Don’t Confuse Tactics With Strategy When Thinking About How Your Company Goes To Market
I keep reading blog articles, talking to other agency owners and reviewing proposals (provided to us by prospects looking for our help) that make it seem like marketing strategy is everything except what it should be to impact your results.
Marketing strategy is not branding guidelines. It’s not a technical assessment of your current website. It’s not only target personas, though personas are an element of marketing strategy. It’s not a listing of marketing tactics to be delivered. It’s not a content calendar, nor is it a review of all your current outbound marketing.
Now that we know what marketing strategy isn’t, let’s find out what it is! By the way, this isn’t an opinion piece – what makes up marketing strategy is not a matter of opinion. There are core elements to marketing strategy that, if missing, might explain why your current marketing is not working up to your expectations.
Here’s what must be present for you to have a complete marketing strategy.
Personas are usually the easiest part of the marketing strategy and planning process. Who do you want your marketing to attract? There are actually two parts to this conversation: the target company profile, based on company demographics, and the target personas, which define the people at the company whom you want to talk to. Both the company profile and the individual personas should represent your best customers. These profiles are required for understanding the prospect’s buyer behavior and buyer journey.
Keep in mind that the persona profiles need to have both demographic info, such as title, and psychographic information, such as online behavioral information and content preferences. These are critical for connecting the marketing tactics with the people you want to drive into your funnel. Marketing is for people, not companies, so failing to understand the personalities of your prospects can directly impact program performance.
What you say to your target personas is the next step. You have to know what to say, when to say it and to whom, but it gets much more complicated than that. Effective messaging connects prospects to your business with emotion.
Here’s more bad news. When prospects visit your website, you have only 10 seconds to get them interested in your business. This means your messages need to be tested, they need to be effective and they need to produce results.
The other aspect of messaging that people tend to get wrong is the order. You have to understand how, and in what order, people process information. First, you have to make it crystal clear that you understand your prospect’s pain. Then you have to show that you can solve their pain, including how you do it differently than all your competitors. Finally, you need to prove that you’ve done what you say you can do for other companies like theirs. This order is important, and any other sequence is going to be less effective.
If you're not remarkable, you might be invisible. The more dramatic the differences between your company and all your competition, the better your marketing is going to perform. Don’t discount this and don’t think this doesn’t apply to your company. This applies to every company.
This isn’t about reality, either – this is about perception. Take what you think is probably your main differentiator: Your people are great, right? They’re much better than the people working for your biggest competitor, I’m sure. But do you think your competitor is telling prospects their people aren’t great too? Of course they are. It doesn’t matter what’s actually going on, it only matters what stories you're telling during the marketing and sales part of the prospect’s experience with you
Speaking of stories: You need them. Your prospects won’t remember many of the features and benefits you're using to fill up your marketing collateral. They also won’t remember any of the technical information you’ve shared – but they all remember stories. Ever since the caveman days, people are hardwired to to tell stories, remember stories and share stories with other people.
Creating your story inventory is a core component of solid marketing strategy. You need stories for your website, you need stories for email marketing, you need stories for social media and you definitely need stories for your sales process. Without stories, your marketing is probably going to fall flat.
Tactical Building Blocks
This is usually one of the easiest parts of the effort. Almost everyone knows what tactics to use and how to use them. The marketing tactics in an inbound marketing program are pretty standard. Almost every agency and almost any marketing person are pretty clear about the tools available for driving leads.
What’s usually missing in this part of the strategy are the connections among all of the tactics. For example, your search tactics need to feed your content creation efforts as well as your website design and project development. You need to tightly integrate short form content such as blogging with long form content such as e-books, and then use that content to feed social media, email, video and other promotional tactics.
Marketing has to be accountable for results. This is a dramatic change from what marketing used to involve. Getting your name out there is old school; driving leads is new school. Since marketing’s responsibility is to impact business results, you should know the program’s performance metrics as part of the marketing strategy.
These numbers come in all shapes and sizes, but the best places to start are website visitors, conversion rates and leads. You can dig into the numbers of leads by looking at marketing qualified leads, sales qualified leads, sales opportunities and proposals. We probably look at over 100 key metrics over the course of an engagement, but you don’t need to go into that level of detail. Instead, start with a few important numbers like the ones above and then grow into more detailed analytics.
Last but not least, you should know how much you're planning to invest in marketing. Your budget should take into account both what you're spending and what results you're expecting, in terms of the metrics I mentioned above. Set your budget but keep an eye on it; what you’re planning might require adjustments over time. The positive nature of inbound marketing is that you get real-time results and you can then adjust your budget accordingly.
Your marketing won’t work properly if any of these elements is missing. Think about it like the foundation for your house. If you don’t build the proper foundation, the house might fall down, and if you don’t know what the house is going to look like, you can’t build the proper foundation. It is critical that you understand your specific business goals so that you can build a plan that will deliver your expected results. No one plan fits every business. No one package fits all.
It just so happens that building this foundation is challenging for clients, in-house marketing teams and agencies, so many of you might opt out of doing it, instead expecting the marketing tactics to carry the day. Big mistake. Worse is that the work you should be doing on the marketing strategy side also has to permeate into the sales process. So if your marketing strategy is incomplete, you probably have salespeople telling prospects stories that don’t match the stories marketing is telling. Also a big mistake.
I know no one really wants to work on this type of stuff. Most people want to jump in and start building the website, writing blogs, installing marketing software, designing whitepapers and posting to social media. If this is where your marketing team wants to start, it’s a big red flag, or at least it should be to the savvy CEO.
Instead, invest the time to get the strategy right. It will save you countless hours and many thousands of dollars down the line. Once completed, your entire team will know exactly who you want to attract, what you need to say to them to get them to consider your company, what makes you different and what stories to tell what people at the perfect time.
Even better, once the strategy is complete you’ll have a much better idea what tactics you need and in what configuration they need to be deployed. This strategic understanding not only saves you even more money and more time, but helps you generate results much faster and in a much more dramatic fashion.
Inbound marketing without marketing strategy is like sitting in the car with no idea of how to get to your destination and no GPS, Google Maps or directions. Don’t be that person.
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