Crafting An Effective Marketing Strategy
Journey Log 2: Crafting An Effective Marketing Strategy
Sound marketing strategy is the cornerstone of any effective marketing plan. It is the underlying thought process behind all decisions such as budget, resource deployment, and perhaps most importantly, personal and team motivation. Without a strategy, plans become directionless, unaccountable to business objectives and near impossible to measure.
In a nutshell, marketing strategy is the process of playing to win. It requires a destination to move towards and many thoughtful conversations to determine the path to pursue. An effective strategy helps you set realistic expectations for you and your team. It gives you foresight into your journey ahead.
One of the things we hear most from Executive Directors or Managing Partners is how hard it is to come to an agreeable strategy -- especially among many strong personalities. This is often because they are lacking a collective vision or the strategy they are creating is too tactical.
Before fancy logos, catchy slogans, and promotional platforms can be developed, a firm’s leadership and it’s various ideas and ambitions have to come together into a collective vision that each leader can perceive and own. This is where marketing design shines. It utilizes a vision-finding process that produces alignment among leaders. Once each member can perceive the vision, we can move on to developing a strategy.
Marketing strategy is the first step to marketing design. It is the "battle plan," and the most important aspect of a business's ability to grow, adapt and change to market conditions. It is the bridge between where the organization wants to be and the actions it takes. A strategy is not the actions that need to be taken. A strategy is a set of parameters that allows team members to make decisions and plans for their individual work and still be in alignment with the organization's goals. A marketing strategy is pretty much the same thing. The only difference is that a marketing strategy bridges the gap between what a company intends to do and what market conditions exist at present and in the future
Outstanding Marketing Results Begin with Thought Leadership in the Boardroom.
Marketing leadership, whether from inside or outside the firm, is critical to developing an effective marketing strategy as a firm. Without this leader, a company is left without any market relevance. Marketing becomes directionless and an afterthought as more operationally focused discussions and planning takes precedence.
Firm leaders know marketing strategy is important for growth, but the majority of partners at professional service firms don’t have marketing as a core competency. Consequently, they often don’t value it as much as they value their operational skill set. This is an understandable disposition. You don’t know...what you don’t know, and if you've been successful thus far then it's easy to think you don't need help here. However, it's not a winning disposition. Markets change, people change, technologies change, and therefore, a company must continually adapt to change or become a dinosaur. (Don't become extinct. Read our last article, Marketing Design.)
A company can not change until the conversations within the company change. That's why we say that outstanding marketing results begin with thought leadership in the boardroom. At its core, marketing strategy is intentionally choosing a direction for your career and firm. It is setting your sights on a destination you haven't arrived at and making moves to get there. This requires effort.
Many firms are lacking in brand clarity and marketing focus because this effort is missing. This is because internal marketing resources are not invited to contribute to these discussions or because someone with a marketing strategy competency is missing from the team. Firms can do without this role by leveraging their personal networks. However, once you've saturated your network, this missing leader starts to show.
Even if this leader does exist, they may have trouble getting heard. Marketing strategy conversations can quickly become annoying to an operationally focused management team. They are inherently future-focused and can be intangible at times, whereas, firms with an operational focus tend to be focused on things they can take action on in the here and now. They sort of miss each other in their communication and have a hard time getting on the same page. If this sounds like your firm, don't worry, there is opportunity here.
Interesting note: "In 2012 Chief Outsiders conducted a study in conjunction with The University of Texas, McCombs School of Business, to uncover growth drivers of mid-sized companies, interviewing nearly 200 mid-market CEO’s from 27 industries." They concluded that "when operationally- focused companies become more market focused they grow faster than their peers."
This study was focused on mid-market companies, but it makes sense that any size operationally focused, professional service firm would grow faster as they become more market focused. The reason is that operationally focused organizations are better prepared to deliver on their promises and, therefore, more likely to retain the business they bring in.
So, why don't more firms prioritize marketing strategy?
Raising Revenue Can Ruffle Some Feathers
Marketing strategy makes many people feel uncomfortable because it requires getting out of a comfort zone. Not to mention, investments in effective marketing requires loosening some purse strings. Doubly uncomfortable. This reality can make leaders sit on the sidelines, bury their heads in busy work and hope that things work out.
In addition, marketing for professional services is still heavily centered on their personhood. At the end of the day, the product of a professional service firm is the expertise of their people. If your experts do not know how to communicate their unique value propositions or do not feel comfortable and excited to do so, then a potential client can't understand or acknowledge it. Competition from this level of the market is tough and draining and contributes to an overall dislike and dismissal of marketing in general. Rising above to attract the best clients, requires an investment of time and energy. It's worth it in the end because it makes self-marketing easier and more rewarding to do.
The brand of a professional service firm is formed by how your people interact with potential and existing clients. Rolling out a new marketing strategy requires partners, members, and associates to participate. It requires considerations of how new changes will effect existing procedures and pro-actively providing solutions that your employees can adapt to. It also requires asking them to participate in new ways and form new behaviors. This fact is especially true in consideration of current technology and the advent of social media. This is where people are not only more likely to notice or find a service provider in their social circle, but also to engage with your firm's brand and consider it for employment.
More and more, potential clients are using social media to size up your authority in your space, your reputation as a company, and going through a large part of the sales process online (before they even meet you) and without a marketing strategy, there isn't a cohesive story for leaders and employees to share. In other words, you could be relying on improv to communicate your company's value promise.
Fostering engagement and building community around your brand are critical components to a brand’s success. It is proven to increase your marketing reach, your relevance in organic search, and even increase referrals. All of this results in more organic traffic being driven to your business.
Just like our bodies can become atrophic, if you don’t regularly stretch and grow your social muscles, you will lose them. If a firm wants to be a well known they have to constantly get out of their comfort zone and show us who they are. All of this and more has to be kept in mind when developing effective modern marketing strategies. All the more reason to get an expert on the task and hire a professional. Need help, contact us.
No Strategy. No Results? No wonder.
Many professional service firms are missing leadership from a marketing standpoint. Either they can’t afford someone at the CMO level or don’t know they need one. Even if they do recognize the need, CMO is a difficult role and has the shortest lifespan of all executive positions in most businesses.
In their defense, their role is a difficult one. They have to develop big lofty ideas of leadership into a concrete plan that everyone can get behind and take action on. They have to pro-actively challenge current decision-making in order to clarify and strengthen the brand positioning. This can be an unfavorable position from a political perspective.
It is often times much easier to uphold the status quo and build marketing plans around what people already agree on. Subsequently, the harder work of finding clarity with a collective focus is frequently ignored. However, upholding the status quo comes at a cost and usually results in lackluster marketing results. It often manifests as a passive approach to marketing justified with statements like, "I think we've tried that before...it didn’t work."
Dismissive attitudes towards marketing efficacy are often found among groups whose core competency is anything but marketing. I admit, there is more comfort in telling oneself if it's not within your own ability it must not be necessary for one's success. If that were true we wouldn't value the expertise of accountants, lawyers, architects or other professional service providers in the first place. We revere these positions as trusted advisors and marketers are no different.
Strategy-minded marketing leadership will combat these notions with questions like, “Ok, we've tried that before...how did we execute it? What were the results? How did you improve the process? Or did you try it once, got deterred by unexpectedly dismal results, and called it good?" Probably vowing to never make that mistake again. Right? The truth is, if we have a sound strategy, we shouldn't find ourselves falling into any unexpected traps of an ineffective marketing effort.
The conversations generated while building a marketing strategy serve as a check and balances dynamic in the thought leadership of the boardroom. Without this healthy debate about marketing operations and their value, companies often forgo them and fall into the abyss of apathy. They keep doing the things they've always done and before they know it have become irrelevant in the market.
Without a leader in the boardroom dedicated to moving your marketing forward...it won’t. The whole purpose of a marketing leadership role is to give voice to outside threats and opportunities surrounding your business. If no one is championing this cause in executive-level discussions, then there is often no agreement and no one is thinking the strategies through. Professional service firms that put off acquiring professional marketing help are already falling behind their competitors who are investing in that capacity.
A consultant or agency is often a cost-effective way to get these conversations started and to empower internal marketing teams with the objective thought partnership and outside perspective that is required to build an effective strategy.
The 3 signs of an effective marketing partner:
Can produce clearly defined programs or projects with a beginning, middle, and end. Even in ongoing relationships, a project focused plan helps to keep your efforts results oriented.
Suggestions and ideas are formulated with a management mindset. In other words, how will initiatives be implemented, tracked, measured and adjusted?
An ability to create stimulating conversations among leaders to answer questions such as:
How are we going to grow?
What’s going on in the market? What are our competitors doing? How is technology impact our industry, employees, and customers? How is technology affecting our client relationships and employee retention?
What’s our Employer Brand? How do we know? What talent do we need in the next five years? How are we getting in front of those people now?
What’s going on in our business? What are we good at? Where do we need improvement?
How do we help members adapt to a client of origin pay structure?
Do we cross-sell effectively? How and where can we improve?
What will our business look like in the future?
Are we creating integrated experiences for clients or are we passing up opportunities because we don’t understand their value?