I have to confess. I’m a bit of a marketing junkie. I’m drawn to presentations, webinars and courses that hold out the promise of the latest, greatest tactics to drive growth.
I think it’s the immediacy, the suggested promise that if you just do this one thing, your business will grow. Until, of course, it doesn’t.
I’m not suggesting marketing tactics aren’t needed or that we shouldn’t try and stay on top of what is current and working. It’s easy to start believing, however, that marketing is ‘the thing’ when of course that’s not true.
Not long ago I had the distinct pleasure of talking to Gail Graham on the podcast I host with Steve Wershing called Becoming Referable. Gail is the Founder of Graham Strategy and I happen to think that she’s ‘wicked smart’.
Gail has a knack of focusing in on the most important questions and issues that we, as entrepreneurs, need to answer. Her approach has the added benefit of distracting us from the bright shiny marketing tactics that tend to suck up our attention.
That is, until we have a clear path forward and can decide which tactics are best. She puts is well when she says, “Marketing is the frosting; strategy is the cake.”
It All Starts with Strategy
There’s no shortage of great marketing tactics and they will all seem reasonable if you’re lacking strategic clarity. Gail points out that strategy starts with understanding the market you’re going to serve. That means making some (potentially difficult) choices about who that audience includes and who it excludes. From there, it’s about articulating your offer, one that’s tailored to reflect the needs of that audience and is expressed in terms of tangible benefits and proof points.
But she doesn’t let us off the hook there because it’s too easy, she says, to fall back on generalities. For example, she says you can’t just have a strategy such as “serving affluent individuals who need retirement planning in the state of Pennsylvania.” Instead, she rephrases that as follows. “I focus on people who have complex financial lives, not a lot of time, and are in their earning years.”
But strategy is more than target audience. With your target defined, you need to support your claims through your offer, your communications, your skills, your team, your structure. It’s about how the entire business is intentionally designed to support the articulated strategy in very specific and very tangible ways.
In fact, it’s the combination of all of these things that creates the magic, when they are all aligned to support a clearly defined target. And that’s when strategy is like a good pair of shoes.
When a prospective client learns about what you do and it’s exactly right for them, it just fits. According to Gail, it causes a prospective client to say “I finally found it. This is what I’ve been looking for.” And that is, in some ways, like slipping on a good pair of shoes that fit you exactly.
Tackling Your Strategy
In the podcast, Gail goes deeper on two questions that will challenge you and help you to get clear on your strategy and the marketing tactics you need to support it.
1. What am I doing that is so valuable that people are willing to pay for it?
I know we all believe that we deliver great value, otherwise it would be difficult to get up and face another day at the office. But this question goes deeper, asking you to get very clear and very granular on the tangible benefits of what you do for clients.
In the podcast, Gail challenges you to see if you can fit your entire business strategy on one sheet of paper: who you serve, what you do for them, how you do it differently, the tangible benefits and proof points.
2. How do you really know the answer to 1?
I’ve written extensively about quantitative client feedback (and built an entire business around the concept). However, Gail hits on something I believe in, absolutely. She says that qualitative research is the best way to help you understand and define your value. By way of definition, qualitative research typically involves interviews, an advisory board or a focus group. (I’ll write more about the specifics on another day.)
Related: Beware of the Superman Complex
My personal belief is that qualitative research is needed to help you define your offer and the client experience. Quantitative research helps you understand if you are delivering on that promise.
Gail shares examples of how she uses qualitative research to understand what really matters to clients. And she highlights an additional, and subtle, benefit of this type of research. Qualitative research gives you insight into the language your clients use to describe your value and that’s critical to your messaging. That language, she suggests, needs to reflect what’s important to your clients and, as or more importantly, needs to authentically reflect who you are.
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