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Before Any of the Tactics Matter Answer These 3 Questions

Most business owners think marketing and immediately think email, copy, Facebook and promotions – you know, tactics. Heck, most marketers do the same thing.

strategy before tactics

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I’ve been working with business owners for over twenty five years now and I’m here today to once again affirm that none of the tactics matter until you are crystal clear about a handful of things. If you’ve heard me talk at a conference in the last ten years then you’ve heard me say repeatedly – strategy before tactics is the simple road to success.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all about systematically and consistently rolling out tactics, but only those that support a strategy that you can commit to. Once you nail the strategy part you can confidently go to work on strategy with tactics, but you can’t have one before the other.

I will go as far as to say, however, a simple, maybe even common set of tactics in support of a powerful strategy beats a brilliant set of tactics with no real strategy at all most every time.

So, how do you make strategy simple? Answer these three questions and get everyone on your team aligned around the answers.

1) Why do we do what we do?

This is the age old mission question. Until you can get very clear about the one, overarching purpose for your business, things will always seem a bit muddy. When you can grab onto your “why” you have the basis for every decision you make and a thread that can define your brand and a magnet for building a vibrant community around your business.

Ponder this question for a moment as it might help bring some clarity: What is joyful to you about the result your business brings a client? There are many variations on this one, but it might help your get started.

Perhaps the greatest challenge with purpose and mission is that it can’t be faked. You can’t copy it, it simply is what you stand for – so dig deep on this one!

2) Who do we do it for?

The tricky part about this one is that the answer should be as narrow as possible. If you nailed the first answer above, know that some percentage of the world out there won’t be attracted to your why – and that’s okay. Now your job is to go even narrower and start really understanding who you can help, who gets the most value from your unique approach.

Here’s a tip: Look to your most profitable customers that already refer business to you. Find the commonality in this group and you should be able to develop a very narrow ideal customer profile that entails both physical description and ideal behavior.

A secondary element of this answer applies to your staff. Who fits your why, your culture? Who can come to your business with the mindset to serve the mission you’ve so eloquently laid out above?

3) What do we do that’s both unique and remarkable?

The last piece of the puzzle is about what you do. But, it’s not simply about defining what business you are in. That’s important to understand, but more important is to find and communicate how your business is unique in a way that your ideal client finds remarkable. In a way that allows you to stand apart from everyone else that says they are in the same business as you.

This isn’t as simple as it might sound. Most business owners don’t fully understand what their customers truly value. It’s not good service, fair pricing and broad selection. Those fall under the category of expectation and everyone can and usually does claim them. The difference is in the details, the little things you do, the way you do it, how you treat people, how you make your customers feel. It’s in the surprises, the things that exceed their expectations.

Of course, this assumes you provide something that actually is unique and remarkably done, but I’m guessing you do, you just don’t know how magnificent it is and how you should make it the message you lead with.

Here’s my advice: Go talk to your customers, they know what you do that’s unique. Listen carefully and don’t be afraid to embrace the little things you do, that’s where you are different in a way that matters.

Spend time with the process of answering these three questions, get your entire team involved and make it a game. This is the essence of strategy. It doesn’t have to be an academic process, but it is perhaps the most important thing you can do for your business and certainly something you should do before you even consider your next great idea for how to use Pinterest.

Now, say it with me, Strategy Before Tactics!

How to Make Strategy More Than a Nice Idea

Few things are more confusing to business owners and marketers than the idea of marketing strategy.

marketing strategy

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I think that’s due in part to simple misunderstanding by many who try to apply the concept, but it’s also due to the fact that strategy is very malleable – that is to say, it can be many things.

A very solid way to define business strategy is the effective use of resources to reach stated objectives. Perhaps a more tangible way to define marketing strategy would be the effective use of resources to create and communicate a valuable and profitable difference in the marketplace.

Either way you can see there’s lots of room for interpretation.

But, rather than debate the proper way to define what marketing strategy is, I would like to share how to develop it, bring it to life and give it a voice. No matter how perfectly you state your marketing strategy, if it doesn’t live firmly in the tactics you employ to develop customers it’s all for naught.

The act of driving strategy deeply into your marketing consists of three elements:

Determine a core point of difference – This is how you state why someone should hire you as opposed to someone else who says they do what you do. It’s your unique value proposition and it must be developed with a narrowly defined ideal client in mind.

I’ve written about this idea frequently and suggest you visit this post on ideal client and this post on core difference to get very specific how to instructions on this element.

Create an engagement framework – Strategy based engagement thinking forces you to push your core marketing strategy into every marketing activity. I’ve developed a very powerful tool for building this kind of framework called The Marketing Hourglass.

The Marketing Hourglass is a concept that asks you to create processes, products, campaigns and engagement aimed at logically moving prospects and customers through seven stages – Know, Like, Trust, Try, Buy, Repeat and Refer. By viewing each of these stages as a place to reinforce your core difference as well as deliver key information, you create the kind of engagement that leads to you most profitable clients.

Map content to strategy – Once you develop your core difference and outline your Marketing Hourglass it’s time to give your strategy voice. This is based done by mapping how you will communicate your core difference through content that creates awareness, educates, builds trust and converts.

You won’t necessarily create every tactical element involved in implementing these three steps, but the planning process involved in fully developing your organization’s marketing strategy must consider these elements as three parts of the strategy puzzle.

5 Questions That Will Lead to Market Domination

One of the things most small business struggle with mightily is differentiation. And yet, it’s probably the number one factor in the success of one business over another.

If you can’t demonstrate how your business is significantly different than every other business that says it does what you do, you are doomed to compete on price.

differentiate

Being different is the first step in building a business that people care about. In some cases, this step alone can allow you to create some distance from the pack of completion.

But, and here’s where it gets truly interesting, if you really want to carve out success you must also understand that it’s often not enough to simply be different. You’ve got to be different in a way that boldly addresses the greatest unmet needs of your market.

You’ve got to uncover a way to solve the problems that no one else is even talking about solving.

See, everyone in your industry is addressing the same problems, but what if they’re the wrong problems, or at least not the most pressing problems?

Think about you industry, your business, aren’t you simply trying to meet the same needs as everyone else? My guess is that even if you’ve come up with a powerful new way to package, price, deliver and differentiate your products and services, you’re still essentially attacking the same problems and challenges with the same proven approach as everyone else.

So let me ask you this. Do you know the number one unmet need in your marketplace? Do you understand the biggest problem your customers struggle with? Do you know the thing they can’t get anyone to solve? The answer they’ve looked high and low for? The topic no one seems to have any advice on? The question they would gladly pay to have answered?
The answers to those questions are where the true secret to marketing success resides.

Great copywriters, Internet marketers and AdWords experts get this. It’s how they push psychological hot buttons and find hungry niche markets already queued up to click on tiny ads buried deep in long tail searches.

But it’s also one of the most powerful ways to position an entire business and dominate an entire industry.

Remember, it’s not enough to simply be different; you’ve got to be different in a way that offers extreme value and solves problems people are ready to pay for.

Your research starts by sitting down with your customers or some segment of your market and asking some tough questions.

I’ve written about this numerous times, but often your customers know what you do that differentiates your more precisely than you do.

In addition to asking your clients what you do that’s unique, you’ve also got to start asking, probing and digging for unmet needs. You’ve got to try to figure out what they can’t get and how badly they want it.

The secret to success is to solve the problems nobody else is solving, even if you don’t yet know how to that.

Starting today, ask your customers some variation of the following five questions and start to look for patterns, unmet needs and opportunities to change how you approach your business.

Your unmet needs survey questions:

  1. What is the biggest challenge you are facing in your business?
  2. Why is it important that you find a solution to this challenge now?
  3. How hard have you worked to try to solve this challenge in the past?
  4. What about this challenge makes it so hard to solve or answer?
  5. How hard has it been to find an answer to your challenge?

Ultimately, you’re looking for patterns of unmet needs that people are motivated to solve, but have had a very difficult time finding solutions to.

I have to credit former psychologist turned Internet marketing Dr. Glenn Livingstone for the basis of these questions. Livingstone uses sophisticated research techniques to uncover problems people are desperately seeking answers to in order to create information products, AdWords tactics and sales copy that address these niche needs.

The approach, however, has powerful implications for any business. Every market has gaps of unmet needs and the business that figures these out, addresses and solves the hard problems that exist, can differentiate in ways that others won’t even consider.

This path is the surest route to success but it isn’t the easy route. The research you uncover from taking this approach seriously may greatly alter your business model, products, approach and positioning.

The secret to success in business is to differentiate. The secret to unparalleled success is to differentiate by solving the greatest unmet needs of a market.

7 Steps To Sure Fire Marketing Success

Here’s my take on business.

Every business is simply a set of systems and marketing just happens to be the most important of these systems.

Few business owners have trouble thinking in terms of business systems for things like building their product, paying the bills, providing a service, hiring an employee – all the operations kind of things.

When it comes to marketing, however, all systems thinking comes to a halt, because “that’s a creative art,” that vexes even the most seasoned entrepreneur types.

Fact is, marketing is indeed a business system and approaching and operating it as such helps to remove any and all mystery about its function in your business and allows you to create consistent, predictable results from the operation of your marketing system.

Below are the seven elements that make the creation of your personalized marketing system a snap.

1) Commit to Strategy Before Tactics

Until you can narrowly define the exact person, business or problem that constitutes your ideal client and uncover a way to communicate a truly unique point of differentiation to said ideal client, your business will fall prey to the marketing tactic of the week syndrome.

When you have a clear sketch of who you must attract and a clear message that allows you to communicate why your product or service produces greater value than every other option, you don’t have a marketing strategy.

Do not pass go until your business possesses an authentic marketing strategy. Once you do, you then must commit to using that strategy as the filter for every marketing decision that follows – including product/service mix, pricing, identity elements, customer service and hiring. You can find more on my approach to marketing strategy here.

2) Map Your Marketing HourglassTM

The marketing funnel approach of loading lots of leads into a marketing process aimed at squeezing a few through the small end is fundamentally broken these days.

Yes, you still need to get in front of prospects, but the greatest source of lead generation these days is a happy customer. The idea behind the hourglass shape is that as you gain a customer you immediately go about intentionally turning that customer into a referral champion.

You accomplish this by mapping out all the products, services and processes required to move a prospect through the seven phases of the Marketing Hourglass: know, like, trust, try, buy, repeat and refer.

Simply take a high level look at your business today and map out all of the current and potential touchpoints opportunities your have with prospects and clients and fill the gaps with marketing driven experiences. You can find more on the Marketing Hourglass here.

3) Create a Content Road Map

The term content conjures up a great deal of frustration with business owners, mainly because it’s vague enough to be misinterpreted and cited by experts enough to create exhaustion.

The idea of content in marketing isn’t simply a generic way to refer to your need to blog, it’s a strategic approach to creating the assets your business needs to communicate strategy and facilitate lead generation and conversion.

With that description in mind, you need to view your approach to content creation much like a publisher armed with an annual table of contents, otherwise known as a list of important keyword search phrases.

Your content creation plan must be very intentional and must be installed as an ongoing practice instead of viewed as a one-time event. Your plan must include provisions for content that builds trust, content that educates, customer generated content, other people’s content and content that converts. You can find a deeper discussion of these five types of content here.

4) Build a Total Web Presence

No longer is it enough to build a Website and expect to compete these days. Prospects, even those that are looking to do business locally, turn to search engines to find every kind of business and solve every kind of problem.

Today’s marketers need to approach the Web with an eye on creating the largest presence possible in order to stand out, or merely show up, when a prospect goes hunting for a solution.

Building an online listening station, optimizing brand assets in sharing services, claiming valuable social and local network real estate, participating in ratings and review sites, and maximizing social media activity are the foundational elements of total web presence building.
This is how you begin to make your content strategy pay. This is how you begin to activate the know, like and trust elements of your Marketing Hourglass.

5) Mix and Match Your Lead Generation

Active lead generation comes about through multiple touches initiated through multiple channels.

There is rarely one dependable way to generate all of the leads a business might require to meet objectives. It’s the careful blending of advertising, public relations and systematic referral generation that creates the repetition, credibility and control needed to get a prospect motivated enough to pick up the phone or schedule an appointment.

The key to making this blended approach work, however, is the commitment to valuable, education-based content distribution. Advertising that promotes content gets viewed, a referral made by way of content gets action, and PR generated by way of content gets shared.

6) Orchestrate a Lead Conversion Process

If you’ve followed the steps outlined so far in this system, your prospects aren’t really sold so much as they become ready to buy. In order to continue the experience your marketing has promised to date you must also give intentional marketing driven consideration to the steps in your lead conversion process.

What is your systematic response when a prospect requests more information? What is your systematic method for communicating how you deliver value? What is your plan to nurture leads in your hourglass? How will you orient a new customer? What is your plan for measuring the results a customer actually received?

A fully developed lead conversion process doesn’t consider a sale complete until the customer receives the expected result.

7) Live by the Calendar

The basic premise behind the notion of a system is continuous operation. You can’t build a marketing system and hope to be done at some point.

There are elements that you may build and use continuously, but the fact is that operating your marketing system must become habit.

You must map out a year’s worth of projects, campaigns and processes and break each month into a theme, each project into weekly action steps and each day into right marketing activity.

By creating a marketing vision that is scheduled and calendared you create the framework that allows everyone in the organization to participate and see in very tangible ways the path that the organization, and perhaps more specifically the marketing system, is intended to trod.

Marketing Without Strategy is the Noise Before Failure

The Art of War

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Anyone that’s heard me speak or read my books knows that I believe marketing strategy is far more important to the small business than marketing tactics.

Any yet, the tactical idea of the week gets most of the mind share of the business owner.

Strategy and tactics must go hand in hand in order for a business to achieve a measure of true momentum, but an effective strategy must be in place before any set of tactics make sense.

This Sun Tzu quote, borrowed from the Art of War and adapted for the title of this post, pretty much sums up my feeling on the subject – “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

The reason strategy gets mostly lip service when it comes to marketing planning is because most people misunderstand what a marketing strategy really is.

So, let me start with what it’s not. Strategy is not a wish list, set of goals, mission statement, or litany of objectives.

How not what

A marketing strategy is a clear explanation of how you’re going to get there, not where or what there is. An effective marketing strategy is a concise explanation of your stated plan of execution to reach your objectives

To become the market leader is not a strategy – it’s an objective. To serve our customers with honor and dignity is not a strategy – it’s mission. To double the number of new customers is not a strategy – it’s a goal.

Goals and missions and objectives are nice, but how you plan to achieve them – otherwise known as strategy paired with a logical set of tactics – is the surest route to victory.

To become a market leader you may find that an effective strategy is to carve out one very narrow market niche and dominate it. To serve your customers with honor and dignity you may find that an effective marketing strategy starts somewhere in your hiring process. To double the number of new customers you may find that an effective marketing strategy is to build a formal network of strategic referral partners.

Now each of these strategies will have a corresponding list of tactics and action steps, but the action plans and campaigns will all have your stated strategy as a filter for decision making and planning.

After working with thousands of small business owners I’ve developed a bit of a 3-step process for developing a marketing strategy. I must warn you though that market conditions, competitive environments and trending opportunities all play wild card roles in the process.

A company considering a marketing strategy in a mature market with entrenched players will have a much different view of things than a company trying to bring a new technology to a market with no proven purchase habit.

I wrote a post titled 5 Attributes of a Sure Fire Start-up that might shed more light on the start-up view.

When developing a marketing strategy for your business the following steps come into play.

Who matters

For any strategy and corresponding set of tactics to work they must appeal to someone. The first element, and in some cases the primary element, is who. Develop your marketing strategy around a narrowly defined ideal client above all. This post titled How to Discover and Attract More of Your Ideal Client goes deeply into this process.

As stated before this step alone may actually prove to be your strategy – to get good at serving a niche market.

Using your ideal client profile as the basis of your strategy also allows you to think very personally about how you serve them and how you use your tactics to attract them. Without this concentration on an ideal segment your marketing strategy will often lack focus.

Be different

After developing a profile of an ideal client it’s time to find a way to appeal to this group. In my experience the only sure way to do this is discovering or creating an approach, product, or service that clearly differentiates you from the rest of the market.

The market needs a way to compare and differ and if you don’t give them one they’ll default to price comparison.

You need to dig in and find that way of doing things that your customers truly value, what’s going on your industry that frustrates people or how to turn the way people have always done it into an opportunity for innovation. This post titled 5 Questions You Should Ask Every Customer unveils the best way to discover what your customers really value.

In some cases you may be doing something truly unique, you just aren’t communicating as your core marketing message.

If you don’t take this step seriously everything else you do in terms of marketing will be far less effective. That’s how serious being different is.

Connect the dots

The final step in the marketing strategy game is to take what we’ve done previously – defining an ideal client and creating a core differentiator – and turning it into your stated strategy.

When I created Duct Tape Marketing my stated strategy was to create a recognizable small business marketing brand by turning marketing for small business into a system and product. This strategy contained a narrowly defined ideal client and a clear point of differentiation.

Our mission was to radically change the way small business owners think about marketing and our “marketing as system” strategy became how we would do that.

Like most effective strategy the gap in current offerings and positioning was what offered the clear opportunity. Connecting your strategy will also include careful study of the competitive environment and that of other unrelated industries in order to fill a need with your innovation or differentiation.

Let me return once again to Sun Tzu and The Art of War – “All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.

Now, before you determine whether Facebook is better for your business than LinkedIn or if direct mail is still an effective way to generate leads, start at the point where you will ultimately create the greatest possible impact – strategy!