A strong marketing department or a marketing consultant in whom you have confidence can relieve a lot of the stress of running a business. In this business we tend to get fancy with our concepts in order to feel like we’re bringing some new, innovative strategy to the table. As important as it is to understand the “customer experience” for example, or to maximize “sales enablement,” we can get distracted by the bells and whistles. The customer experience is the collection of steps people take to buy your stuff. Sales enablement means supporting your salespeople with the best processes, tools and training possible so they can do their thing.
Whether you’re a CEO of a Fortune 500, a growing company big enough to afford a marketing person or two, or a small business where you’re wearing the CEO, CMO and a billion other hats it all boils down to a few basic things. Here are five simple things to remember when you’re building or reviewing your marketing plan in 2016:
Marketing is about failing forward. No one really knows what works 100% of the time. As market conditions change, tactics that used to work sometimes stop working. For those reasons and others you should think about the concept of failing forward. Learning from what doesn’t work can be just as important as learning from what does. Fear of failure paralyzes a lot of businesses. It’s why many small businesses stick to their tried and true print ads. Or why large corporations “steal” marketing departments from others to try to mimic their success. Look how well that worked for JC Penney. Develop a marketing mindset that expects results but welcomes the failures, particularly early on.
Have confidence in your approach and stick with it. The problem with most business owners (and often shareholders) is that they don’t have the patience to give tactics time to work. This doesn’t mean that you should throw away money for years, but marketing takes time. If you’re frustrated that something isn’t working, check yourself so that you’re not reacting out of impatience or fear. And if something does fail, analyze it carefully without beating yourself or anyone else up. Remember those failures contain nuggets of valuable information. Staying true to strategies but tweaking your tactics is one way to think about it. (Here’s more on strategy if you’re intrigued by that idea.)
Don’t rely solely on the numbers. It can be very easy to live in the left side of your brain, especially if you do a lot of digital marketing because numbers are comfortable. Numbers are great but they don’t tell the whole story. You need to apply some creativity and have at least a couple of qualitative goals in your plan. Not only does this help keep your tactics evolving – which is important when things stop working – it keeps you moving forward. I teach a marketing course for PRSA, and I’ve seen many KPI-dependent communicators experience “aha” moments while we’re brainstorming on strategy and tactics. Numbers aren’t always right and they don’t always have to add up. Chew on that one for a while.
Keep your eye on specific, targeted customers. I always talk about knowing your best customer and your plan needs to be focused on those people or businesses if you’re B2B. Just like a camera lens, a good focus might need some adjustment from time to time. The more confident you are that you know your best customers, the more confidence you’ll have in your plan. And again, don’t just rely on numbers and demographics. Know them as people, with hopes, values, and the like.
Finally, keep your marketing plan short and actionable. My plans must be less than five pages, and I shoot for two pages. If you hire a marketing consultant and they bring you a plan that you cannot implement then they have failed. Your plan should have measurable goals with strategies and tactics that clearly align with those goals. The main points should be ones you can stick on the wall and look at often.
Bottom line is, we’re all just trying to make (or raise) more money. Because that money is the fuel that helps us accomplish the real goals in life. You can go read Oprah if you want to talk about that.