Marketing isn’t easy. It can be difficult to know which parts of your marketing strategy are working, which need improvement and which need to be scrapped altogether. Sometimes, you won’t be able to find out how your strategy is working until long after it's been implemented.
That’s why it's important to do as much work and preparation as possible to get your answers right before you launch a new strategy.
In my experience, there are three key questions you need to answer to maximize your chances of success. Those questions are:
• How well does your existing brand reflect the true identity of your company?
• What do your customers want and desire?
• Do you have a clear plan that leads to success?
These three keys might initially seem obvious. But you’d be surprised how often my company discovers new clients have neglected, misunderstood or even completely ignored these questions.
Simple though they are, it’s often astonishing, even to me, how quickly the answers unlock marketing success. Here’s how to apply them to your business:
Your brand is the subjective feeling people have about you. It’s the gut feeling they have when they see your logo, experience your product or hear about your company.
Accordingly, your brand is something you create simultaneously with your vision, and your customers shape it with their feelings, shared experiences and word of mouth.
Bill Bernbach, the legendary adman and founder of DDB, is famously attributed with the quote, “The most powerful element in advertising is the truth.” This means the first step in creating a successful sales and marketing strategy is to determine the truth of your brand. What are you trying to create? And what is the truth your customers are experiencing?
I believe the only way to find that truth is good, old-fashioned research.
Specifically, when you’re creating a marketing strategy, you should aim to do research from the top down, the bottom up and the inside out. In other words, your research should capture and analyze:
• Stakeholder perspectives: What is the founding vision of your brand? What is the truth of your company? What do you do especially well?
• Current and potential clients: What do your customers think, feel and believe? What do they want and need? And how is your brand relevant to their lives?
• Competitors: What do your competitors offer to your customers? Where are there opportunities for new offers and messages that create value for your customers?
In order to capture stakeholder perspectives, you should use qualitative interviews to probe the mission, vision and value of a firm’s founders and senior management.
When it comes to understanding your customers, your qualitative research should explore your customer’s journey. What symptoms did they experience that led them to search for a solution? How did they discover the brand and its products? What benefits attracted them? What obstacles did they have? Once they bought, what results did they experience? Would they recommend the product or service, and why?
You can complement those qualitative insights with quantitative research. Surveys will reveal insights into demographics and psychographics, as well as how your customer perceives the marketplace.
Finally, the research phase should conclude with a comprehensive audit of a brand’s own advertising messages and brand assets, as well as those of competitors. This audit should consider both objective features-and-benefits positioning, as well as the more subjective tone of a brand’s copy and visual design.
Once you have a deep understanding of the truth about your brand and company, your current and potential customers and the realities of competition, you can begin to formulate your approach.
Developing a strategic plan might seem daunting. Maybe you’ve been in “firefighting mode” when it comes to your sales and marketing initiatives. Or, maybe sales and marketing are so far outside your comfort zone that you don’t know where to start.
Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to get started. The strategic planning process I recommend begins with gathering assets and brainstorming ideas about your brand, your message and the media through which you can reach your customer.
• Brand: You need to gather the assets you already have to communicate your brand, ranging from logos, photographs, and video to copy, features and benefits, and social proof. Then, you need to determine which assets you need to create and develop a plan to produce them.
• Message: Here, you need to create two lists. First, brainstorm the promises, stories and offers you can make that might attract the attention of your target customer. Second, once you have the attention of your target customer, what additional messages are needed to convert that prospect into a customer? When do they enter your sales process? What assets do you need once they’re in your process to close the sale?
• Medium: Determine where and how you can communicate those messages and make those offers. Is it easier to reach your ideal customer online? At a tradeshow? Through TV, radio, newspaper or magazine advertising? Through outreach by a salesperson?
Now that you have the core assets you need to communicate your brand and a list of possible messaging initiatives, choose one or more to focus your budget on. When you prioritize your budget, you want to balance having enough budget for each tactic that they have a chance to work, while testing enough different tactics that you optimize your odds of determining which will work best for you going forward.
At this point, the only thing that remains is in Nike’s immortal words to “just do it.” No marketing plan achieves perfection the first time out. But when you’ve done your due diligence and planned carefully, odds are you’ll make a successful first step toward turning sales and marketing into a growth engine for your business.