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.

 

 

The Value of Being Merely Present in Social media

How does the old adage go? “Showing up is half the battle?” Something similar can be said for social media. Big things can happen by being merely present.

Bookshelves and hard drives brim with all kinds of information about social media ROI, and for a good reason. Any foray into social media (like any implement in the marketing toolkit), requires having a goal.  Without it, how will you know if you succeeded?

Now, by “merely present”, I don’t mean setting up a Facebook page or a Twitter account and randomly posting self-promotional or irrelevant dribble. But neither do I mean an organizational upheaval to align a company as the prototypical “social business”.

What fascinates me are the companies, both large and small, that have done a little in social media and realized huge returns. Not through exhaustively, well-planned strategy and benchmarking, but with simple goals and objectives.

From personal experience, one of our clients wanted to double the amount of visits to his page within a colossus corporate website. Simply by sharing existing subject matter content to two dedicated LinkedIn groups produced an eight-fold increase in visitors… and by the end of the year, $3 million in new revenue.

Now, that’s all great, right?

To be honest, the client was using newsletter advertising and exploiting an email database to alert others to the available content. But here’s the thing. How much of this little social outreach program contributed directly to that result?

We don’t know.

The client doesn’t know.

What the client is sure of is that what we recommended and helped him execute had a hand in delivering dollars. For our part, we thought the issue through, used a little research that told us where to direct the content firepower, and applied what budget was available to hopefully make a difference.

Another example is our new friend, Kyle Thill, of Toyota-Lift of Minnesota. He took to social media simply because Toyota reduced his advertising budget and encouraged use of social media because it was “low cost”.

Kyle decided to pull from what he knew and what he thought his customers would benefit from: simple sharing of information that could help people who are in the market for forklift sales and service.

In keeping with that idea of low cost, Kyle stated that Toyota-Lift “can’t afford too many calories to be spent on analytics… If what we are doing makes sense, we’ll simply ‘do it’.”

It must be working. That simple sharing benefited Toyota-Lift with a 10 percent increase in sales last year and this. Again, there was no grand strategy, but just being present. And in Kyle’s case, a lot.

Looking at examples like these two, there is no direct, attributable line of cause and effect. However, effort and activity leads to some sort of impact, as some of these examples of social marketing successes did.

As our examples demonstrate, it appears the results were an essential mix of understanding where your audience is; an awareness of how they use and consume information on the Internet; and having some kind of benchmark and rudimentary metrics.

Honestly, we prefer strategic planning to flying by the seat of your pants any day.  But when resources are scarce, a smaller, but still smart, presence can potentially be worth far more than none at all.

What’s your take?  What social programs have you seen that produced outsized results?

20 Things That Happen When There Is No Plan For Social Media

What happens when you don’t plan your use of social media?  The same thing that occurs with any other PR, advertising and marketing communications tactics.  You end up doing the wrong things, at the wrong time, with the wrong focus.

If you don’t plan, you:

  • start doing before listening.
  • think social media is traditional marketing.
  • won’t know how social media fits into your company’s overall strategy.
  • don’t recognize how social media should complement your overall marketing strategy.
  • won’t know who to engage and where to find your audience.
  • can’t know if the bulk of your customers are or are not online.
  • won’t know what it is you want to get out of social media.
  • approach Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as strategies.
  • won’t know the difference between a group page and a fan page on Facebook.
  • believe the here-and-there-post approach to blogging will build an audience.
  • think the number of fans/followers is the only metric that matters.
  • can’t decide who from your company will engage your online audience.
  • fail to determine how much time to spend on social media.
  • believe you control the message.
  • assume that social media tools don’t have a cost.
  • ignore setting accurate benchmarks.
  • won’t hone your message for simplicity and clarity.
  • pass up the opportunity to demonstrate what you know.
  • ignore the fact that social media tools are temporary.
  • expect to only get when you don’t give.

What would you add to this list?

Faster on Your Feet for 2010 with Scenario Planning

From JISC infoNet, a JISC Advance Service

From JISC infoNet, a JISC Advance Service

What could America’s companies have done to fare better in the economic downturn?

Scenario Planning a strategic method for preparing responses to imagined changes in conditions. 

 The art of scenario planning is making a comeback from its early days as a military tool, to a popular management practice in the 1970s.  Addressing different scenarios as part of the annual planning process enables companies to be ready with identified action steps before a crisis or opportunity hits. 

It is credited with many seemingly prescient decisions – including the New York Board of Trade’s 1990s decision to build a second trading floor outside of the World Trade Center.

This year, companies that saw the warning signs early and prepared in advance fared better, some even continuing to generate cash despite double-digit sales declines.  Those that are suffering lament that they made changes later than they should have. 

Regardless of how well they weathered the storm, many companies are now reporting increased productivity, despite fewer employees, with a relatively low percentage planning to re-hire anytime soon.  That’s a negative for the unemployed, but a positive for the companies.  It means they’ve found ways to work smarter not harder (a silver lining?).

How Well Do You Plan For the Good, the Bad and the Ugly?

Scenario planning is a world unto its own, with complicated methodologies and potential dangers (such as constructing scenarios based on too simplistic a difference, i.e. optimistic and pessimistic, according to this Scenario Planning Corporate Strategy Model*.  

Having survived 2009, you may decide to do more future thinking.  Here are some quick questions you’re likely already asking:

• What’s working, and not working, as a result of any changes made this year?

• What should be continued?

• What could use further improvement?

• What wasn’t looked at, that should be?

• How about new opportunities or market trends on the horizon?  Can your company get ahead of the New Year with aggressive effort now?

Planning of any kind takes time and focus.  Planning for multiple scenarios, even more.  But this is planning season.  Whether the business climate improves as predicted, tanks further or stays the same, prepare to act quickly!

* For more detailed reading on the subject, see:

How scenario planning can significantly reduce strategic risks and boost value in the innovation value chain

Future-Proof Your Organization, CEO Journal, Oct. 2008

The Secrets of Successful Scenario Planning, Forbes Aug. 2009

www.scenariothinking.org

The Silver Bullet Antidote: Understand What Your Marketing Should be Doing for You

It’s not your fault.26062009_syringe

It seems like effectively communicating with your market gets more complex by the hour (even for those of us who have been at it for 25 years).

A single tactic; throwing money at multiple tactics and seeing what sticks; or any effort completed without both a tight grip on the marketplace AND a clear objective are all examples of a silver bullet mentality.

Yes we know … marketing 101, right?  Surprisingly few businesses apply what they know about people who do buy from them, or apply any real strategy whatsoever.  Apply is the key verb.

Amazing, but true.  And we have the stories, as well as lessons for those who seek to make their marketing do more than it did last year.

Starting with our premise – that your marketing should be a continual process of educating your customers and prospects about the value of your product or service – what exactly are some of the rules that will take you on the road to being a better marketer?

Let’s begin at the beginning.  Whenever we critique a client’s marketing materials – be it PR, web site, brochure, presentation, social media approach, etc. – we always find room for improving the following:

  • Presenting your company and its services in compelling language that is relevant to the buyer
  • Being crystal clear in showing how you differ from competitors
  • Regularly expressing and reinforcing the value you bring, even to current customers
  • Persuading, not just stating, features and benefits
  • Getting your market’s attention.  This applies to content as well as how the message is delivered

There is so much to be said on all of the above, and many more key points we’ve learned in working with dozens of companies of all sizes.   All of it – the insight into why your customers buy; the analysis and creation of proper, strong brand messages; the new campaigns to take your message out to the market; the integration and cohesion of all your marketing tools — takes time and effort.

But the payoff will be your company in the spotlight, getting the attention you’ve worked for, and the envy of your competitors.