Archive for Marketing Strategy

How your strategy helps you make decisions

Developing a Strategy

How quickly do you and your organization make decisions? Do you make them quickly, or does each decision seem to be a long and painful process filled with uncertainty and doubt?

In working with small business owners over the years I’ve noticed that those who have a clear set of goals and a well defined strategy for achieving those goals, make decisions much more quickly than those that don’t. I believe one of the major reasons for this is that people and organizations with a well defined strategy use that strategy to help them evaluate choices in their decision making process. Basically, they ask “will doing X move us closer to our goals?”. If the answer is “yes” or “we think so” they move forward. If the answer is no, they quickly abandon the idea and move on – no sense wasting time on things that are not help them achieve their goals.

Organizations with clearly defined goals and strategies also tend to have feedback systems in place to help them measure what it working and what isn’t. These feedback systems also give them the confidence to try things when the answer to the question above is “we think so”. Because they know how to measure and monitor their systems, they can run experiments and try new approaches without the fear of having a project get away from them and burn through a lot of cash and other resources.

Businesses that cultivate this approach to decision making also gain confidence in their ability to make good decisions quickly. Decision making is a skill and like other skills, repetition and feedback lead to improvement.

The importance of being able to being able to make decisions quickly and confidently is one of the reasons I’ve always been a big believer in the need to have a systematic approach to your sales and marketing. The growth of technology has greatly increased the tools and techniques that are available for marketing your business. Without a strategy, the choices may be overwhelming and lead to “analysis paralysis”. However, when you have a set of clearly defined goals (both personal and business), a marketing strategy to help you achieve those goals, and a feedback system to keep you on track, those decisions become a lot easier to make.

Here is an experiment for you to try. During the next 30 days, whenever you are faced with a decision, first determine saying “yes” will move you closer to one of your goals. If the answer is “no”, discard it and don’t give it another thought. If the answer is “yes” or “I think so” figure out how you will measure whether or not it is working in the next 14 days and then give it a try. Build the habit of making decisions and testing the results.

Let me know how you do, I’d love to hear your feedback.

3 Ms of Marketing Strategy

three m's

If you been through any sort of “marketing 101” education, you have undoubtedly heard about the three M’s – market, message, and media. You may also have heard this expressed as “getting the right message, to the right people, at the right time”.

All three M’s are important, but I believe that the order in which you address (or emphasize) each M is also important.

Media

Typically when we say a company is focused on tactics first, rather than strategy, what we mean is that company is starting from a media point of view. They “need” a blog post, a newsletter, a video, or an eBook. The focus is on the content itself (and/or the delivery of that content), rather than on a business goal or the needs of prospects.

Business owners and marketers who focus on media first tend to become frustrated because they spend a lot of time and money developing content but they are seeing the results they want.

Message

Some companies focus on delivering a message that is all about them. Their marketing materials focus on their accomplishments and qualifications. This type of marketing assumes that if one lays out a logical argument for why they are the right choice, people will automatically buy from them. This type of marketing is becoming less and less effective.

Some companies start with a message focused on the needs or interests of their prospects and customers, but their message gets diluted because they try to appeal to everyone. Their messages don’t tend to be as focused as those who start from a market point of view, so they sometime struggle to connect with their ideal customers.

Market

Marketers who take a strategy first approach start with a focus on their market. They have a well defined market and they have crafted a Core Message (or USP – unique selling position) that helps that market answer the question “Why should I, your prospective customer, do business with you, rather than all of the other choices that are available to me?”

Business owners and marketers who take the time to define their market and USP first tend to have an easier time developing a message that resonates with that audience as well as selecting media that will help them reach their ideal customers.

If you have been struggling to get the results you want from your marketing efforts, take a look at your 3 M’s and make sure you are giving proper attention to all three of them.

Marketing Strategy Starts with Personal Goals

Podium with target and arrows on first place.

“Strategy before tactics” is something we talk about every day in the Duct Tape Marketing Consultants’  network. It’s what sets us apart from other small business marketing consultants.

Strategy is one of those words that conjures up images of intellectual giants, using secret information, to make last minute moves to save the day. However, creating your business or marketing strategy doesn’t have to be that complicate. I prefer to start with this simple definition of strategy:

“A plan of action for achieving a goal.”

Simple, but actionable.

When it comes to setting and achieving goals, all the experts tell us that the more personal we can make them, the more emotion we can attach to them, the more we can visualize how our life be better when we accomplish them, the more likely we will be to achieve them.

In other words, the more personal our goals, the greater our chances of reaching them.

As a business owner, you got into business to help you achieve your goals. You may have wanted more money, more freedom, or more time to work on a cause that is important to you.

Many business owners that I meet tell me that the reason the decided to “go out on their own” was they felt their work was not helping them meet their goals.

This is an important point to remember when you start hiring employees of your own – your employees will always work harder to achieve their goals than yours. Your job is to help your employees set their own goals, help provide ways for them to achieve those goals, and align their goals with the shared goals of the company (yours, other employees, and customers). Great employees always set higher goals for themselves than you would.

And of course, the success of your marketing and your business lies in helping your customers goals achieve their goals. This is why we (Duct Tape Marketers) spend so much time about narrowing your focus, finely defining your ideal customer profile, taking the time to understand your customers buying process, etc. We aren’t doing this so we can create award winning advertising or clever tweets. We are trying to better understand what their goals are so we can provide them with the information they need to make decisions about how they can meet those goals.

Talking about strategy is interesting, learning the latest techniques and tactics can be fun, but starting with clear, personal goals in mind is what will keep you moving forward when the challenges come.

Start 2014 With a Marketing Win

score a marketing win

It’s the start of a new year – how big is your checklist of marketing tasks to accomplish this year?

It’s easy to create a long list of things you would like to do. The problem is, once we create our list we often become overwhelmed and paralyzed. Or we get so wrapped up in the busy work we create for ourselves we never get to the part that brings in money.

In order to get your marketing efforts off to a solid start this year, I recommend picking one item that will produce a “win” for your business and get to work on that one item right away.

How do you find a quick win? If you are like most small business owners, you have two untapped or underutilized sources of business – 1) your existing customer base and 2) your list.

Your Customer Base

In the hunt for new sources of revenue, it is easy to forget that we should be marketing to our existing customers. These are the folks who already know, like, and trust you. If you’ve had success attracting people who fit your ideal customer profile, then you already have a base of customers who value what you bring to the table and are not “price shoppers”. Finding new ways to help them achieve their goals will not only help you grow your sales, but you’ll be doing work that you enjoy at the same time.

If you are not sure what to offer your existing customers then you are probably overdue for a conversation with them. Make that your “big win” goal for January – take out your calendar and make appointments with your top customers. Make the agenda of those meetings to listen to your customers’ goals and aspirations. Once they finished (and not before) spend some time thinking about how you can help them achieve those goals – either by offering one of your solutions or introducing them to someone in your network who can help them.

Your List

If you’ve been in business for any period of time, you have a list. We already talked about your list of existing customers, so now let’s talk about your contacts, leads, prospects, referral sources, etc.

While everyone has a list, many small business owner’s lists have one or more of the following challenges:

  • Their list isn’t organized
  • Their list is dormant
  • Their list is not segmented

The Unorganized List

By unorganized, I mean that the contact information for the people on your list is not in one central place. It is  scattered about in your email inbox, on notes jotted down on paper, and in the stack of cards on your desk. The biggest problem with an unorganized list is that it makes it difficult to follow up on a consistent basis. The tendency is to follow up with those contacts we consider to be “hot leads” – someone we think we can sell something to in the very near future. In B2B sales, many of the people we meet may not need our services right now, but chances are they will sometime in the future (or will run into someone else who needs what we sell). Without consistent follow up, sales and referrals often fall through the cracks. Consistent follow up without an organized list very difficult, if not impossible.

The Dormant List

Without regular follow up, your list becomes dormant and loses its value to your business. Once you lose top of mind status (or if you never had it), your messages become just more junk in the recipient’s inbox. If they forget who you are, what you do, or why they should care, they will see your messages as spam. Technically, they are not spam you say. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the perception of the recipient.

In addition to regular communication, keeping your list clean by removing those who are no longer interested is also essential to your marketing success.

The Unsegmented List

Segmenting is simply dividing your list into categories. Lists can be segmented in a variety of ways including geography, business size, industry, or interest.

The problem with an unsegmented list is that it forces you to talk to everyone on your list the same way. This reduces the effectiveness of your marketing messages because you generally end up talking about:

  1. What’s important to you rather than what is important to them. OR
  2. Things that are not relevant to the recipient. For example, have you ever received an offer to become a customer when you already are one? A personal example – I recently received an invitation to a free lunch meeting being held 1,000 miles away. With a segmented list, the company that invited me could have excluded me from the invitation or, realizing it didn’t make sense for me to attend, offer to send me the information being shared at the lunch.

Use the information in your list to create segments that allow you to communicate in a way that is relevant to the recipients of your marketing messages.

Using Your List to Get a Win

A word of caution, it is easy to get bogged down trying to “perfect” your list before you start doing anything. Don’t fall in this trap!

The theme of this post is how to get a quick win. The best way to get a quick win with your list is to start with a marketing objective in mind. Creating a spreadsheet or database to organize your contacts is not a marketing objective. Following up with the 10 people you met at yesterday’s networking event is – the spreadsheet or database is a tool to help you meet that objective. In order to get the quick win, get those 10 people on your list and contact them today. During your follow up, make notes about those things that will help you continue to follow up in a way that is relevant to them. When you get back to your office, add those notes to your list, so you will be able to create segments for future messages.

If you have a list, but it is at risk of becoming dormant, score your quick win by reaching out and determining if the contacts on your list still have an interest in what you do. A simple email or phone call to ask “Are you still interested in tax preparation services?” or “Are you still interested in [insert your service]?” will let you know who you should follow up with and who you should remove from your list.

If you have a list that can use segmenting, don’t start by trying to think of all of the segments you could have. Score your win by coming up with an offer or marketing message you want to send and then determine how to segment your list to make that offer as relevant as possible. For example, if you want to offer an in person seminar, can you identify the people on your list who are within a reasonable travelling distance?  Can you quickly send a “for customers” only offer? If you have to collect data to update your list, first send the messages you can and then set goals for collecting and sending messages as you go. For example, set a goal of sending out 10 new messages every week rather than trying to update your complete list before sending out the first message.

Wrapping Up

I hope that gives you some ideas for scoring some quick marketing wins in 2014. If you have any questions or tips you would like to share, leave a comment below or drop us a line.

5 Questions Your Content Audit Should Answer

content letters on board

Performing a marketing content audit is an important early step in the development of a content marketing system. I believe it is also something that should become part of your regular content planning process.

The content audit should not simply be another item to check off the marketing to-do list; it should provide insight and answer key questions that will improve your content marketing efforts and grow your bottom line.

Generally speaking, during a content audit you perform a full assessment of all of your marketing content assets and categorize them according to type and purpose. This allows you to compare and contrast each of your items and determine which ones are performing – attracting traffic and converting prospects and leads.

Most of your marketing content is probably part of your website, but don’t forget to include your other marketing content as you well. For example, many accounting firms, law offices, and other professional service firms have presentations, articles, and other materials they have not yet shared on their websites. These items could be shared as is or repackaged and/or re-purposed for future marketing campaigns.

Once your audit is complete you should have a better understanding of your existing content and the gaps which exist. Specifically, a content audit should help you answer the following questions:

1. Are all of our buyer personas being addressed?

In order to provide the right types of information in your marketing content, you must understand the needs of the people involved in the buying process. Depending on the nature of your business, you may offer solutions for single buyers, or you may sell to companies that include several individuals in their buying process. Your marketing content needs to address each of the buyer and influencer personas in your ideal customers’ buying process if you want to maximize your chances of winning the deal.

If all of your marketing content is geared to the final decision maker, but ignores the needs of the people who do the initial research, you may never make the short list. Conversely, if all of your content focuses on the problem definition, but fails to raise the issues that are important to management, you will likely generate a lot of leads that never convert.

The content audit process should help small business owners identify these gaps and help ensure that all of the individuals involved in the buying process are addressed.

2. Do we have content for each stage of the marketing hourglass?

In Duct Tape Marketing we use the concept of the marketing hourglass to define the stages of the customer lifecycle (Know, Like, Trust, Try, Buy, Repeat, Refer). Others may use a different model to outline their Buyer Cycle Stages (i.e. Awareness, Interest, Trial, Purchase, Support, Loyalty, Referral). The important thing to remember is your customers have a process they use when making purchases. Our job as marketers is to understand their process so we can provide the information they need to see and hear in order to feel comfortable enough to move to the next stage.

It is common for small business to have plenty of content geared towards generating awareness and interest but then to have little or no content that helps build trust, moves customers to a trial phase, or helps close the sale. A content audit should identify these gaps so you can address them in the next marketing planning cycle.

3. Are there opportunities to use other media types?

Keep in mind that different people like to learn differently. Some like to read while other may prefer to watch video. Some media formats may also lend themselves better to certain stages of the marketing hourglass than others. Don’t get bogged down thinking that “marketing content” is just web pages and blog posts – consider how you might be able to use each of the following media formats to communicate with your ideal customers in each stage of their buying process:

  • Photos
  • Videos
  • Case studies
  • Social media updates
  • Infographics
  • Charts
  • eBooks

Savvy marketers often get more bang for their buck by repackaging their content in different media. For example, an eBook may be several blog posts, a video, and a slide presentation.

4. Do some authors’ content perform better than others?

If you have more than one author (employees, guest authors, strategic partners, etc.) contributing marketing content, it can be helpful to identify those who produce high performing content so you can learn more about what makes their content successful.

5. Which Content is Performing ?

Not every piece of marketing content you publish is going to lead to an immediate sale. However, each piece of content should still have a purpose.

As mentioned above, much of your marketing content will be geared to helping your buyers move to the next stage of their buying process. These goals may include calls to action, links for more information, follow-on items in a series of posts, a sign-up page or a purchase page.

Your audit process and tools should help specify conversion goals and track which pieces of content contribute to the completion of those goals.

Building a Content Planning Rhythm

The first time you perform a marketing content audit it may feel (and can be) a huge undertaking.

Depending on the amount of content you have, it may make sense to start with a sample of your most popular content and build from there.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I believe this process of classifying your marketing content, identifying gaps,  and evaluating which content is performing is important to do on a regular basis.

In order to do this efficiently, you will want to adopt a process and tools that record this information as you go along. If gathering the data you need becomes a huge project every time you want to review and plan, chances are it won’t get done.

Some editorial calendars allow you to classify and label content with the data you need during the planning stages. These tools can save you a lot of time and even help you identify gaps before you start producing content.

If you don’t use editorial calendar software, or if the one you use doesn’t capture the information you need for an audit, I would highly recommend adapting your planning process to capture this information as you go rather than waiting until audit time.

If you would like to see a demo of the editorial calendar software we use with our customers, and how it helps speed up the content auditing process, feel free to contact us.

Creating a Content Marketing Strategy Map

Business Charts

One of the primary goals of your small business marketing system is to deliver the right information, to the right person, at the right time.

In order to achieve this goal,  you need to know who your buyers are, where they are in their buying process, and what they need to see or hear in order for them to feel comfortable moving to the next step in their buying process.

Using this basic information (who, what, when), you can map out a content marketing strategy that will help you attract your ideal customers and increase your sales.

The Right Person – the first step is to identify who the players are in your ideal customers buying process. Whether you call them buyer personas, profiles, or some other name, step one is to identify who they are. Depending upon what you sell and the companies you sell to, your list of players may include:

  • Initiators
  • Researchers
  • Influencers
  • Decision Maker
  • End Users

For each of these roles you will want to consider what information they need in each stage of the buying process.

The Right Time – in order to deliver marketing content at the right time, we have to understand our ideal customers’ buying process. Just as we have a process for selling, prospects have a process they go through when making a purchase. It is important that you understand the stages your customers go through in their buying process, but for this post, let’s define our stages as Early, Middle, and Late.

In the Early stage of their buying process, your prospects may have not fully defined the problem they need to solve. They may have a vague idea of the possible solutions available. Buyers in the early stages of buying often express that “they don’t know what they don’t know”. They spend a lot of time gathering information and circling back to ask better questions as their knowledge increases.

Prospects in the Middle stage of their buying process have a general understanding of how you can help them solve their problem. They are also researching other vendors and trying to narrow the field in order to make their final decision easier.

In the Late stage of the buying process, each player is looking to make sure that their specific needs are being met before the sale is closed. Some key players (i.e. decision maker) may just be entering into the discussion during this stage.

The Right Information – once you understand who your audience is and how they go about making purchasing decisions, you can work on creating the informational content they need to see or hear in order to move from one stage to the next.

There are several ways you can package your information content at each stage. While you will want to choose the formats that your customers prefer, here are some typical content formats that marketers have used in each of the buying stages:

  • Early – Problem Domain Blog Posts and Industry Studies
  • Middle – Product and service specific Blog posts, demonstration videos, case studies
  • Late – Testimonials, reviews, ROI calculators, buyers guides

Once you have your content marketing strategy map, you’ll spend less time trying to figure out what content you need to create and spend more time having sales conversations and closing deals.

Storytelling and Content Marketing

A little over a year ago Coca-Cola launched their Content 2020 advertising strategy, announcing their “move from creative excellence to content excellence”.

Below is the part one video explaining the Content 2020 strategy. While this is obviously a “big brand” approach to content marketing and social media, there are several lessons that small business can take away from Coke’s approach – here are a few that I noted:

  • The importance of storytelling – note the emphasis on storytelling throughout the video. Small business have great stories to tell, be sure to share yours.
  • Liquid and Linked – at the 0.32 mark, the idea of content excellence being liquid (contagious ideas) and linked (ideas that are innately relevant to business objectives) is discussed. Pay special attention to this section.
  • Compelling Content – Coca Cola is striving to create the world’s most compelling content – how can you create the most compelling content in your world, whether that is you neighborhood, city, or industry?

You can see the Part Two video here

Balancing Courage and Focus in Small Business

Last Tuesday night I was watching Charlie Rose’s interview with Dick Costolo. Mr. Costolo is the current CEO of Twitter and during the interview he said something that really struck a chord with me and I wanted to share it with you here today.

What Costolo said he that he spends a lot of time thinking about the balance between courage and focus at Twitter.

He went on to explain that by courage he meant “are we being as bold as we could be, are we taking chances and not just trying to protect what we have”. Focus is important because “we can’t do every new thing we want to do. We have to do few things and decide what we are not going to do and make sure we are concentrating our efforts”.

Costolo sited that he believe this balance is what companies like Amazon and Apple do so well. I think this lesson applies equally to small business owners. How do we make sure we are trying new things without falling into the trap of chasing every shiny object we see?

I think a big part of the answer to that question lies in the way Costolo described Amazon’s Jeff Bezos’ “maniacal focus on the customer”.  Pushing yourself and your company to do new things but using your customer focus as a filter for selecting which projects to pursue seems like a great recipe for success to me.

How do you balance courage and focus in your business? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Inbound Marketing Makes Cold Calling Easier

cold calling is hardCold calling is hard work and very few people like to do it. One reason people don’t like it  is that it is hard to get the conversation started – both with the gate keeper and the prospect. Many people are uncomfortable with the idea of calling up a stranger and immediately asking for something – time and attention in order to try to sell. Small businesses that embrace inbound marketing can use the assets they develop during that process to make cold calling easier by changing the conversation from one of asking to one of offering something of value.

At the risk of oversimplifying, inbound marketing consists of two major steps; 1) create information that is valuable to my ideal prospects  and 2) doing everything I can to make sure that my ideal customers will find that information when they are looking for solutions to the problems I help them solve.

Step #1, creating valuable information, typically includes some marketers refer to as a lead magnet (or bait piece). Lead magnets are often whitepapers or eBooks but can be case studies, webinars, books, ROI calculators, top 10 lists, etc.  The information contained in the lead magnet must not only be of value to your prospects, the value must be perceived to be high enough to justify “purchasing” it with their contact information.

One of the drawbacks of inbound marketing is that it takes time to see results in the form of leads. Small businesses can jump start those efforts by having their sales team offer the lead magnet to the people on their prospecting list. Now they have a simple, more comfortable way to start a conversation – “I have a free eBook that outlines the 3 questions CEOs of companies like yours wished they had asked before spending money on XYZ, is that something you would be interested in seeing?”.

It also makes the initial conversation with the gate keeper less adversarial – “I have a free eBook that outlines the 3 questions CEOs of companies like yours wished they had asked before spending money on XYZ that I wanted to send over to Bob. He he the best person to send that to or do you think I should also send it to someone else? Great, which email address should I use? ” .

This approach also make following up less awkward. Rather than “just checking in” you get to ask what they liked, what they thought about X, is that an issue they are facing, and would they like to see more information or additional case studies, etc. In other words, you have a natural way to start having a sales conversation.

Smart marketers will seek out feedback from sales about these follow up conversations so they can produce additional marketing content that helps further engage existing prospects as well as attracting new leads.

Inbound marketing tactics are powerful tools for small business. You can make them more powerful by combining them with traditional outbound tactics like cold calling, networking, and direct mail.

How to Identify Your Ideal Customers

When we talk about small business marketing, we always talk about starting with a sound marketing strategy before jumping into tactics. One of key elements of your marketing strategy is identifying your ideal customer – those customers in your sweet spot, the ones you can really help, and the ones who truly value your unique approach and what you bring to the table.

Most small business marketers describe their ideal customers in terms of demographics – industry, income or revenue, location (zip codes), etc. Demographic information is helpful, but most small business owners benefit from asking two questions to help them identify their ideal customers first, and then use demographic (and other) information to help them find more customers who meet their ideal customer profile. Those two questions are:

Are They Profitable?

If you can, create a spreadsheet of your customers and list the amount and type of business you do with each. You might even rank them in order from most to least business over the last three years.

Now remember, revenue is not the same as profit. Your biggest customers may not be your most profitable ones. Determine which customers are your most profitable. Which types of work or projects are the most profitable? How much work are you doing that is not profitable? This exercise can be a real eye opener.

Do They Refer You To Others?

Once you have identified your profitable customers, make a new column in your spreadsheet where you can identify the customers who are known referral sources. Consider this: Only happy clients refer and happy clients are most often happy because you or your approach is a good match for what they needed. This narrow group of profitable clients, the ones that also refer, holds the key to discovering your ideal client profile.

Now that you have identified your profitable customers who also refer you to others, learn everything you can about them that will help you find more customers just like them.

P.S. – More tips on creating your ideal customer profile and creating a marketing strategy can be found in this free small business marketing strategy guide.