really stand-out product to get noticed. In both scenarios, you could be easily outstripped by someone who goes beyond marketing a single product, to marketing a whole solution.

For example, when Sonos launched its wireless music player, it was the first, best and only in its market – garnering it a leadership position in the realm of music players. However, for customers looking for an entire music system, they had to go somewhere else (which is perhaps one reason Sonos later built a theater system).

Graduating to Solution Marketing

This is where you move from single-product marketing (and fighting single battles), to providing an entire solution or line of products (and winning wars). An obvious prerequisite is having the array of products that effectively solve your customers’ needs. Then, it is the marketer’s task to show customers the value of purchasing not just one product, but the entire solution.

Benefits of this might include:

  • Less research and decision-making required by the customer in order to make a purchase
  • Ease and convenience of buying from one company vs. many
  • Better functionality if all the components are engineered to perform together
  • Aesthetics of the entire product line
  • Less expensive than buying all the components separately (note that I didn’t say “cheaper”)

The value created by marketing a solution can be harvested in many ways. It can help you charge a price premium, position yourself as a leader or help you acquire market share from competitors who cannot offer a solution. Additionally, it can help your company past short-term gaps in your product roadmap, allowing you to position yourself as a solutions leader, even if you aren’t a leader in the market of each individual product.

Once you’ve mastered solutions marketing, it’s time to expand your mindset and become a company that influences the market, as opposed to one that reacts to it.

Reaching the Top – Marketing Like a Market Maker

You might think few companies have the opportunity to behave like a market marker, but you’d be wrong. The key component to being a leader is having a strong solutions marketing story – which your company probably already has. The hard part is having the confidence to take risks, the knowledge to know when and how, and the commitment to using the resources necessary. Done well, your customers will value it, and your brand will reap the rewards.

Regardless of whether your company is B2B or B2C, the challenge to becoming a leader is to effectively market beyond the current product cycle and think ahead several cycles or even years. You must expand your marketing efforts to target audiences beyond the norm of your channel and direct customers – think about your customers’ customers, influencers, investors, regulators and even governments. This will rely heavily on having a strong corporate vision that is focused on long-term growth.

One of my favorite B2B marketing leader examples is IBM’s Smarter Planet campaign. Part of the campaign was offering perspective on how technology could help governments, cities and companies improve their efficiency. IBM very effectively launched during a financial crisis by tapping into the great uncertainty in their customers’ lives and offering solutions that spanned years of investment.

Another great example is what’s currently happening in 5G wireless. Mobile operators around the world are wondering how to take advantage of 5G – and planning billions of dollars in network upgrades. Marketing plays a key role here as 5G is still early in its definition; current 5G discussions are governed more by marketing and business needs than by firm technical or product plans. The companies who earn the right to help guide these investments will have a significant market advantage for years to come.

In marketing, execution trumps strategy every time. Once you effectively establish yourself as a market maker, your brand will have access to the most senior levels of your customer base, the surrounding ecosystem and even the entire market.

As you start this year, take stock of your plans and determine 3 things your company can do to improve how you are marketing as a vendor, solution provider, or market maker. If the market maker approach is new and your business meets the prerequisites, start testing with an audience that is close to your brand. Once you’ve put the necessary actions into motion, you’ll be taking the impact and value of marketing at your company to a whole new level.