What is marketing strategy?
There are many different ways to define "marketing strategy". When I googled "what is marketing strategy", Google showed me 831,000,000 results. Let me simplify it for the CEOs of an SME or a start-up: marketing strategy is what you will be doing (and how) to generate demand in a sustainable way, now and in the future.
4 key aspects of your marketing strategy
Customer behaviour has always been changing but the pace of change dramatically accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to McKinsey & Company, there have been three change forces brought by the pandemic: economic downturn, preference shifts, and digital acceleration. These made digital transformation happen just matter of days when it would have taken decades without the pandemic. Some of the pandemic induced changes will probably dissipate while some will stick around post COVID-19 crisis. And most trends in digital acceleration are expected to stick. (source: How COVID-19 is changing consumer behavior–now and forever)
According to another article by McKinsey & Company entitled, What’s next for consumers, workers, and companies in the post-COVID-19 recovery, given consumers' dramatic shift to digital channels (2-5X on average in 2019-2020), 75% of North American and European executives who responded to the survey stated that they "expect increased investment in new technologies through 2024."
Understanding these trends across the globe and industries is important when making marketing investment decisions. Having these in mind, here are four key aspects of marketing strategy for SMEs and start-ups:
Attract your target audience
There are people (your future customers) who don't know yet that your business exists. Your products or services can be a perfect fit for them but they simply aren't aware of your existence. We need a strategy to be in front of them and let them know what your business can do to solve their pain points.
What do you do when you want to search something? When you recognized needs and want to look for options? If you are like most people, you open a browser and google, or pick up your phone and ask Siri. When your business is not available and visible on the web when your target audience is searching, you don't exist in their world. So, the overarching, ultimate goal here with "attracting your target audience" is having our presence on the web and bringing people to your website.
Here are some of the marketing activities you can perform to attract your target audience. It doesn't mean that you need to do all of these or invest the same amount of resources equally. In fact, it is recommended to focus your resources on few selected activities rather than spreading your resources too thin across too many activities.
How to decide what marketing activities to focus on? Go through a goal setting exercise to establish your marketing objectives, both short-term and long-term. This blog can be helpful when going through this exercise: 5 Tips for Establishing Marketing Objectives.
Website creation and management
Whatever business you are in, a website is the best digital/virtual space to showcase your offerings and who you are as a business. It is also the best spot to house all the content you create. Your website is not a one-and-done project. It needs to be optimized and updated on an on-going basis. Another reason why a website is a must is that you have a complete ownership of your website data unlike your data with social media.
Content marketing means you attract your target audience by providing valuable content that they are looking for. Some of the content types include blogs, white papers, infographics, and demo videos. Content marketing is a long game. According to Joe Pulizzi, author of New York Times best seller books on content marketing, it usually takes 3 to 5 years for businesses to realize significant ROI from content marketing (Source: Content Inc.). Why do many businesses do it when it brings limited short-term ROI? Because it is a sustainable way to generate leads for years to come and reduce your customer acquisition cost.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Your website will have a slim chance to be found by your target audience if it is not search engine optimized. Search engines like Google rewards websites that are optimized by showing those first before the others (less optimized websites). When you google something, the first few that show up on your screen are the highly optimized websites rewarded by Google. Think about which websites you click when you google something. Probably the first few. Your website can be one of the first few when it is adequately optimized. Some of the ways to optimize your website includes creating stellar content that your target audience is looking for, keyword optimizing your content, reducing the file size of the images you use on your website (to increase the site speed - no one has patience for slow websites these days), and having it listed on other relevant websites.
Search Engine Marketing (SEM) - paid ads
Seeing results from your SEO effort takes time. It takes time for Google to find your website, build trust, and show it for your chosen keywords. While your website is being optimized and building trust with Google, investing some of your budget in paid ads is one of the ways to generate short-term results. When you google something, the first few websites that has "Ad" in front of the web address are the paid ads. Google shows these paid ads at the top to increase the likelihood of those being clicked.
Having a specific, targeted plan to attract a list of top priority accounts/prospects to your brand is called account-based marketing. There are various ways to do the account-based marketing. You can reach out to them via emails or InMails on LinkedIn. You can use account-based marketing platform to show your ads to specific people.
One very simple form of event marketing is a live webinar or workshop. Event marketing is an effective way to attract your target audience, give a strong first impression, and build relationships and trust with them. The key to hosting a successful event is providing educational content that is relevant to your target audience. No one wants to attend a live event to hear your "sales pitch".
Social media creation and management
To attract your target audience, you need to be where they are. If they are hanging out on social media, you want to have presence there. One thing to keep in mind is that social media is extremely crowded and noisy. Creating social media accounts presents a low barrier. It is easy to create an account on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. but it is not so easy to consistently generate high quality content on an on-going basis. It takes a lot of resources to keep up and stand out. Setting specific objectives before jumping in and allocating an appropriate amount of resources is the key.
Social media marketing - paid ads
Just as SEO takes time to generate results, it takes time to build audience on social media. If a particular social media channel is widely used by your target audience, it may be a good idea to have paid ads to be in front of them and generate leads relatively quickly. It is a great way to run a very specifically targeted ads. For example, on LinkedIn, you can run your ads targeting only those people with a job title of CEO, working for a company size 51-200, located in New York City.
Engage the attracted audience
After successfully attracting your target audience to your website, you want to engage them from the moment they arrive and hopefully, on an on-going basis.
Here are some specific examples:
Make it easy to contact you
When your target audience has a question after visiting your website, they should be able to easily find a way to contact you. You can ensure this by having your contact information such as an email address or phone number visible from any page of your website, having a contact form that people can fill out and submit (again, for any page of your website), or having a live chat available. People’s attention span is getting shorter. It has been reduced to 8 seconds, apparently. It is quite widely discussed. Google it and you will see various articles about this topic. When we can have only few seconds of our target audience's attention, it is in our best interest to make their experience on our website as seamless and enjoyable as possible. Being able to find the information they are looking for (including your contact information) is one way to achieve it.
Have a proper follow-up process in place for inbound leads
Those who were attracted to your content and contacted you to talk to a human are called inbound leads. Responding to them promptly is a key when it comes to engaging them. It sounds very basic and common sense but can be difficult to do if you don't have a process in place. Where do those inquires go? Which email inbox? Who is monitoring it? What expectation do you set with your audience? Do you promise 1 business day response time or longer? Who in your team is responsible for this?
Build a human relationship
Here is a scenario. You just hosted a live webinar. About 50 people attended live and there were few who were highly engaged throughout the webinar. They asked insightful questions, responded to all of the poll questions you asked, and even responded to the CTA (call to action). These people are definitely worth reaching out via email and/or LinkedIn to build real, human relationships. Depending on what business you are in, who your target audience is, and what content was covered by whom in the webinar, it may make sense that your sales or marketing team member reaching out or you, the CEO, personally reaching out. The key in the outreach is to be a "human".
We want to keep in mind that they may not be ready or interested in making a purchase. Fight the urge to aggressively follow up and push them to book a call or purchase. Instead, try to connect with them like humans. Build a human relationship. You can do this by finding out about their interest and passion on LinkedIn and/or provide additional resources that can be of value to them. When they aren’t ready to purchase (whether it’s because of budget, timeline, etc.), continuing to push them to schedule a call will not move the needle.
Delight the engaged audience
Not all engaged audience turns into customers. If they are engaging with your brand, it is very possible that they are engaging with multiple other brands (i.e. your competitors). Even after they become your customer, your marketing has a place in "delighting" them. Your effort to delight them leads to brand loyalty. Your customer lifetime value is 52% higher when they are emotionally connected to your brand and perceive brand differentiation. (Source: HBR article entitled, The New Science of Customer Emotions)
One way to delight your engaged audience (whether they haven't purchased from you yet or have become your customers already) is creating stellar email newsletters that contains educational content. The content you create to attract your target audience can be reused, recycled, and repurposed. This is another benefit of investing in content marketing. It can be utilized in many different ways throughout your target audience's journey with your brand.
Delighting your audience doesn't stop at marketing. Once they become a customer, they interact with the other teams within your business: your sales team, service delivery team, customer support team, etc. Consistent experience throughout their journey is expected by them and is important to your business if you were to continue to grow with them, which leads to the next aspect of marketing strategy.
Grow with your delighted audience
You have attracted, engaged, and delighted your target audience. And they have become a customer. Now what? Do you have more products and services that can be valuable to them? Most businesses sell more than one service/product/solution. If you have only one offering, you may have a subscription business model. Have a mindset of growing with your audience and having a game plan to do so makes a big difference.
Have a feedback channel open
When the previous three key aspects of marketing strategy (attracting, engaging, and delighting) work well, most of your customers will be happy to give you a testimonial and share their honest feedback with you. And their feedback can open your eyes and you may be able to come up with various new ideas.
Content marketing is not only to attract new audience but also to grow with your customers.
The content marketing you are doing to attract your target audience can also benefit your customers. What content can be useful to your customers? How can you stay relevant to your customers and continue to deliver value to them? Creating an email newsletter specifically for your customers is a great way to achieve these.
Marketing strategy is the main living space of the 6PM (6-Pillar Marketing) Framework
The 6PM Framework is a blueprint for your business's marketing. It visually presents six key aspects of marketing:
Establishing desired perception
Attracting your target audience
Engaging your attracted audience
Delighting your engaged audience
Growing with your delighted audience
Analyzing your data and optimizing
Marketing strategy represents the 2nd to 5th pillars of the 6PM Framework. A recording of the 6PM Framework Workshop focused on marketing strategy is available below. It introduces four steps to create a marketing strategy and presents an example marketing strategy for a consulting company. Have a watch and please feel free to reach out if you have any questions or comments.