Like so many other companies, we used to struggle to effectively execute the marketing process steps. Continuous improvement strategy changed everything.
Does your organization struggle to follow the process necessary to effectively execute your marketing strategy? When it comes to marketing process steps, sometimes it’s just easier to shoot from the hip. It can be really tempting to do what feels right at the moment rather than stick to the long-term plan.
We have to admit, this used to be a problem for us.
We’d jump right into creating without following a trusted path. Doing things this way eventually brought us to terms with challenges that forced us to build a working process for us and our clients.
First, we had to define that process. I leveraged my lean manufacturing background and introduced our team to process improvement tools like value stream mapping and kaizen. Pretty soon, we found ourselves absorbing these and other tools into our own continuous improvement program.
We ended up using a simple process improvement cycle, like “plan do check act,” or PDCA, created by Deming. But since we love continuous improvement so much, we decided to improve upon PDCA.
Now, we follow this cycle: Learn, Map, Focus, and Apply, or LMFA. This article is centered around the first step, Learn.
Step 1: Learn
The definition of learning is “the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience and study,” or “to become aware of (something) by information or from observation.”
In terms of marketing process steps, I’d say more specifically that our “Learn” step is an immersion into reliable data that ultimately informs a communication strategy.
No matter what strategy or combination of strategies you choose, you’ve got to start with learning through research.
Logically speaking, how can you decide what to do if you don’t have any information on which to base your plan? Research should include industry and market-level information gathering. Knowing the market you plan to sell in informs which tactics are best to use.
Plus, here, you can make the determination–before making any further investments–about whether your business has a chance against the existing market competition. You can also determine whether customers are willing to pay for what you’re selling.
There’s no better time than now to dig into understanding yourself, your business, and why you’ve chosen to do all of this in the first place.
Our firm belief is that you should know yourself before your customer or market.
Dig into what drives you to be in business. It’ll inform the type of customers you want to work with, the industry you want to work in, and how you share your message with your audience.
To do this, we use a methodology we developed ourselves, called QUAD Model. The QUAD Model strategic planning tool provides space for goal setting and problem-solving.
But it begins with asking questions. Questions about you and your organization’s values, your vision for the business, what makes you different than other businesses in your market, and the promise you ultimately want to make to your customers.
You don’t have to use our tool for this step in the marketing process. But you should, at the very least, consider using something that’ll help you grasp what you’re after and why your business is important to you.
Key Takeaway: Ask yourself and your organization foundational questions in order to better answer questions about your customer and industry.
Understand Your Customer
The exercise of developing a buyer persona is the process of creating a semi-fictional person who represents your ideal customer.
A buyer persona requires a thorough examination of an ideal customer’s values. Plus, it has to include information about where they spend their time, their demographics, and what type of messages compel them.
Why do you need a buyer persona? It’s about empathy. You have to understand your customer in order to connect with them. To understand them, you have to look at the market through their eyes.
Companies that have been in business for a while can shape their future client base with a buyer persona that’s molded around existing ideal clients. New businesses, on the other hand, don’t have existing clients.
The buyer persona exercise for new businesses has to involve tons of research because the ideal customer exists in the imagination.
In other words, don’t create a product or service for an imagined buyer that doesn’t actually exist.
Key Takeaway: Create a persona for your ideal buyer using this guide.
Understand Your Industry
By now, you should have a solid understanding of your business and customers. So it’s time to consider the environment in which you want to do business.
How big or small do you want the environment to be? How much competition are you willing to deal with? As starting questions go, these can be the first two in a series that’ll help you identify where you want to operate.
Here’s another good question: how specific are you willing to stick to your market and pinpoint your services or products?
Not sure what that means? Let me explain.
Have you ever heard the saying, “a Jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a Master of one?”
There are a few ways to look at this saying, and you can make a positive determination in either direction. That said, we’ve seen a number of businesses fail because they took on too much at once.
They tried to be “a Jack of all trades,” period.
Consider Lego, for example. What began as a simple line of building block toys developed into multiple series and themed sets. Early on, they were crushin’ it. They dominated their market.
Things took a turn for Lego when the company got distracted with gaming, movies, clothing, and so on.
Lego recovered from this marketing misstep and has since made a huge turnaround. So what about companies that have never had to recover? What makes them different?
Let’s talk about one of biggest, most successful companies out there: Apple. What does Apple do differently that has allowed them to continually lead their market pack?
It’s actually not that complicated. They have a streamlined product line and are absolutely determined to be “a master” in each area they work. You’ll never find more than a handful of versions of one kind of device. And customers gravitate towards that simplicity.
My point here is this: to niche is to succeed.
If you conduct a thorough buyer persona exercise, you’ll end up niching (for the most part anyway). Serving more than three personas is nearly impossible.
Thinking through the buyer persona exercise with your team is vital. It’ll require stepping back to take a look at the whole picture. And it gets harder to do once the business is beyond what most would consider a “small business.”
Key Takeaway: Identify the specific niche your business thrives in or could thrive in.
Keyword and Message Research
So, in theory, now you know who your customer is, what industry you to plan to compete in, and at what level of detail you plan to do it.
Developing your message to the customer is the next essential part of the “Learn” step in the marketing process.
But before you can craft your message, you have to know how your audience communicates.
One of the worst mistakes we see businesses make is assuming they know how customers look for their products or services. Determinations and decisions should always be based on real and reliable data, never on assumption.
Business owners who decide what’s important to their customer based solely on their own perspective and search habits are, to put it bluntly, flat-out wrong.
What happens when you self-reference like this? You’ll probably end up ranking for key terms that don’t connect to your actual buyer’s intent. It’s equally likely that you’ll end up ranking for terms that have no search volume whatsoever.
Spend time researching keywords. Use a reliable tool that pulls in real data, like search volume, keyword difficulty, CPC (cost per click) value, and return rate.
We can make some great recommendations if needed. Otherwise, the Google tool suite is always a good place to start. Give some of their free tools a shot, like Google Trends or AdWords Keyword Planner.
Try to collect as many relative keywords and phrases as you can, because you’ll eventually use other tools to whittle them down into smaller, value-oriented groups.
In the end, this collection of valuable keywords will make up your keyword universe. Think of it like inventory: you have to monitor and organize it as you pull from it and develop content for your audience to find and connect with.
Check out our Marketing Strategy Template here. You’ll find the first couple components particularly helpful in walking through keyword research and finalizing your first keyword universe.
Key Takeaway: Build a keyword universe to populate the core message for your audience.
The Learn step can be a fun and engaging way to work with your team.
Learning is so important. It should never stop. Which is why, once you’ve made it through all four of our critical marketing process steps, the learning step starts over again.
It’s meant to be iterative.
After application in the final step, you want to be sure that you got it right, right? So if you haven’t achieved the desired effect, you’ll know to adjust your strategy. If you did achieve it, then the strategy can function as a best practice for other efforts.
I hope you found some clarity and direction as we walked through this first of four marketing process steps.
Stay tuned for the next article in our Marketing Process Steps series — Step 2: Map.