When I talk about marketing strategy, people often look at me quizzically. I can hear them thinking: “What does strategy really mean?”
And, I don’t blame them. Strategy has long been one of those words in our industry that has a hundred different answers, and so it gets executed in a hundred different ways.
I could get long-winded for a while with this question, so instead, I’ll say my simple answer:
Strategic skill is anchored in the ability to ask the right questions.
In addition to the right questions, there’s an ideal sequence in which each can and should be addressed. First, there are the strategic questions–the ones that have been covered in many marketing blogs. They’re usually a version of these five questions:
- Target Audience: Who do you sell to?
- Motivation: Why do they buy
- Buying Cycle: Who makes the decision?
- Messaging and Channel Strategy: How will you reach them?
- Value Proposition: What are you positioned to best deliver to them?
These are all necessary questions to ask, and they’re certainly the right questions to ask at the beginning. But at some point, to move from strategy to implementation and then resource allocation, we have to go deeper, right?
To that end, I started thinking about my next level of questions–the ones that I use when I really want to get to brass tacks and start getting my arms around how we’re going to execute said strategy. Here’s what I came up with:
Either (this) or (that)?
Here’s where you start to narrow your focus, particularly around your strategy’s scope and budget. For example, does it make more sense–given what you’ve determined from the initial set of questions above–to spread your marketing dollars across multiple targets at an average level of impact? Or, is it better for you to focus on one target at a higher level of investment?
“Targets” can have a few different meanings. You might have more than one vertical you’re addressing in your marketing strategy. It could mean that you have a few ideal client profiles within your target audience that you have the opportunity to attract. Or, it can simply mean the number of marketing channels you have at your disposal. Regardless, this question is essential–it’ll help you focus on what has the biggest return on investment.
Now, or later?
This is the hardest question to ask yourself because let’s be honest: you want to tackle everything now. It’s also a trick question.
Let’s say your organization needs leads immediately. Because you need to invest in getting that pipeline full, that means you can’t worry about refreshing your brand identity and launching a revised website. However, the lead engine you’re building may not matter if they come to your website and it looks like it hasn’t been updated in five years.
In some cases, later isn’t always the best idea.
More or less (money)?
For this question, I’m always thinking through the lens of performance and data. What you’re really trying to answer here is, “do you have enough information to know when doing less is okay?”
What does strategy really mean?
Consider all your marketing investments as you’re assessing budget and cost. Maybe you’ve been having great success with your paid search channels, so you’ve been increasing that spend month over month. Now, there’s a plateau, and you’re thinking about your next move. Do you have enough data to ask, “I wonder what happens if we pull back our spending from $15,000 to $13,000 a month? With $24,000 less in the channel, will we see a significant dip in results? Or can we save the money and get the same results?” However, you need that historical data to inform you of what the right balance might look like.
So, you’ve decided a specific marketing action is your way forward. Who’s getting tasked with the responsibility for executing the strategy?
If you have a marketing team, the answer is obvious. It’s when you don’t–or you’re in the process of building your team–that things become a little murky. Do you give the responsibility to the one junior specialist you’ve hired, who’s 100% dedicated to your marketing efforts but doesn’t have the strategic muscles you need? Or is it the CEO’s responsibility, even though they’ve got ten other jobs to do?
This question serves as a built-in reality check that you need the right people in the right seats on the bus to do the work.
This might sound a little snarky, but I say it with love and an acute understanding of my fellow marketing professionals: we are forever defending every move we make. I completely understand why. We’ve been known as a cost center for so long that we haven’t quite shed our “this is worth doing, and here’s why!” armor.
Who’s getting tasked with the responsibility for executing the strategy?
I’m saying we need to flip the script and do our due diligence, especially when it comes to bandwidth and budget. What are the reasons that now is not the time to invest in that initiative? Why isn’t it the right move to bring in additional staff, and why should we consider outsourcing instead?
There’s a well-worn story that when you work with a marketing team, they’re going to sprint into your organization and demand that you do everything now. In reality, a good marketing strategy has made its calculations on both what’s essential in the near term and what has long-term value–but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important to talk about the flip side and test our assumptions.
It may seem impossible to hone in on a few marketing actions when you have the itch to fix everything right away. Focusing is hard work. It’s essential, and it’s necessary. You can’t boil the ocean.
Sometimes that means that if you want to do one thing really well, you have to turn away from focusing on the customer that will buy today. Well, you don’t ignore them completely–but you might give them directly to your sales team for them to nurture. That will free you up to build the optimal environment for those customers who’ll have more lifetime value. It might mean a longer purchase cycle–and it can also be more revenue for your organization in the long run.
If (x), then (y)?
This final question is about dependencies. So often, marketing decisions get made in isolation.
Focusing is hard work. It’s essential, and it’s necessary.
I see the dependency question–or, rather, the fact that it doesn’t always get asked–play out in the e-commerce space quite a bit. A company will invest time and money on content and paid channels to get people to their website, and they’re welcomed with a poor user experience. The impressions, click-throughs, and pageviews might have all increased–but it’s no one’s buying, there’s a gap there.
As you’re thinking through your customer journey and user experiences, it’s important to pay attention to the gaps and holes you uncover. In most cases, there’s a dependency on another part of your marketing mix that hasn’t quite been fleshed out.
Back to the question of strategy…
At the beginning of this piece, I said, “strategic skill is anchored in the ability to ask the right questions.”
Every question above can help you:
- Frame what will drive or obstruct success for your business, because you’ll have the insights you need to truly define what success looks like, evaluate the opportunities at your disposal, and think critically about the role you need marketing to play.
- Focus on a defined set of priorities that will drive the right strategies, as you’re training yourself to assess your organization’s assets, identify any gaps, and use that information to finalize your strategy.
- Formulate your plans, resources, and timetables, taking care to select your marketing channels, plan your timetable, and allocate resources based on the data you’ve collected.
Of course, the questions above don’t instantly turn into a strategy–but they’re critical for putting pen to paper and enabling you to sketch the first draft of your marketing roadmap.