As much as we try to increase the precision by which we predict and measure it, there’s an art to marketing. Strategic planning is like a sculptor examining a block of stone. You decide what lies within, and the tools you’ll need to reveal it to the world.
I was thinking about this with a story I’ve been writing for a couple years…the premise begins like this: It’s your first day of school. New town. No friends. And secrets that you left back home…like the power inside you that killed two classmates and left your best friend paralyzed for life. Your dad got you out of that one, you don’t know how, and then cut all ties with moved you away clinical efficiency. So here you are, first day of school, afraid, but full of hope, too, that here in this new place, maybe you can be somebody new. And then you feel this guy behind you, his cold hand on your neck, his hot breath on your ear. And he whispers, “I know who you are.” He’s gone, and you still have to walk through that door.
I started this story as a novel, and then turned it into a comic book. Now I’m thinking about it as a novel again. Why? Because there’s nothing that an artist can draw that can recreate this sense of dread and anticipation like your imagination. I heard Neil Gaiman talking about this on the radio the other day. He said that for him, the story comes first, then he decides whether that story is a novel, graphic novel or movie script.
The communications and marketing story? Marketing — sales, leads, traffic, awareness, advocacy, membership — comes from that magical combination of message, media and moment.
Message-focused strategic planning starts by asking, “What’s your story?” and then “Who should know it?,” “Where are they,” and “What should they do?”
The answers drive your media choices. Should they react instantly? Is it something they’ll want to share? The message may well be blog and Twitter-ready. Or, is it a “junkie” audience that loves insanely in-depth takes on a narrow topics? Think about blogs and websites, or gathering a like-minded community. Is it instructive? Are they eager to learn? Try graphics and video or more immersive online environments. Does the audience see the Internet as “technology”? Try traditional media, and make sure the message gets online anyway.
There’s no replacement for having a sense of the moment … knowing — or intuiting — the mood of your market and how they’ll react to your story. I was listening to a discussion with Gwen Ifill on NPR today, talking about Obama as the perfect example of this. He’s a remarkable person in his own right, but he’s president today because his story spoke to this social and historical moment, and his media strategy supported that.
You can – and should – research and survey and analyze and debate and collaborate to create the perfect message and the perfect strategy. And then turn what you learn into your own work of art — where is my story? How will a carve away the clutter and reveal it to the world, so that it can move people?