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One Thing About Marketing Strategy

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Marketing Strategy

In the movie City Slickers Jack Palance’s character tells Billy Crystal that the secret to life is one thing. Crystal, of course, is left to discover what that one thing in life is on his own, but I believe the same is true for business. I believe the most effective marketing strategies, the one’s that I call real-life marketing strategies, hold together by focusing relentlessly on one simple thing.

That one simple thing can be an idea, like providing shoes to kids in need around the world as Tom’s One for One Movement does, focusing on simple, yet stunning design, as many people feel Apple does, or building a business by intentionally keeping things simple, in both products and processes, as I believe 37Signals does.

In all cases though, these companies accomplish many, many things, but do so first and foremost through the realization of one single-minded purpose. This single minded purpose is the filter for every business decision, hiring decision, product decision, and marketing campaign – and it often starts by simply realizing and capturing who the company is being at some point in time – the here’s what we really stand for moment.

Of course, finding and committing to a real-life marketing strategy – the one thing – isn’t enough. You’ve also got to find a way to make it part of the DNA of the organization. You’ve got find symbols and stories and metaphors that allow every part of your business ecosystem embrace the strategy.

There’s an article in this month’s issue of strategy + business magazine titled Eat Your Peas: A Recipe for Culture Change. The article chronicles Jamie Oliver’s (Food Revolution) struggle to change the eating culture in a small community and how he finally breaks through by focusing on one simple and digestible theme – peas.

Previous attempts to change behavior and implement his ideas around healthy eating met with fierce resistance until he made the entire strategy all about embracing eating peas. This “one thing” became the metaphor for the entire culture shift.

In this week’s episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I continue a solo discussion on this idea of real-life marketing strategy. Some of you may have guessed by my seeming infatuation with this topic that I may be working on something bigger related to this theme and you would be right.

I’m convinced there’s a book worth writing on the idea of creating real-life marketing strategy, the kind that amplifies why a business does what it does, the kind that demonstrate how a strong culture can become a powerful strategy, and the kind that suggests anyone, by embracing this idea of “one thing” can create a stunning brand.

So, tell me about companies that you think have this “one thing” down. Or, tell me what your one thing is and how you communicate it.

You can listen to the show by subscribing the feed in iTunes or a variety of other free services such as Google Listen (Use this RSS feed) or you can buy the Duct Tape Marketing iPhone app. (iTunes link – Cost is $2.99) or

7 Characteristics of a Real Life Marketing Strategy

In my opinion, developing and executing an effective marketing strategy is the most important job of any marketer and failure to do so is the single greatest threat to creating anything that looks and feels like business building momentum.

While few would argue with the statement above, marketing strategy as a practical tool remains little more than an academic exercise for most businesses.

Inside Threadless HQ in Chicago

I’ve spent a great deal of time wrestling with the idea of developing useful, real life marketing strategies for small businesses and have concluded that there are a handful of characteristics that can be mined, explored and shaped in order to make marketing strategy the foundation of business building.

The key to discovering an effective marketing strategy lies in understanding first that its essence is much more about why a business does something than what or how the business does something.

These elemental characteristics are rooted deeply in human wants and desires and act to create a connection between a company, its products and services, its people and ultimately its customers.

I believe any company can create a marketing strategy that will actually serve as the catalyst to creating a remarkable business by deeply exploring and embracing one, or some combination of several, of the characteristics outlined below.

Single minded purpose

If I were going to point to a requisite characteristic it might be this one. When a company is built with a single-minded purpose and can communicate that “why we do what we do” in a way that makes meaning in the lives of its customers and prospects, magic can happen.

The idea of higher purpose can be a tricky one too. A customer can resonate with the fact that your mission is to bring peace and harmony to the world, but it’s just as likely that there’s a market hungry to do business with a company that believes bringing beauty to the world through incredibly simple design is why they do what they do.

The key is a thorough understanding and simple and consistent communication of the why. You can’t fake this characteristic but you can move your higher purpose front and center in your marketing strategy.

Some of the companies that enjoy the highest levels of staff and customer loyalty focus almost entirely on why they do what they do, as opposed to simply trying to do what they do better.

The product is almost secondary to this single-minded purpose – Shatto Milk Company’s marketing strategy is one that claims to bring a return to what’s good about creating all natural products in small, hand crafted batches and, by the way, we sell dairy products.

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, has said repeatedly that Zappos is a customer happiness business that happens to sell shoes.

Desperately seeking inspiration

People want to go on journeys they feel are epic in nature. Now this may sound a little far fetched if you’re simply building a small law firm focused on small businesses, but every business can inspire.

We can inspire by telling stories, by communicating the why, by standing up for simplicity and by bravely connecting our own purpose in life with that of the business and that of the goals and objectives of our clients.

Leadership, the kind that’s drawn from deed and word, the kind that understands that the best way to get more is to want more for others, is inspirational. Firms that draw commitment from customers and staff give them a way to sign up for something that can allow them to be their best self.

Steve Jobs is cited more often than any other company leader for his ability to inspire through telling stories about the Apple brand.

An obvious innovation

Every industry engages is some practice that customers just come to live with. And then someone comes along, either from outside of the industry or as method of survival, and shakes it up but suggesting there’s a better way.

Creating what ends up looking like an obvious innovation in an industry and then embracing that change as a marketing strategy is one way that companies create a clear differentiation.

Rackspace, a hosting company located in Austin Texas, created an obvious innovation in the hosting industry by simply making a decision to provide real service. While that shouldn’t seem like an innovation it was in an industry that appeared to abhor actually talking to its customers.

To sum up Rackspace’s marketing strategy – “Fanatical Support isn’t just what we do. It’s really what makes us, well, us. It’s our need to make a difference in the lives our customers—no matter how big or small. Really, it’s our way of life.”

Let us entertain you

People will give their last dollar to be entertained. I believe this has never been truer than it is today. Since so many of the products, services and ideas we sell can be acquired for free these days, the money’s in the package and the experience.

Fun, joyful, theater and stage aren’t words that are always connected with business, but bring them in and a new world opens up. I had reason to spend a day at Google recently and they get this one very well. Work is often long, hard and boring, but when do we ever tire of play? Make that fact that yours is a business that’s fun to go to work in and fun to do business with central to your strategy and people will be drawn to the game.

Step inside the offices of t-shirt maker Threadless and you’ll be greeted by giant stuffed creatures, two Airstream “think pods,” offices decorated by staff to show off departmental personality, and a basketball court in the warehouse. The place is definitely fun.

The role of convenience

This one goes hand in hand with simplicity and surprise, but it’s something different entirely. Some businesses are actually hard to do business with. We may love what they do, but scratch our heads at how they do it. This one is all about non-friction, speed of change and a mentality of yes.

Take down the barriers to communication, give people the tools to do what they want, rethink meetings, eliminate the policies of control, trust your customers and staff and, above all, use technology to enhance personal relationships rather than wall them off.

Being easy to do business with is a marketing strategy that can become a culture and mantra that spreads word of mouth and drives customer adoption faster than any promotion or campaign ever could.

Evernote is easy to do business with. Their products sync across all of my various tools and just work, without the need to consult an owner’s manual.

Simplicity is harder than it looks

Life’s too complicated, instruction manuals and return policies and messages and mission statements and features and design are all too complicated. One of the most attractive features of organizations that enjoy high levels of commitment is a lack of features.

Simplicity is the most appreciated attribute of the products and services we love to love. And yet, it can be one of the hardest to actually achieve. This can’t really be achieved by simply stripping out features. If this is to be a marketing strategy it must become a way of life that informs every decision.

37 Signals is a great example of a business that has embraced simplicity as a marketing strategy. They make great software that does just a handful of things very, very well. According the CEO Jason Fried they spend more time considering what features to leave out of a release then what to add.

The element of surprise

Few things enamor like exceeding someone’s expectations. This might end up sounding more like a personality trait, but companies that turn customers into volunteer sales forces fully understand and use the power of giving more than was promised and surprisingly beating expectations as a marketing strategy.

Who doesn’t like to get little unexpected gifts, free overnight shipping, and hand written notes? And yet, when was the last time you got any of those?

Again I return to Zappos. Zappos has an unstated policy of surprise. If you order shoes on a Monday, the order confirmation will suggest that you allow 3-5 days for shipping, but don’t be surprised if they show up the next morning.

The 7 Verbs of Commitment

In the end, what every business seeks is commitment – from our customers, our staff, our partners, and our entire collaboration universe. Commitment erases friction, creates momentum and drives substantial profit.

Commit

tornatore via Flickr

But in a world where most everything our companies offer can be acquired somewhere, perhaps even from our own company, for free, how do you create the kind of company, product or service that drives people over the edge to commit – to pay for something that’s available for free, to evangelize something for no tangible gain, or to pour their heart and soul into building something that yields far more than a paycheck or a promised result?

Those are the questions I’ve begun to explore of late. It’s easy to look around and cite Apple or Zappos as shining examples of the kind of commitment I’m describing, but what about the company of two that’s not quite crossed over the million dollar mark or the start-up or the company that’s toiling away building a remarkable business completely out of the spotlight of the media.

I wanted to know if there’s a formula, system if you like, for building that kind of company – the kind or commitment that you’re seeing towards a service like Evernote or the kind of customer passion I’ve witnessed towards Shatto Farms, a small local milk producer that’s bucking the system of corporate co-op milk production.

As I’ve ventured out into this exploration I’ve become convinced that there is indeed a systematic path to building commitment into the DNA of an organization and it’s an active, intentional and strategic approach that involves the careful blending of a set of characteristics that I’ve started calling the 7 Verbs of Commitment.

The interesting thing about these verbs is that none of them would be readily applied to the kinds of things we think about when it comes to building a product or service. In fact, the companies that embrace these characteristics at their core often do so in spite of what they happen to produce.

Companies that enjoy the highest levels of staff and customer commitment focus almost entirely on why they do what they do as opposed to simply trying to do what they do better.

The product is almost secondary to this single-minded purpose – we bring a return to what’s good about creating all natural products in small, hand crafted batches and, by the way, we sell dairy products.

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, has said repeatedly that Zappos is a customer happiness business that happens to sell shoes.

I submit that the following 7 characteristics can be found to some degree in most every company, large or small, that enjoys raving fans and zealous employees.

Simplify – Life’s too complicated, instruction manuals and return policies and messages and mission statements and features and design are all too complicated. One of the most attractive features of organizations that enjoy high levels of commitment is a lack of features. Simplicity is the most appreciated attribute of the products and services we love to love. And yet, it can be one of the hardest to actually achieve. This can’t really be achieved by simply stripping out features, this is a way of life that must inform every decision. Many business that have instantly built a committed fan base, such as 37Signals, were started to simplify something in the life of the founder.

Hear – It’s often said that a person is a great listener and that we need to listen to markets and customer and while I think this is great advice, particularly in the age of instant social communication, the true skill goes beyond listing to hearing what’s being said in a way that can be applied to overall vision of the business. This actually takes a special filtering device that starts with a question – How can we hear and view everything through the vision of our business?

Surprise – Few things enamor like exceeding someone’s expectations. This might end up sounding more like a personality trait, but companies that turn customers into volunteer sales forces fully understand and use the power of giving more than was promised and surprisingly beating expectations. Who doesn’t like to get little unexpected gifts, free overnight shipping, and hand written notes? And yet, when was the last time you got any of those?

Resonate – If I were going to point to a requisite characteristic it might be this one. When a company is built with a single-minded purpose and can communicate that “why we do what we do” in a way that makes meaning in the lives of its customers and prospect, magic can happen. This is a tricky one too. A customer can resonate with the fact that your mission is to bring peace and harmony to the world, but it’s just as likely that there’s a market hungry to commit to a company that believes bringing beauty to the world through incredibly simple design is why they do what they do. The key is a thorough understanding and simple and consistent communication of the why. It’s kind of hard to fake this one.

Play – In Pine and Gilmore’s great book – The Experience Economy there’s a line that has always stuck with me. “People will give their last dollar to be entertained.” I believe this has never been more true than it is today. If so many of the products, services and ideas we sell can be acquired for free, then the money’s in the package and the experience. Fun, joyful, theater and stage aren’t words that are always connected with business, but bring them in and a new world opens up. I had reason to spend a day at Google recently and they get this one very well. Work is often long, hard and boring, but when do we ever tire of play? Make yours a business that’s fun to go to work in and fun to do business with and people will commit to the game.

Inspire – People want to go on journeys they feel are epic in nature. Now this may sound a little far fetched if you’re simply building a small law firm focused on small businesses, but every business can inspire. We can inspire by telling stories, by communicating the why, by standing up for simplicity and by bravely connecting our own purpose in life with that of the business and that of the goals and objectives of our clients. Leadership, the kind that’s drawn from from deed and word, the kind that understands that the best way to get more is to want more for others, is inspirational. Firms that draw commitment from customers and staff give them a way to sign up for something that can allow them to be their best self.

Easy – This one goes hand in hand with simplicity and surprise, but it’s something different entirely. Some businesses are actually hard to do business with. We may love what they do, but scratch our heads at how they do it. This one is all about non friction, speed of change and a mentality of yes. Take down the barriers to communication, give people the tools to do what they want, rethink meetings, eliminate the policies of control, trust your customers and staff and, above all, use technology to enhance personal relationships rather than wall them off.

So, you can expect a great deal more on this subject from me over the coming months as I believe that while every marketing strategy and tactic that we employ can take our businesses one step in right direction, the idea of systematic commitment is indeed the difference maker for those trying to fully realize the incredible journey that building a business is.

Duct Tape On the Road in October

October turned into a busy travel month so I thought I would share my speaking schedule in hopes that I can meet some of you in person.

john jantsch speaking

Here’s a list of cities and events I’ll be traveling to during the month of October – hope to meet you out there on the road!

Why Computers Don’t Matter Anymore

AppleAn event occurred recently that was widely covered in financial and tech circles, but the significance of which may have been lost on most.

Apple’s market cap rose slightly above Microsoft’s, making it the largest tech company in the world. Now, market cap is based on current stock price and is a lousy measure of things to come and this is by no means a post about good and bad investments, but to me it marks a point in time that clearly points to the path we’re headed for the next decade or so.

Apple, on the verge of extinction in 1996, rose up with laptops, but then bet the farm on hand held devices and applications. Apple now makes the bulk of its revenue from iPods, iPhones and iTunes – in fact, it would be safe to suggest that Apple is not really a computer company. Apple built its store right next to the new freeway off ramp (the mobile freeway that is) and has benefited through this location dramatically.

As computers and even web browsers continue to lose significance by yielding ground to mobile devices and applications Apple is positioned to dominate for years to come. In the application world social networks like Facebook will continue to grow, cloud computing via applications will generate far more revenue than operating systems, software and hardware.

What all of this means is that Google must successfully nail a social strategy or even it’s mobile plays will cut into it search ad revenue. Microsoft may be in big trouble as it clings to shrinking government and enterprise installations too big to move elsewhere.

Small business can and should seize the opportunity to claim low cost operating efficiencies found in the cloud. Marketers must find effective ways to play in social networks. Resistance to mobile tactics such as location ads, text messaging, and mobile applications must erode as they become the preferred method of content and information consumption.

5 Ways to Make Culture a Marketing Strategy

jones soda design strategyAn effective marketing strategy is the most important marketing consideration your small business can employ. Bar none it’s the difference between companies that get by and those that get buy.

Silly pun aside, there are many ways of landing on a marketing strategy, but sometimes the difference maker lies outside of your products and services. While it’s all very logical to try to find your point of differentiation from a product, package, or price feature, some of the greatest marketing strategies reside in tapping the underlying culture of the organization itself.

Culture’s a funny thing in the world of small business. It’s often a representation of the personality, beliefs and values held by the owner of the business. It’s hard to fake and it’s hard to change. But, if you can define it, mold it, and communicate it in ways that support a positive brand experience, you might just be on to a very powerful source of business.

Below are five ways that organizational culture can become a powerful marketing strategy.

1) Green

The green movement is alive and well in the mind of a growing segment of the market. This isn’t just a culture of environmentally sound business practices as much as it is a commitment to something of a higher purpose that represents the beliefs of an organization.

It’s also a good place to look for authenticity. This is not just about setting up a recycling program and promoting it on the web site.

Green business is about nurturing and growing. It involves customer service and employee practices that focus on that. Check out SweetRiot or TerraCycle

2) Yes

Some companies find a way to over deliver and delight their customers at every turn. They define customer service and the “yes we can do that” attitude in every process and business decision.

Their customers voluntarily relate stories of over the top feats of service. Few companies do this better than Zappos

A commitment to a level of service that makes people talk about you is a great marketing strategy.

3) People

There’s a coffee shop in my neighbor that makes pretty average coffee, but I’m drawn to visit them time and time again because the owner of the business and every single person he finds to employ are so darn nice and genuinely friendly that I want to do business with them.

Every time I fly Southwest Airlines, and it’s often, I’m amazed at happy their employees seem to be while they go about their work. Baggage handlers, ticket agents, pilots and flight attendants alike all seem to share the same passion.

4) Design

Great design powers many organizations to marketing greatness. Apple certainly benefits from a long history of simple, but very powerful, design.

Great design is probably the one area a firm can acquire the greatest amount of outside help. A talented branding or design agency can go a long way towards creating design assets that connect with design conscious customers, but in the end, the culture of great design has to live in the walls. A company that benefits from a focus on style pays as much consideration to the pens and trash cans in the office as a logo and web page.

One of my design first favorites is JonesSoda

5) Freaks

As Tom Peters famously said in Liberation Management, “Fire the planners and hire the freaks. In an age of deviation, the only viable response to weirdness is to get weird.”

Whether you call it cultural diversity, tolerance or color, standing out by letting your hair down and being who you really are is a great way to attract others who share your passion for weirdness.

Actively seeking colorful individuals to bring much higher level of out of the box thinking may be just the ticket for a company looking to establish a point of differentiation.

So, could the underlying culture of your place of business become your core marketing strategy? Then let it free!

Image credit: anokarina

Tuned In On the Go

Small business owners are a mobile lot. Whether it’s going from job site to job site or opening up the Chinese market, the new tools available for mobile business owners are pretty amazing.

The following are a few resources you might want to consider if you find that your business takes you to other cities, countries and cultures.

  • Google Translate for the iPhone – on the more tab of of Google for iPhone you just type in a word or phrase and pick your language.
  • Handango – entire suite of software tools including maps and guides for cities and subways.
  • Evernote – powerful note taking software that syncs with laptop, mobile phone and online versions. Even allows you to record audio notes and photo notes
  • iPhone and iTouch applications – daily changing list of travel applications including city guides from Frommers, traffic guides, airport status alerts, local restaurant reviews and more
  • RDM+remote desktop for mobile – check files, email, anything on your PC from mobile phone

So, mobile warriors – what tools have you found useful?

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