Tag Archives: strategic planning

Grown-up Marketing Strategy

14 Jan

My latest musical crush is Austin, TX singer-songwriter named Bruce Robison. I discovered him as the songwriter behind a heart-rending tune by the Dixie Chicks called “Travelin’ Solider“, and last year he put out an achingly awesome album of duets with his wife, the slightly better-known country artist Kelly Willis.

What’s cool about Bruce Robison is that he writes songs like a grown-up for grown-ups. In his song “Just Married“,  a travelogue from beginning to “now” of a thoroughly loving and real marriage, the “now” verse goes:

They say everything changes, and no one’s to blame
But the more things change the more I stay the same
And everything about me that she loved before
Are the same damn things she can’t stand no more.

Right? But just when you think he’s getting all cynical on you, he finishes with:

When my friends ask me how I am today
I just smile and say
It’s like when we were just married

There’s a tension in our lives — between wanting everything to be like it was — bein’ a kid for as long as you can — and adapting to the way life changes. While it seems like every other movie, song and self-help guide glorifies childhood that lasts forever, growing up is complicated, it’s messy and it’s hard. You know the world’s changing…and you may not want to change but you want to adapt, and at the same time hold onto what’s right, or in the song, to ‘a love so true’.

Marketing has this same tension over adaptation and change. Staying the same while everything changes in marketing isn’t just sad, they say, it’s contemptible. There’s a rush to the new, a drive to disrupt. Skim the marketing chatter and you’ll quickly discover that whatever you’ve been doing, you should be doing the new thing, and if you’re doing the new thing, you’re probably doing it wrong. Oh, and someone else is doing it in ways much more awesome than you could ever hope to do, unless you Innovate! Disrupt! Tear it all down and start over.

Here in the real world, the challenge of change isn’t just a matter of rushing to the latest fad. Everyone is busy. Swamped. Overworked. Underpaid. A lot of problems could be solved with one more new hire, and as soon as we finally get the [Marketo-Eloqua-Salesforce-new website-more technology-more budget] approved and finished. We need more leads in the top the funnel, more nurturing in the middle, more demand, more sales lit. The channel needs more attention, the blog needs more content, the media needs answers, we need more case studies, we should be doing more with LinkedIn and Twitter, and are our customers really on [insert hot new social network here], and who knows what else they are saying about us out there?

The reality of our changing media landscape is that it is more additive than disruptive. Every marketing communications channel has it’s place, and we need to drive them all. Web? Check. Solution sheet? Check. Case studies? Check. Daily social posts? Check. Blog? Check. PR? Check. Email marketing? Check. Webinars? Check. Ads? Check. Trade shows? Check. I’m sure we’re forgetting something…check check check.

Grown-up marketing is about more than checking boxes.  Grown-up marketing recognizes that you have to build a foundation from certain universal truths, forsake excuses and easy answers for hard choices about priorities, and adapt. Here are mine:

  • Customer insights drive the business. You’re in business because you understand something about what customers need, and have a unique ability to deliver. But customer needs have a habit of changing. There is a continual need for customer insights to drive strategy; it can come from frequent interaction with key customers, surveys, user councils, analyst reports, focus groups, insightful sales and service personnel, and directed, in-depth interviews.
  • Business objectives drive brand positioning. The brand strategy should flow organically and creatively out of who you are and — more importantly — who you want to be as a business. And the brand should be a platform to drive growth.
  • Brand positioning drives your marketing strategy. Brand positioning is more than a logo and a list of messages. It should express who you are and how you act with your customers. A good brand positioning platform will help you make choices and prioritize how you communicate to customers to drive awareness, preference, demand and sales.
  • Marketing strategy meets the customers where they are. Should you focus on getting into the media? Email? SEO?  Website? How about working with analysts? Facebook? User conferences? Trade shows? Super Bowl ads? The answer is: go where your customers are and give them a clear path to come to you.  It all comes back to those customer insights — how will the market know they need you? Where will they go to meet that need? Who will they ask for advice? This is where you need to be — with the right brand, positioning and message.  Oh, and if they have no place to go — create one!
  • Don’t take it on faith. Measure everything to know if it’s working. When I started out in communications, the most dreaded question you could get was, “how do you know if it worked?” You had to take it on faith that audience reach equaled minds changed and hope that sales or other action backed you up.  Today, we are in the golden age of analytics. If someone asks you if it’s working, you can answer. You can watch web visits rise and fall, and see what they saw and how long they stayed. It’s easier than ever to get direct feedback — through social networks or low-cost surveys or even phone calls and customer visits. Most importantly, use the data — know what’s important, know if it’s working, and adapt.
  • Invest in what’s working. Stop or streamline what doesn’t. Here’s where the hard decisions come in. Because at some point, if you’re checking all the boxes, something has to give.

Stay true to these principles and you won’t chase fads. Your strategy will have a foundation. When everything changes around you, and you find yourself staying the same, you’ll take a breath and remember what’s true, and adapt. Because grown-up marketing isn’t just about being a grown-up. It’s about growing.

The Magic of Media, Message and Moment

30 Jan

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?

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