Despite what the plethora of “simple” marketing guides on the internet might imply, developing an effective marketing strategy is complicated, difficult work… if you want to do it well. Sure, you could patch together a quilt of tricks and tactics and call it a strategy, but that’s far from a recipe for an intelligent, measurable approach to promoting your brand, products, or services in any meaningful way.
Before you put pen to paper and rubber to the road, your best bet is to prepare yourself by gathering the information you’re going to need to develop a marketing strategy that works for you and your brand. The following questions are a good place to start.
Yes, you – not only as an entrepreneur but as a brand. Think of your brand as a person. How would you describe that person today? Think about character traits, values, strengths, weaknesses – the whole kit and caboodle. Think about it in terms of metaphorical demographics. Are you an older male with decades of experience in management? Are you a younger female with advanced degrees and a high income? Where did you grow up? How has that influenced who you’ve become?
If your brand were a person, how would you want them to be described?
If there are gaps between who you are and who you want to be, drill down on them. How did they get there in the first place? What would it take to bridge that gap? Is it something akin to getting another degree? How about a new fitness routine? Though the metaphors might seem silly at first, you’d be surprised by how far they can take you.
Knowing your audience is the key to any form of effective communication, but when you’re talking about marketing strategy, it really is everything. This is where the exercise of developing buyer personas becomes so helpful. Just as you’ve envisioned your brand as a person, imagining your audiences as literal people can give you empathetic grounding and help you better connect. Go beyond basic demographics. What’s their day-to-day life like? What are their fears? What are their hopes? What’s their sense of humor like? This sort of exercise is also an important step in evaluating your current market positioning. You could find that who you thought you were talking to bears little resemblance to who is actually paying attention, which presents distinctive challenges and opportunities.
This might better align with that audience member you thought you were connecting with in the first place, or it could be one you’re inspired to speak with based on your answer to question #4. Either way, your answer will steer your thinking on the next questions.
Think hard on this point. If your answer is “money”, you might be missing the boat. That’s not to say that money is a bad consideration in this equation. It’s just that, with the right framework, money will follow. Come up with a better answer.
Sometimes it’s possible to design a message that appeals to a broad audience of different personalities, but sometimes it won’t be possible to engage one demographic without alienating another. In making such determinations, you might want to revisit your answers to questions 1-3. “To thine own self be true” matters a lot here. You don’t want to abandon your old friends for a chance to sit with the cool kids, but you don’t want to pass up opportunities, either. You’ll have to weigh your options relative to who you are and where you’re at before making a choice here.
What value do you bring to the table? Keep rolling with that brand-as-a-person school of thought and imagine a scenario where that person has to sell themselves. The setting you play this scenario out in will depend on your answers to the previous questions. Maybe you’re a beauty queen during the interview portion of a pageant. Perhaps you’re speed dating and have limited time to demonstrate your appeal and make a connection. You might be on a job interview where you need to lay out your qualifications. Pick a scenario that makes sense both in terms of the world-building you’ve done so far in this exercise and the way your own brain works. It will help you get the maximum value out of your considerations.
You have an idea of who you’re already talking to and who you want to start talking to, but you have to consider whether any of these characters are interested in the kind of value you’re talking about. Let’s say you’re imagining this interaction as a job interview. Did the employer post a job ad? Are they perusing a talent pool? Are you walking in the door and saying, “You don’t know it yet, but you want to hire me”? Context is every bit as important as message in developing a marketing strategy. Before you open your proverbial mouth, consider the framework in which the intended recipient of your message will be parsing it.
Some people prefer concise, direct exchanges of information. Others learn better through stories. Some like a little bite to the content they consume. Other would rather a dry, formal delivery. The message delivered by your marketing strategy will be better received if you speak in the way your audience likes being spoken to. You also have to consider the channel you’re using to speak with them. Do they like email, or do they only use it to register for other platforms and services? Do they interact on social media, or are they more of a lurker?
Are they hanging out at an improv comedy dive bar (TikTok)? Are they throwing down at a family barbeque in a park somewhere (Facebook)? Are they attending a conference and hoping to learn something while making valuable connections (Linkedin)? The list goes on and on and on. The important thing when approaching marketing strategy is knowing where to find your people and why they’re there in the first place.
We’ve talked before about how dressing for success can impact your career prospects, and the same is true for your brand. Web and graphic design can be considered your attire. What does it say about you? Does it align with how you want to be seen? Will it make the right impression with your audience? You wouldn’t wear board shorts to a white tie affair anymore than you would wear a coat and tails to the skate park. The same idea applies to your brand’s wardrobe selections.
Again, this isn’t just about the money. Accomplishing your goals will, ostensibly, get you to the money. Your goals should be a bit more qualitative in nature. You can nail down quantitative goals at a later date, but before deciding you care about specific numbers, you need to know what those numbers mean relative to your end game.
It’s still not time to pull out a calculator. Think instead about what would go into getting you where you want to go. Identify necessary steps, collateral, resources, and points of coordination. Evaluate timing in terms of what you need, what you have, and how much daylight exists between the two.
This is where you get down to brass tacks. We may have asked you to think about your goals in a qualitative sense, and evaluating your accomplishments may demand a qualitative measuring stick. To hold yourself accountable, though, you’ll need to identify metrics through which you can filter your perceptions relative to your goals. It’s the best way to check your own bias at the door.
If your brand is a person and your audience is a person and you’re imagining a setting in which you’re interacting to a specific end, it’s important to think about that interaction as a two-way street. You might think you’re saying all the right things in all the right ways, but if you’re not listening to what the other person has to say, you might as well be fawning over yourself in a mirror. If you don’t have the bandwidth to engage in this manner — to listen and grow and respond – you’ve still got work to do before you put your communication ideas into action.
You need the right look and venue and timing and game plan. If you drop the ball on any of the considerations discussed so far, not only will your strategy not be as effective as you’d hoped, but you could do damage to your brand recognition, authority, and general appeal for longer than you realize. When we talk about affordability, we’re not just talking about cash, either. We’re talking about talent, time, and energy, too. No matter how you calculate it, a solid marketing strategy is going to come with a hefty, complex price tag. You’re going to have to check your bank account before you write that check.
Ok, maybe you’re suffering from a bit of sticker shock after contemplating the last question. That’s totally understandable. Sometimes, though, you may end up paying more in the long run by delaying action. Sometimes you may miss the boat entirely. In the end, it’s all a balancing act.
It doesn’t have to be a gal, of course. But in the same way you might ask a friend about an outfit or your cover letter or your plan to convince your parents to let you go to a party you maybe shouldn’t be attending, you should be seeking the perspective of people you know and trust who may know you better than you know yourself. Even if they don’t know you like the back of their own hand, that view from the outside looking in might just shine light on gaps or flaws in your thinking.
Hint: the answer is no. Developing a marketing strategy means answering questions like these, but it also means flexibility and creativity. Something is going to come up that doesn’t fit into your grand plans. The questions are going to keep coming, and odds are there will always be more questions than answers. So don’t assume you already have all the answers. You know what they say about assuming…
Does this list include every question you need to ask? Of course not. That’s not the point of exercises like this. The reason for approaching your marketing strategy this way is to push yourself to look at the situation from different angles and think in ways you normally would not. It’s also likely to spawn a whole lot more questions than you set out to answer, which is how you actually develop an effective marketing strategy.
You want to kill it at marketing? Stay curious.
[Editors’ Note: To learn more about this and related topics, you may want to attend the following on-demand webinars (which you can listen to at your leisure and each includes a comprehensive customer PowerPoint about the topic):
You’ll find additional good reading in these articles:
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