Business people talk all the time about strategy, being strategic and marketing strategically, however I had a conversation once with a client in which he didn’t appear to know what a “strategy” really is. Strategies are often lumped with (as well as confused with) tactics. This isn’t surprising, as the Thesaurus in Microsoft Word considers “tactics” and “strategies” to be synonyms. Also, what some people think of as strategies are actually ideas or actions.
What is a Strategy?
Quite simply, a strategy is a plan — a plan of action or a game plan — to achieve specific goals. A strategy is not so much what you are going to do (the tactics) — although it certainly identifies that — a strategy is more how you are going to execute. Obviously, it’s important to know what a strategy is because you need to have one!
Marketing with a Strategy
Marketing requires planning — very strategic planning — just as much as your business does. With your marketing as well as your business, you want to have specific goals, and of course those goals should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely). Whatever your business goals are, your marketing goals should tie into them. For example, if your business goals include increasing sales by XX% and growing your customer base by XX%, marketing should address them by setting goals such as increasing lead generation by XX number of leads or generating XX% more sales leads from new customers or markets.
Once your marketing goals have been identified, you can start creating a marketing plan that is focused on achieving them. But, in order to determine what you are going to do to achieve those goals, you need to consider three important factors — your target audience, the best channels to reach that audience and your core messages, including your USP (Unique Selling Proposition) and UVP (Unique Value Proposition). If you haven’t already nailed down these three factors, you’ll need to do some research.
Marketing Strategically Means Targeting the Right Audience
As I explained in my blog article, “Knowing Your Target Audience,” the audience you market to can include current and prospective customers, partners, vendors providing complementary services and potential investors, however your marketing plan will be largely focused on prospective customers. If you are a business-to-business provider, you are probably selling to companies of a certain size, or in a specific market or geographical area. There is probably a person in a specific role in those companies who would be the user or buyer, or a gatekeeper to or influencer with the buyer. If you sell to consumers, you are focused on the demographics of the people who would use your products or services but also the people who would buy them (for example, parents buying toys and games for kids, women buying personal products for male partners).
Marketing Strategically Means Knowing How to Reach Your Audience
Once you know who your target customers are, you can move forward with determining the best channels to reach them and creating the messages that will resonate with them. Which social media platforms, traditional media outlets and other channels do they prefer to use for information? Which messages will move most effectively through those channels? (See my article, “Figuring Out What’s In It For the Customer” for a full discussion on message development.) With the answers to those questions, you’ll be able to determine the most effective tactics. You’ll know whether it makes sense to do online or email marketing versus a direct mail campaign (or both).
Marketing Strategically Means Planning and Timing Every Tactic
The strategic planning doesn’t stop there however! Once you know which tactics will be most effective for reaching your audience — and achieving your goals — you’ll want to make sure you outline how you are going to execute them. You’ll want to think about the timing of specific campaigns, events and activities and make sure various parts in a campaign are well-integrated. Each campaign, event and major activity should then have its own strategic plan that outlines goals, audience, messages and channels used, as well as the steps for preparation, implementation, follow-through and follow-up.
Planning is essential to any endeavor, whether it’s running a business, marketing a business, implementing a specific marketing campaign or simply distributing a press release. Being strategic in your planning means ensuring you are doing things right and focused on what’s important to your business — your target audience, the messages you want to get out to them and, most importantly, your business and marketing goals. By planning and being strategic in your approach, you’ll not only achieve your goals, you’ll have placed your business on a path toward long-term success.