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The Cycle of Strategy

Effective strategy, be it marketing related or otherwise, is what really sets one company apart from another. I’m not really saying that every successful company plans and implements better strategy, in some cases strategy just happens because a market and a product find each other and grow organically.

spiral strategyHowever, small businesses that understand the power of an overarching marketing strategy, filtered and infused in every tactical process, will usually enjoy greater success.

The problem with strategy however, is that most people don’t really know what it is or, if they do, hobble its effectiveness by viewing its creation as something of a linear event – hold a planning retreat, decide on everything in a vacuum, report back next year.

I don’t think strategy works well like that. Strategy planning is an essential first step, but at best it’s guesswork. You’re obligated to do it to get the ball rolling, but not as some sort of final destination to act rigidly against. The value of a marketing plan and strategy comes into focus through the process of planning coupled with real world analysis and a willingness to shift your thinking as you go.

Strategy is more circular than most people view it. In fact, the upward spiral might actually be the best metaphor.

In my experience there are about seven steps in the ongoing planning and execution of a marketing strategy. When effectively viewed as a tool, these steps are never done, they are just waiting around for the next cycle. These cycles happen for one reason primarily – the market tells you the answer.

That answer can come in the form of growth, an opportunity to seize, or even an economic downturn. Either way, the circular motion needs to stay in tact.

I believe business owners need to continuously monitor these seven elements of the marketing strategy circle.

Who – Are you attracting the ideal customer and can you more narrowly define who that is?

What – Do you have a clear core point of differentiation? What is it and how are you communicating it?

The Plan – What action steps do you need to take today and tomorrow to bring your marketing strategy to life? What goals have your set for success of the strategy?

Execute – Are you executing against the plan?

Measure – What indicators need to be tracked and captured to allow you to determine your success?

Analyze – How will you analyze the data you collect to determine if you are on course, need to make alterations or even move towards a new opportunity?

Shift – How will you change course? How will you start the cycle over again?

Holding the guess, test, and realign state of mind when it comes to marketing strategy is the one of the surest ways to successfully tap the power of effective growth by way of planning.

Image credit: ZeroOne

Rockabilly Salon Stands Out

The idea of differentiation and standing out in whatever industry you are in is such an important concept that I take the opportunity to write about it frequently. The key is to find something that makes it very easy for people to see you’re doing something different from everyone else in your industry. It can take some guts to reach out and be different, but that’s the point.

chop topsOver the weekend I visited a salon called Chop Tops. The name gave me some hint that this place was little different, but the moment you walk in the place their differentiation strategy hits you full force. Chop Tops is infused with a rockabilly, hot rod, chopper, retro feel from the concert posters on the wall to the Buck Owens on the stereo.

This is a men’s salon, but not in a cheesy macho way. They feature hair services, massage and a hot towel razor shaves.

The Chop Tops feel won’t be for everyone. If a stylist with pink hair and abundance of tatoos frightens then this isn’t your place, but that’s one of the core elements of a strong marketing strategy – don’t try to be all things to all folks – pick a strong statement and make it.

The Chop Tops strategy likely comes from the fact that one of the owners plays in a local rockabilly band and enjoys the culture, but the blending of a proven business (salon and spa) with a somewhat identifiable culture (rockabilly is pretty hot trend) is a solid way to create a differentiation. In this case Chop Top is differentiating their salon from cookie cutter fru, fru salons by creating a totally different feel – the services they provide may be very much like other salons, but their strategy will certainly allow them to attract a specific target audience.

Blending two proven ideas is a very powerful way to create a difference in an industry that may otherwise compete on price. (Think Marketing and Duct Tape)

So, what’s your differentiation strategy? How can you break through the we have better products and provide better service trap and truly put something out there that makes people talk?

Image credit: Mark Cummins

Stop Trying To Be Better Than the Competition

stand outAnd start figuring out how you can be different than your competition.

So many business owners or would be start-ups sit around this time of year trying to figure out how they can be better than the competition – better product, better service, better features, and, the real killer, better price. Heck, some even strive to be “best” in class. What they should be doing is figuring out how they can simply be different than the competition.

I’m not against lofty goals – the problem is creating a better product or service is hard. Prospects often won’t take the time to understand the subtle differences that make your product or service better and you might spend all your time and energy trying to educate them on better when all they want to know is the price. If you’ve even wondered why prospects are choosing your competitors over your obviously superior offering, you may have just a hint of appreciation for what I’m saying here.

Better than the competition is the enemy of different than the competition, and different is where the money is! Instead of trying to be better or exactly like, build a strategy around a simple way that your company is different from the pack. Again, this is sometimes a place where companies will say, “well, we are different we have a better product, or we offer better service.” Really, and do your competitors all suggest they offer crappy service?

We can debate the countless intricate ways that companies can use to create a strategy of difference, but it all pretty much boils down to:
1) Better product
2) Better process
3) Better relationships

In my opinion focusing all of your strategic thinking, goal setting and actions on building a better process or better relationships is the surest and maybe simplest way to create a true competitive advantage that someone might care about. Would you rather lean on your 5% better product or price or on something so totally outrageous and innovative that people can’t stop talking about it?

Creating your own special way to treat customers, creating an experience that’s unique, or creating a totally new and frictionless way for people to get a result is how you stand out from the pack, it’s how you create a difference that can’t be easily copied, and it’s how innovation comes to small business.

Instead of spending your precious R&D time on product features, spend it on creating branded intellectual property, a distinct way of marketing, or on developing people and culture inside your organization that enables you to be seen as different.

I’ll leave you with two powerful questions to pose to your organization to help you get started.
1) What are we doing that our competitors are not?
2) What are we doing just like our competitors that we could change for good?

Image credit: Laenulfean

The Easiest Way To Explain the Marketing Process

Many marketers have been taught the concept of the marketing funnel. The idea being that you bring leads into the top of the large opening in a funnel and push the ones that become customers through the small end. The problem I’ve always had with that is all the focus is on the chase. I happen to think that real payoff in marketing comes from expanding and focusing your thinking on how to turn a lead into an advocate for your business.

Long ago I started using the concept of The Marketing Hourglasssm. The top half indeed resembles the funnel concept, but the expanding bottom half, to my way of thinking, adds the necessary focus on the total customer experience that ultimately leads to referrals and marketing momentum.

I use the diagram below in workshops to explain the logical path a lead should follow to participate in your fully developed Marketing Hourglass. This concept is one of the key elements of the overall Duct Tape Marketing system, but I could conduct entire workshops around this one slide as it seems to be the easiest way to explain the marketing process in simple and practical terms. At a recent workshop an attendee came up to me and said about this diagram, “I’m an engineer by trade and this marketing stuff never made sense to me, now it finally does.” – I guess that’s the ultimate test.

hourglass

The Marketing Hourglass – (click to enlarge)

When you overlay my definition of marketing – “getting someone who has a need to know, like, and trust you” with the intentional act of turning know, like and trust into try, buy, repeat, and refer you get the entire logical path for moving someone from initial awareness to advocate.

The key is to systematically develop touchpoints, processes and product/service offerings for each of the 7 phases of the hourglass.

1. Know – Your ads, article, and referred leads
2. Like – Your web site, reception, and email newsletter
3. Trust – Your marketing kit, white papers, and sales presentations
4. Try – Webinars, evaluations, and nurturing activities
5. Buy – Fulfillment, new customer kit, delivery, and financial arrangements
6. Repeat – Post customer survey, cross sell presentations, and quarterly events
7. Refer – Results reviews, partner introductions, peer 2 peer webinars, and community building

Far too many businesses attempt to go from Know to Buy and wonder why it’s so hard. By creating ways to gently move someone to trust, and perhaps even creating low cost offerings as trials, the ultimate conversion to buy gets so much easier.

In order to start your thinking about the hourglass concept and gaps you may have ponder these questions:

  • What is your free or trial offering?
  • What is your starter offering?
  • What is your “make it easy to switch” offering?
  • What is your core offering?
  • What are your add-ons to increase value?
  • What is your members only offering?
  • What are your strategic partner pairings?

Is Personality a Strategy?

hi hat coffeeWhen I originally started this post the title was going to be – Is Culture a Strategy, but I amended it to personality because, while what I am talking about here is commonly referred to as company culture, I think the word personality is more fitting for the typical small business.

Most small businesses I encounter, have a culture that is representative of the thoughts, values, leanings and character of the owner of the business – for good or for bad. Now, can that personality or company culture be molded, grown, morphed and adapted by the customers, practices, and people in the organization? – you bet.

And I’d like to suggest that a great deal of an organization’s ultimate success or failure from a marketing standpoint has to do with developing a culture or personality that people come to know, like and trust. Let’s face it there are characteristic traits that make some people more knowable, likeable, and trustable than others.

Unfortunately, you can’t fake these, but you can adopt habits that create a culture that brings out the best in your company’s personality.

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What’s So Scary About Marketing Strategy?

dart board strategySmall business owners resist creating marketing strategy like many resist getting their teeth cleaned.

Over the years, I’ve discovered why this is:
An effective marketing strategy requires understanding who you are, choosing to be different than everyone else, and committing to one simple way of doing, acting and creating – to the exclusion of all other ways of doing, acting, and creating. Now, that’s some scary stuff!

The above set of requirements may seem difficult to accomplish, but accomplish them and you will set your business free from the tyranny of making up the idea of the week over and over again. However, that’s the crutch that keeps business owners from ever taking strategy head on. It’s far too easy to just grab another tactic, this week’s twitter, and run with it. If this week’s tactic fails, no harm, no foul, find next week’s thing. (A bit of a dart board strategy approach.)

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7 Signs Your Marketing May Need to Evolve

evolveA lot of marketers get both confused and fed up with all the talk about things like new media, social media, inbound marketing, user generated content, and the age of conversation. I mean, how is a person suppose to apply all these somewhat vague and hard to pin down terms and trends. Well, there’s no denying that the world and certainly the world of marketing has changed. If you’re trying to wrap your head around what that might mean for you, here are seven very concrete ways to start viewing the evolution of your marketing strategies and practices.

1) Your marketing strategy is a sales strategy – far too many small business folks view marketing as selling. I’ve got nothing against sales, you must have them, but what you must have, before a sales presentation is ever made, is a crystal clear, very easy to understand difference. You must claim and communicate at every turn the way that your products, services, and processes are uniquely here to make some narrowly defined target market’s life better. Oh, and it can’t be boring, there must be something remarkable enough about your business or strategy that people go out of their way to tell others about it. Do that and selling not only gets easier, it gets somewhat superfluous.

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