To strategy or not to strategy?
One of the challenges I come across a lot as a marketing strategist, is clients who want to jump straight into marketing activity, without taking the time to do all the important legwork first.
When I say legwork, I'm referring to a thorough analysis of all factors that affect your business, like the market within which your business operates, your competitors, and your audience. I'm talking about running a comprehensive analysis that leads to a SWOT report (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) that informs strategic tactics designed for growth and to achieve set goals.
So what does a strategy really offer you? Why spend the extra time and money?
What is a marketing strategy?
When approaching a complex maths problem and trying to work out the most appropriate solution, it is rare we will skip the lines and lines of working required, and jump straight into simply guessing the answer. The reason we don't just pluck an answer out of thin air is when we do this, we can never really have much certainty about the accuracy of the solution we're proposing.
We think marketing strategy is a lot like a maths equation. Communicating about and promoting your business is a complex activity, there's a lot of competition, a lot of different aspects to your audience, your market is likely continuously evolving. Like maths, skipping the part where you do the working out -- where you really carefully define the problem by analysing all the factors -- means when it comes to solutions, you are just making wild guesses -- and often, guessing in marketing has the same outcome as guessing in maths -- it produces poor results.
There are a lot of options these days when it comes to marketing and promotion; guessing which ones will work for you, or just trying all of them one-by-one can be a very costly and unrewarding activity. While, even with a strategy, there is always an element of trial and error and a process of ongoing learning, having that legwork and carefully defined problem underpinning your approach means you start out much closer to the perfect solution, spend a lot less money and make a far greater return on investment.
Why doesn't everyone have a strategy?
Having an expert prepare your strategy is not a cheap activity, and that's because it is the foundation of everything you will do when it comes to communicating and promoting your business. Like building a house, you want a really strong foundation, not one full of cracks and gaps prepared by some random guy you found on the street.
Cost is one factor that often puts small businesses off commissioning development of a marketing strategy for their business. In the long run though, a strategy can save the business a lot of money in tactics that don't work, channels that they don't understand or don't know the value of, and time continuously revising their approach.
Another big reason for dismissing the need for strategy, and we hear this one a lot, is the 'I know my business inside and out, so I don't need to write it all down' mentality.
In one sense, this thought process is accurate, you probably do know your business better than anyone else does or ever will. But do you really know it inside and out? How well do you really know the market?
Do you understand what your competitors have done in terms of marketing and how this worked for them? Do you know how the different parts of their brand work together to create a unique positioning? Do you really understand your differentiation factors, or are you too close to the business, so you're marketing the same way as your bigger competitors?
Similarly, do you know how policy or regulatory changes have affected the mentality of your clients/customers? Have you considered what really motivates them to choose to buy from you or someone else (and unless your FMCG it's rarely price)? Do you have an idea of how they think and feel, who their family or influence group is, what their background is and how loyal they really are?
If you can't answer a big and definitive 'yes' to all of those questions, than you don't have enough information from which to start guessing which marketing tactics will achieve the best result for your business.
We believe in thorough research as the basis for any strategy. One of the most rewarding aspects of what we do, is when we present the legwork to a client and see that look of surprise that tells us they've just learned something about their business or their market that they either didn't know or hadn't really thought about before.
So, why have a strategy?
There are so many reasons to have a strategy, here are just a few:
1. To find the gaps: A strategy creates a thorough picture of the business landscape within which you operate, and often putting this down on paper helps you discover things you weren't aware of, or hadn't thought about from all angles. Having this picture, the visual of where you work, what you do, who you do it for and who else does it, is a very easy way to help you identify gaps -- and gaps can lead to increased business.
Often the process of finding gaps isn't a simple one, it's not something that just comes from a conversation. It takes analysis, a fresh mind, and a lot of collaboration. It is worth it though, as finding gaps can lead your business in new directions, change your approach and allow you to really differentiate from your competitors and provide a unique service.
2. To grow your understanding of your business and landscape: The legwork behind a strategy is useful for much more than just your marketing plan, it can also be used to underpin your overarching business plan, set new objectives and goals, develop risk mitigation plans, and essentially to set a foundation for business growth that is based on facts and insights, as opposed to guesses and intuition.
3. It's all in your head: As said, in all likelihood, you do know your business better than anyone else, and the people in your team who operate in specialised roles probably know their little slice of your business better than anyone else, even you. So, how often do you talk about it?
It is surprising how often we work with a business, get a team together, and ask them a question, only to find they all have different answers and perceptions because of their role in the business. For many senior managers or business owners, this is usually an 'ah-ha' moment -- a moment when they realise they, and everyone around them, don't know what they don't know, and should talk and share more so they can find out.
Strategy legwork is a great way to share knowledge across a business and identify opportunities by putting a new spin on knowledge or insights someone else may have, but hasn't thought about from all angles.
4. To save money! Like I said, the outlay at the start is an investment, but it can save you so much money on tactics that don't deliver the maximum return on investment and just leave you feeling lost and frustrated.
I've started my own small businesses and worked on those of others, and while, these days, there are definitely places we can scrimp and save, building the foundation to your business communication is not one of those tasks you want to assign as a DIY or DET (Don't Even Try) job.