The following was previously published in an earlier edition of Marketing Insider.
All marketing and business leaders understand the need for a strategy, but this vaunted exercise called strategy is elusive in practice.
Marketing teams often get stuck in reaction mode. But even if a marketing leader were to focus on strategy, where would she begin? At a high level, marketing strategy boils down to three questions: Are we telling a unique story that accentuates our competitive advantage? Are we connecting with our target audience? And do we have the measurement frameworks and technologies required to assess and optimize our efforts.
Tell a Unique Story
Most companies suffer from commoditization. Companies get lumped into categories (such as demand-side platforms or data-management platforms), and few customers can tell the difference.
One way to transcend commoditization is to obsess over product features. This doesn’t work for the majority of a company’s audience because it isn’t tangible enough to be memorable or capture their attention.
There are two better ways to earn customers’ attention. The first is focusing on customer pain points. For example, a customer data platform isn’t great because it has the most powerful technology for streamlining customer data, but because it uses that power to help marketers increase return on ad spend and drive cost-effective customer acquisition.
The second is aligning the power of your product with a movement, like environmentally sustainable advertising. This trendy appeal will draw in a wide audience, many of whom will then advocate for or buy the solution.
Distribute the Message
When you’ve established a differentiated story, it’s time to distribute it.
Actively engage influencers and prospects who will amplify your message. On social, make a list of 50 highly active users in your industry and engage with them directly. At events, give talks and host dinners on your big issue. Via PR, directly engage with reporters who cover your key topic.
Identifying a broad story that aligns with industry trends makes successful incursions into key channels much easier. When you have a story aligned with your industry’s direction, you have something genuinely interesting to talk to your audience about. You’re not just touting your own product’s benefits.
Measure the Impact
Ultimately, marketing is judged on its ability to drive sales opportunities. Marketing strategists can’t lose sight of this. They should buy or develop a dashboard that assesses their contributions to revenue.
But there’s a wide gap between customer touchpoints and sales qualified leads. So, marketers also need to establish leading indicators that show traction. On social, this might be followers in their target audience. With PR, it might be placements. These aren’t valuable in themselves, but they lead to value.
Marketers who have strategic hypotheses, act on them, and can measure and optimize those actions empower themselves to make a case for marketing to the rest of the leadership team. Tactics are how the work actually gets done. But it’s strategy that makes the work valuable and allows marketers to communicate that value.