I had an identity crisis in college. And unlike most college identity crises, mine wasn’t an odd goth phase. My crisis was that I was earning a degree in a major that I didn’t know how to explain.
My degree is in something called strategic communications, which is my alma mater’s version of an advertising and public relations degree. The problem that plagued me was having to explain what made my degree different from a standard communications major. The more work I do to help brands improve their own marketing has made it clear that many other people also struggle to understand what makes strategy so important.
Strategy is the basis of business. Without a strategy for what a company will sell and to whom they will sell it, no business would exist. That makes strategic communications the basis of business communication. It requires deciding what a business will say, to whom they will say it, and what goals they are trying to achieve in the process.
While it’s easy to shove “strategic” in the junk drawer along with other business buzzwords, I wouldn’t recommend doing that just yet. For any marketing efforts to work, there needs to be a strategy. Every tweet, every email, and every ad should leave a breadcrumb trail that leads back to a bigger marketing goal.
Without a sound strategy you are either destined for failure or you’ll luck into success with no understanding as to how you got there or how to do it again. That’s why Happy Medium spends so much effort into building a client’s strategy before we get to work. It’s easy to get lost on the road to impressions and page views, but a sound marketing strategy will prevent clients from ending up with an identity crisis of their own.
The Strategy Behind the Strategy
Let’s start at the beginning: Why do I need a marketing strategy in the first place?
A marketing strategy provides direction for all of your marketing efforts. Like bumpers on a bowling lane, a marketing strategy should form an easy-to-follow path that leads marketers to success, while acting as a guiding force that nudges marketers back on track if they start to stray.
Marketing without strategy is just talking. Without a marketing strategy, a business is better off sending someone to stand on a stump and shout about their products over actually producing a TV ad. You wouldn’t use a shotgun to kill a spider, and you shouldn’t try to reach customers without a sound strategy either.
Building Blocks of Strategy
A sound marketing strategy should answer all of the high-level questions that marketers need to be successful. At a minimum, your strategy should address these topics:
- Situational Analysis
- Target Audiences
- Value Propositions
- Key Brand Messages
- Brand Positioning
Each of these elements forms a separate stepping stone on the path to effective marketing, but without thoughtful consideration into each of these topics, your strategy will fall apart. Put good into your strategy, and you will get good out. Here’s where to start.
There is no shorter path to failure than that of ignorance. You can write quippy tweets until doomsday, but you won’t get the cash register to ring unless you have a deep understanding of your audience and competitors first.
Start by learning about your audience. You should already have a pretty good idea of who your current customers are and which demographic characteristics describe them. While thinking about your current customers, also consider which audiences you think could become customers with the right messaging.
Once you identify your target audiences, start to uncover more about their behavior as consumers. You can find a lot of consumer behavior information online for free through your own social media platforms and other digital publications, or you can pay for a service like Brandwatch.
Competitive Intelligence and Brand Positioning
Despite what the name may imply, learning about your competitors does not have to be a covert operation. Take a look at all of the messaging your competitors produce and analyze how they chose to position themselves. Are they selling a value product? Attempting to position itself as a lifestyle brand?
Another efficient path to failure is trying to occupy the same space in the market as your competition. We’re playing chess here—not checkers. Only one brand can fit in each space. Identify where your competitors position themselves in the market, find an empty space where you can fit, and build your marketing strategy in that position.
Messaging and Value Proposition
Audience research, competitive intelligence, and brand positioning are the potatoes of your marketing strategy—the dirty work that nobody sees. Your value proposition and key messaging are the french fries—the final product for public consumption.
A value proposition is a promise you make to consumers. A great value proposition demonstrates what a brand has to offer a customer that no other competitor can and how your service or product fulfills a need that no other company is able to fill. Your value proposition can take many forms, but it should be easy for consumers to understand while setting yourself apart from your competitors.
Key messaging and value propositions have a lot in common. Your value proposition is what sets you apart from competitors, but your key messages are the core messages you want your audience to hear and remember. Don’t think of key messages as taglines or slogans. They are essential pieces of information that connect with consumers and inspire them to act. For best results, develop unique key messages for each of your audience segments.
Is Your Strategy Working?
Marketing that underperforms is likely the result of a shaky marketing strategy. However, the complexity of most marketing efforts makes it difficult to diagnose where the strategy falls apart. You may be talking to the wrong audience or your key messages may not align with your audience’s behavior or any other strategic separation.
Any disconnect in your marketing strategy can cause the whole thing to unravel, so it’s important to take a closer look at your marketing strategy when you notice your marketing efforts starting to become less effective.
Happy Medium has a lot of experience helping brands find their footing and building marketing strategies that deliver results. Our Pulse Branding Workshop is an excellent service we provide to help businesses define their brand and build the path to connecting with customers.