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.

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • John,

    The “Content Road Map” is such a crucial part of this process.  When I first starting blogging for my insurance business I just wrote about whatever came to mind… Results = OK… But since I really started to learn about effective inbound marketing strategies and online relationship building I’ve been planning my posts and thoughts and topics and the results have been Epic.  I know you always push planning and I appreciate that.


    Ryan H.

  • Joel Brown – Addicted2Success

    Awesome, this is a great article John. Do you write feature articles? I’d love for you to write an article for my website, my viewers would love your content.

    • Yes I do write features, but am under contract with several publications and can’t take any more one – feel free to republish content your find here.

  • AJ

    The core 7-step marketing system for small business owners.
    Any size business really!
    Big business just got used to no accountability marketing, and throwing stuff at the wall hoping it would stick:)

  • Excellent points.  The days of being able to slap together a website are long past.  Now you have to have a cohesive content strategy that puts in the right places for your potential clients to see you.  Then you have to impress them with your message.  

  • Yes John. Excellent points are raised. These are more beneficial to get succeed in the marketing.

  • Trish Fischer

    Your “7 Steps” are critically important. Interestingly, they are the most difficult concepts for our small- to midsize- business clients to grasp. No one — at first — seems to want to believe that consistent, organized work is required for online marketing success. Fortunately, as you have proven in this post, the concepts themselves are easy to communicate. The challenge is finding a way for people new to online marketing to open their minds to the the need for strategy from the outset of such endeavors.

  • Before
    embarking on any marketing campaign a marketing strategy needs to be put in
    place. Outlining what exactly you expect to receive, in terms of result; be
    that lead generation, sales or increased brand awareness. These targets need to
    be measurable.

    these are in place you can work backwards as to what you are going to do to
    achieve them and build your timeline.

    the article rightly suggests “Live by the calendar”

  • Australianfranchises

    Wow..This is a great and step-by-step information for the people who are looking for their business development .Thanks for sharing guys and keep updating the good work.

  • Carmen Sognonvi

    Wow. Thank you for this, John! The way you laid everything out here is so clear – and makes me realize how many gaps there are in the way we’re marketing our business. 

  • Julie Gordon

    Whether you’re a small or big business, this list is spot-on.  Thanks John!

  • John – Another excellent post. I have alwasy prescribed to (and taught my agents) the know, like and trust part of the funnel/hourglass but your suggestion to add 4 more levels of the system such as try, buy, repeat and refer is awesome. Thanks dfor making the concept so crystal clear

  • John, thank you so much for your statement about marketing being a system…the most important system. It frustrates me so much for people to approach marketing as though it can stand alone. I will be sharing your post with as many of my friends as possible.

  • Great post John. And great analysis on how marketing is like a system. Thanks for the great post…

  • I normally like John’s stuff, but this is too simplistic. First, find out what distinguishes your company in the eyes of your customer. Second, figure out what makes a customer buy from you? Hint: it’s normally not price; it’s usually knowledge, service, availability.
    If you get these two things done, you’ll be ahead of 80% of small business owners. Oh, and we just happen to have a course in refiguring your marketing.
    John Heinrich, Chief Mentor
    American School of Entrepreneurship

    • Not really sure what you’re saying John – your take was exactly what my point was and then you flog your course – step it up please.

  • Great post John! Regarding “Mix and Match Lead Generation”, I would encourage most business owners to put an emphasis on word of mouth. It is most cost effective method, requires little investment and is most reliable and most successful in lead conversion.


  • Debbie Duncan

    I believe the steps above are in simple terms in order to easily understand and follow for those who do not have a Marketing background but know that Marketing is important for a small business.  I recently completed the Duct Tape Marketing Course which identified these steps and went into detail for each.  The course was a great investment and provided me with a wealth of knowledge and information on creating a systematic approach to marketing.  It gave me clarity and awareness of what to do and what not to do.  I would recommend this course to anyone especially with the instructors Joe Constantino and Cidnee Stephen.  Thank you!

  • Great post, John.  And great timing — as businesses are planning for 2012, it’s a good review process to go through these steps and ensure that you are doing everything that you can to be successful in the New Year!  Also, I added you to my blogroll (  Keep up the great work!

  • Marketing Expertise

    I’m in the process of reading “Selling the Invisible” (which, given its early 90s publication date, could be considered out of date), and one of the chapter subsections is entitled “the fallacy of strategy before tactics.”

    Now my initial knee-jerk reaction is this sounds counter-intuitive, and upon reading you posts first point I was in instant agreement.

    “Selling the Invisible”author (Harry Beckwith), however, makes some excellent points about the manner in which the failure (or success) of certain tactics may prompt you to re-evaluate or completely change your stated marketing strategy. And these points led me to rethink my perspective.

    Your point about zeroing in on a prospect, i.e. creating a detail profile of your ideal customer, is more about targeting than strategy. Targeting is obviously very important, but theoretically (using your logic) you could jump from targeting to tactics, and work your way through your arsenal of tactics until one sticks.

    More astute point would be: Goals before Tactics

    So often I see businesses take the approach of: “Hey, lets launch a blog” or “Lets ramp up a Social Media Marketing campaign,” motivated in large part because “everyone else is doing it.”

    When you question the thought process behind these decision, the purveyors back-peddle into answers like: “It’s good for our Branding” or ” it increases awareness” or “company A did XYZ as a result of their efforts.” These benefits hold some value, but are not enough to justify specific action in and of themselves. And unfortunately, there’s little thought behind achieving any concrete goals.

    This is important because, whether we’re talking about about more traditional marketing efforts (physical media, advertising, etc…) which often include a hefty price tag, or new media marketing (email marketing, online promotion, blogging, content marketing, social media marketing, etc…) which can expensive (depending upon your approach) or at the very least, a time suck.

    You’ve got your target. You’ve got your tactics. But what is your goal?

    And how far do you pursue your target before realizing you’re off-target? Or how far to you push a tactic before you realize it’s a failure?

    Without a specific goal, it’s tough to effectively answer these questions.

  • Excellent article John, and on-point. Especially your comments about building a total web presence. I’ve been teaching this to clients for years, and finally it seems that people are starting to get it. Long gone are the days of a static website being all you need to get your business in front of a world wide audience. In today’s world, one needs a plan, an on-going campaign and determination to keep at it, in order to reach the largest possible audience. Thanks for providing such a great resource with your blog.

    • Thanks Andrew – I agree people do seem like they are getting in, but it’s been long strange trip to get there