Last week we hung a new poster on our office wall. No matter how much I like it, this is relevant now only because of what it says: “We have a strategic plan. It’s called doing things.”
If marketing is nothing more than a gigantic chicken and egg problem, this quote from Herb Kelleher (former CEO of Southwest Airlines) solves the chicken side. Don’t stop. Just live. Go forward and adjust on the way.
Turns out, the chicken is much smarter than it's given credit for. We talk about spending time with your customer to get to know them better and using that insight to shape your marketing decisions. But if you never start, you can never measure.
Planning your marketing on the fly
Chickens are not known to be fast animals, so before you fly off to go start a new campaign, let’s look at what we really mean. Too often businesses fall into one of two traps.
The first is that the strategy becomes so important that nothing ever gets done. We want to make sure that each ‘t’ is crossed, each ‘i’ dotted, and that the chance of the strategy not working approaches zero. And so it sits, collecting dust and often growing in complexity until the strategy isn’t relevant anymore. And the cycle starts over again.
The second is that everything looks like a nail and we have one gigantic hammer. So, we pound. We pound every nail simply because it’s a nail. Without thought to whether the nail needs to be there or if we needed to hit it quite that hard. But - we used our hammer!
The trick to an effective marketing plan is to use both tactics, alternating between each other, throughout the year. By alternating between the two strategies, with a bit of measurement after each activity, we can effectively build the marketing loop. We’re never too far out of reach of our customer and we can plan with them as they advance through the buying cycle. Over time, you’ll build a complete marketing loop for your current customers that new customers will simply slide into.
A little bit of marketing strategy
The first goal of strategy planning should be setting a date when you’ll be done. Then stick to it. Don’t make it too far off in the future, give yourself between a few weeks to a month. This is really all you need to make something happen. If you don’t think that you can develop a marketing strategy that quick, this is when you look for outside help.
After you have your date, get to work determining your business goal. Are you looking to increase sales for a certain service or product? Build brand value? Introduce a new product or service? Increase volume or margins? Generate leads or make sales? These are the types of questions that you should start with; purpose questions that lead to a business objective.
Once you’ve developed a clear business objective, it’s time to move to your customers. It is critical to spend some time defining who the customer is at this stage. It’s not everyone. It’s not even just current customers or new customers, though that’s a good place to start. You need to develop a profile of the customer that fulfills your business objective. Do they know about you now? What do they know? And what do they feel about you? What do they do in their lives and what media do they encounter doing that? Done effectively, this stage should give you a picture of your customer similar to a character description for a play or film.
At this point, you should be no more than halfway to your deadline. It’s time to ask our first real strategy question. It takes form of “how might we?” There are a lot of words that can come after that question that lead to interesting answers – convince, reach, convert, increase, decrease, build, motivate. These are action words as we are now trying to figure out how to make our customer accomplish our business goal.
You’ll develop a lot of answers to that question. Some will be good. Some will seem hard. There will be no bad ones. (Seriously. The bad just help feed the good. Nothing is bad in development.) You may have some that make you stop and realize that there is something stopping you from executing on that idea. There’s a chance that the thing stopping you is more important.
When that list starts to look daunting, remember the next rule. Pick one. Just one. If strategy is going to go awry and off into the depths of over planning, this is it. Pick one idea and go into production.
Building the feedback loop
Be proud. You’ve now created a full marketing strategy in less than a month. You’re now off into production, coming up with the creative to match your strategy. Words and pictures will be put to your plan and you’ll be growing customers.
At this point we’ve executed both our business tactics – planning strategy and doing things. So it’s time to start again. Did what was executed work? We’re back to planning strategy, except to build our feedback loop we’re going to start with measurement.
Measuring will give you an idea of whether you should pick another strategy off of your initial list and try again, or to move on to creating the next step. If we didn’t accomplish the business goal we set off to fulfill, go back to step two. Were the customers we did reach the right ones? If so, then was the strategy off, or did the creative not resonate? In there will be your answer to launch a new campaign.
If you did accomplish your goals, then the question becomes “what next?” Not what you do next, but what your customer does next. This question can take shape in a variety of different ways:
- If you generated new customers, then what will keep them being customers? What will make them refer you to someone else? You’re not done marketing to them.
- If you generated new leads, what do you need to do now to convert them into customers? You need to close these leads.
- If you drove up website visits, how do you capture their information to reach them again? These people are still unknown to you.
- If you worked on your brand, was every interaction the customer had positive?
Your next strategic plan should build on your last one. Marketing loops never close. They cycle around across products and customer statuses. Before setting off to solve another business objective, be sure that you’ve built a full marketing loop from customer acquisition to serving a fulfilled customer.
Seem like insider marketing information?
If all of this seems like a bit of insider marketing information, it’s because this is exactly the process that we use at RjM. Two things become obvious when it’s laid out like this:
- This can’t be done without you. You know the answers to the business objective questions, we don’t.
- This can’t be done without the customer. If you can’t define the customer, you can’t define the strategy.
We’re really good at asking questions though. What is your goal? Who is your customer? How might we reach your customer to accomplish your goal? What do we say to your customer? What do we do next?
Five basic questions. That’s all it takes.