Here at Fluent IMC, we’re fairly preachy about the importance of strategy and planning before jumping into tactics. We recognize that some clients don’t require an exhaustive research and strategy phase, while others come to us with more complex issues that make a deeper dive necessary. Each strategy is unique to the industry, goals and target audience of the company but some key components and themes remain constant.
Don’t wander aimlessly. Before we dive into the key components, let’s take a minute to discuss why strategy and planning is important. The exercise alone forces your leadership team to take a detailed look at your target audience, organizational goals as well as the effectiveness of your current marketing efforts. Taking this time to come together, reflect, plan and brainstorm is critical before jumping to tactics. It might be fun to jump in the car and just drive, with no plan or map, but realistically — who has time or resources to waste?
The act of putting a plan on paper works to keep your team focused by solidifying ideas and establishing timelines. This ensures that everyone on your team and any outside consultants are aligned on marketing objectives and efforts. It will also give you clarity and a framework for answering advertising, sponsorship or marketing requests throughout the year.
1. Goals: Big-Picture and Short-Term
Different organizations have different goals and it’s important for every strategy to clearly define what these goals are. Ultimately, your audience and tactics are tied to reaching these goals. Working with a number of professional service clients, we can safely say that these goals vary broadly. All goals should have a solid connection to the firm’s bottom line but vary of the maturity, industry and culture of the organization.
For example, we find more mature professional service firms are focused on staying relevant and want to target younger demographics. Smaller, fast growing firms often have very specific financial and business development goals, such as reaching a specific level of revenue, or obtaining a specific amount of leads per quarter. Others want to break into new geographic markets. Some simply want to clear up confusion about their brand in the marketplace. Some goals are “big-picture” and may take years to achieve. Others are shorter term and can be met quickly with the right tactics.
2. Target Audience/Market
Do you know your buyer? Are there segments? How many decision makers? A useful strategy includes a clear and concise description of your target audience. Some clients truly believe that because they are willing to sell their services to anyone, they shouldn’t limit themselves. We believe that being specific is most effective. Tailoring your efforts to the interests of your buyers is a much more powerful way to engage, educate, add value and ultimately sell your services based upon credibility and trust.
One way to stay focused on your audience is to use Personas — fictional characters that represent your ideal target market, their interests, their pain points and why they need your services. They help you quickly remember and relate to your audience.
Once you have your audience, it’s time to understand their needs and how your service is going to meet those needs.
3. Positioning Statement
This step may seem insignificant, because it’s inward facing. However, a positioning statement brings it all together into one powerful statement to serve as an ongoing guide. The formula for a positioning statement is made up of four distinct parts: the target market, the point differentiation, the frame of reference and the reason. Embrace the effort and reflection it takes to deliver a high-quality positioning statement.
The target market is so important we included it as our second component (see above). The point of differentiation is what sets your product/service offering apart from the competition. This is what makes your product or service unique. The frame of reference is the specific market the company is competing in. And, finally, the reason (or reason to believe) is the reason people should believe the other parts of you positioning statement.
4. What’s Worked (and What Hasn’t)
Another tip is to research what works for other companies. Depending on the industry, one thing to potentially include within What Works is a powerful tool called a Benchmark.
Benchmarking includes the data of successful companies within the same industry as yours. One common place to grab that data is from the Annual Report of publically traded companies. This document provides a wealth of information for entrepreneurs and businesses to utilize such as gross and net income, financial margins and operating budget expenditures. While no two companies are financially the same, this can give you a starting place to help you calculate how best to invest your revenue.
It might seem strange to include what hasn’t worked. To us, it’s common sense to be honest about past efforts and potential pitfalls to avoid.
So now you have a solid strategy in place, you’re ready to get tactical. For every tactic, you should be able to justify how it fits into the strategy you’ve worked hard to create.