Want Your Content to Succeed? Begin with Strategy

Strategy-ImageSales leads. It’s the holy grail of your marketing efforts. You likely use a host of implements to get them.

You have a website. Maybe you’re using a mix of digital marketing tools, like e-mails, social media, a blog, and possibly, some online display or pay-per-click ads.

Is it all working? Maybe. And maybe not.

Back up a minute.

  • Have you created a measurable objective?
  • Are you executing a defined strategy against that objective?
  • Have you built a strong enough sales story to make your efforts successful?

At face value, the sheer number of digital tools seems to make marketing easier than ever before. Sure, you have more channels at your fingertips, but you still must have a strategy — and strong messaging — from which all marketing tactics should flow.

As SMB marketers, many companies still throw a variety of tactics against the wall, hoping something will stick. Usually, they’re trying to do too much on too many different platforms, with no real ‘what’ or ‘how’ behind it.

What’s Missing?

Strategy – Strategy is a given for larger companies and experienced marketers but seems to be a missing component that is MIA at many smaller firms.

Assuming you have created a very specific objective (like growing your sales in one market by 10%), you then need to determine your strategy or strategies — how you plan to get there.

A strategy is NOT the same as a tactic. A good definition of strategy is: “a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.” An easy way to understand the difference between objectives, strategies, and tactics is with an analogy to travel:

Your objective: Vacation in New York

Your strategy for how to get there: Take a plane

Your tactic: Fly out Friday at 10 a.m.

Strategy forces you to map out how you will reach your objective. Lacking a coherent strategy, companies often jump right to tactics – doing a little of this, a little of that. Haphazard tactics without a true focus don’t have the desired impact.

“We need to be active on Facebook.”

That may be true, but, does it fit your strategy?

 Work the tools that fit your strategy.

In short, don’t work the tools just because they’re available. This is especially important for SMBs. There is a limited budget and no room for waste. Instead, work the tools that fit your strategy.

Tactics should flow from strategy, and there is where you detail exactly what you will do.

Let’s look a few sample strategies against a growth objective, and a few of the possible tactics that would naturally flow from them:

Strategy: Better leverage our website so visitors take some kind of action.

 Tactics:

  • Add lead capture and ongoing lead nurturing using content of value
  • Make sure there are calls to action throughout your site – give visitors a reason to contact you
  • Use and apply site analytics regularly (this shouldn’t need to be said, but needs to be said)
  • Make sure prospects have a reason to go to your site by keeping content fresh
  • Add content that speaks more directly to a vertical market, or your campaign
  • Feature and link to the most educational parts of your site on your Home page

StrategyReach target through thought leadership via online content marketing.

 Tactics:

  • Regular and relevant (to your market and your message) content for social channels
  • Ditto above for blog posts
  • Ebook, webinar, video, presentation, etc. showcasing your subject matter expertise
  • Email campaign to share your content in complete or shortened form

Strategy: Leverage the sales team and their interactions with customers and prospects; equip them to better sell what you’re offering.

Tactics: Before you determine tactics here, this is a golden opportunity to engage the sales team in your gameplan:

  • Is there sales support you can provide?
  • A comparison with competitors you can compile?
  • A more persuasive way to tell your story?
  • A different way to approach current customers versus prospects?

You get the idea. Listen, and reap the benefits of their direct interactions with the market, in the form of new tactics, or maybe even new strategies.

By plotting your strategy before your plot your tactics, you will have a cohesive program. Everything you do tactically – emails, blog posts, content and social media marketing – will then be working cohesively against the same goal, in varying ways.

Many companies neglect creating a hard-hitting positioning statement. 

Messaging – You know your product or service is different. Better. Your customers believe in it, and so do you.

How you capture this in your marketing?

Many companies have a mission statement, but neglect creating a useful, hard-hitting positioning statement. While a mission statement typically describes the company’s goals and values, positioning is an externally-facing statement that should directly compare your offering to competitors, and explain why it’s different and of course better. It should also describe, very specifically, its ultimate value to customers.

Positioning is a science and an art with too many nuances to discuss here. But even this simple straw-man model can help:

Who: Who are you?

What: What business are you in?

For whom: What people do you serve?

What need: What are the special needs of the people you serve?

Against whom: With whom are you competing?

What’s different: What makes you different from those competitors?

So what: What’s the benefit? What unique benefit does a client derive from your service?

And the statement model:

  • [Company name] is a (business description) for (audience served) seeking to (special needs of those served). 
  • Unlike competitors, [company name] (what makes us different from competitors).
  • This gives clients (unique benefits clients derive from the service).

Usually, in composing your positioning statement, you find you can’t fit it all in. There’s simply much more you want to say. From a marketing perspective, that’s a good problem to have. So attack it – list out all of the key points you want to make, and below each one, expand upon and capture all of your differentiators and supporting points, one at a time.

Once these are laid out, your marketing team can then easily select and use those points in your marketing, across a variety of tactics, in creative and compelling ways.

A critically important point here: It is crucial that you create your your positioning from the outside in. Not necessarily what you think is important, but what your customers think is important.

If you don’t have insight into that, speak to several customers and prospects regarding what they care about when it comes to your product or service, why they chose you, what they value most about your offering, and so on.

Listen to your customers

To gather this input, you simply MUST have conversations – you should not rely on a written survey sent over email. Nor should you just add a few questions to the end of your company’s annual customer survey. There is simply no substitute for the back-and-forth exchange made possible by a real, live conversation. Like any good interview, you never know where it will lead. Very often, you will gain feedback you would never, EVER get through a written survey. (And also very often, the customer will appreciate being involved in your research, because it shows you value their opinion.)

In addition to talking with customers and prospects, get feedback from your salesforce on what prospects are saying, and from employees outside of sales about what they’re hearing from customers.

After you’ve gathered the raw input from all of these sources, hold a messaging session with a group of your co-workers from various departments. Take the time to brainstorm further, categorize, flesh out, add to and eventually, prioritize those points that are most compelling. Then use them to create a new set of differentiators, a new positioning statement and a new, full set of key messages.

Now, you’re ready to market. You have messaging that is relevant to your prospects, and that clearly sets you apart from competitors.

The perspectives revealed from customer interviews as well as group brainstorming are guaranteed to enhance and improve what a handful of marketing people can come up with alone.

So before you embark on your next marketing tactic, outline the following:

  • Who do you want to reach, and what you want them to do? (Your objective)
  • How will you reach them? (Your strategy)
  • What does your target care about, and how does your company uniquely meet their interests? (Your messaging)
  • What exactly will you do during the next three, six or 12 months to accomplish your goal? (Your tactics)

Taking the time to think through strategy and create and apply strong messaging will help you orchestrate your marketing against specific goals, apply concentrated energy against one or more strategies, and give you multiple selling points to use across tactics, enabling you to reach your target with messages that matter to them.

You’ll greatly enhance the likelihood of achieving your goals – or even exceed them.