STACK the Deck in Your Favor Strategic Marketing

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When you S.T.A.C.K. the Deck in Your Favor you’ll have a stronger strategic marketing plan, and can better ensure that the hand you are playing is a winning one.

  • Strategy
  • Tools
  • Audience
  • Content (& Connection)
  • Keep is Simple

STACK is the acronym I’ve created to remind myself and my clients of the elements needed for an effective integrated marketing plan. While the order of the steps isn’t exactly in the right order in the word STACK, these are the main elements that are needed.

Audience:

1) Research your Audience. Identify what messages resonate with them (what three to five challenges/problems do they have that your service or product can help them solve). Discover where they go to get their information – and not where you THINK they go – find out if they read newspapers, or blogs, and/or magazines (and even which ones if possible), or which of the social networks they participate in. What tools do they use, if any, when researching products/services like yours, or what colleagues/friends might they ask? Find the demographic stats for various publications and social networks, survey your current customers/clients/prospects – these are just two ideas to help with this process.

Strategy:

2) Develop an Effective Strategy. Too many small businesses jump into marketing and public relations activities with out creating a strategy and goals, especially when it comes to online or social media. You wouldn’t build a house without a plan, why promote your business or non-profit that way? An effective strategy lays out the approach you plan to take in reaching your market and goals.

Once you have researched your current and potential audiences, decide what your goals are in reaching out to them. What actions do you want them to take, what “call to action” will you use, what next steps along the way to a sale do you want them to take? Are you in a business that can create a quick one-touch sale, or like most businesses, do you need to build trust in the company or a rapport with your sales staff before they choose to buy from you.

The tools you select to use below, and the content you develop, should support the strategy you build from the answers to these first two questions.

Tools:

3) Select the right tools. Once you’ve identified a strategy (based on the above steps) then you can select the tools that fit your needs. An example strategy: to help customers/clients (and prospects) keep your company in mind when they replenish product stock at month’s end or engage new services, you plan to have your business touch base with them, where they “hang out*” several times a month – *you’ve identified the places online or in print that they read/visit etc. Also identify the resources and people within your company who will learn to use these tools.

You’ve found that your clients do read e-newsletters (if they provide useful how-to information, and are only sent to once a month), and they use one or two social networking sites to gather information before they buy products like yours – some use LinkedIn and others use Twitter, two of the most prominent sites. You have also found that your most loyal customers, and prospective customers like them, also read two specific trade publications – most read one publication’s online edition, the hard copy of the other trade magazine is more read than their website – and they also read a few industry blogs.

This research allows you to select and/or refine the right tools you will use to reach your customers. Research the best e-mail/e-newsletter software “tools” or programs/services, preferably one that includes built-in options to promote your email communications* via social media sites (* this might be an online newsletter,  or an e-news or e-blast as they are sometimes called – short useful news or tip-based emails for example). And a service that has customizable templates – to make sure your emails don’t look generic, and that makes it easy to add a sign-up box right on your existing website.

You also plan to begin to build a presence on LinkedIn and Twitter – after first learning the dos and don’ts or getting the “feel” of each site – each social networking site has a different culture.  Just like local in-person events can have an unwritten dress code, and at some, handing out business cards is appropriate, while others it is frowned on – online sites take a bit of listening/learning before you jump in full throttle. These networking sites may be newer tools, but they still work in similar ways – helping to connect people with information and with other people, they are not advertising platforms. There are plenty of consultants and coaches out here who can help you and your company get up to speed more quickly.

Traditional advertising models don’t work well on most social media sites for most products – sites run on guidelines more like – “people by from people,” and “you’ve got to give to get.” That is – share information and expertise, be helpful, build trust first, and interact with people, participate…then occasionally refer to your own products or services. Remember those executive golf outings, you wouldn’t bring up your new product just as your client is teeing off, nor would you talk about it non-stop – it’s all about balance. One specific idea that works on most sites is to provide the type of “how to” info you’ve discovered in your research that your customers and prospects like to know about. How do you do this: ask and answer questions on LinkedIn, participate in groups; on Twitter pass along links to good industry articles/news, and answer questions people have, also pass on good info from others on Twitter (called retweeting or RT).
You can also decide if you want to use advertising as a tool – either in the online or hard copy editions of those trade publications or on one or two popular industry blogs. Another tool is traditional PR – submit editorial copy to the publications. Have a selected staff member write an article, or pitch a feature story/interview of a staff member who invented a new product that will make a reporter or editor’s reader’s jobs easier.

Phase two might be to tweak and improve your existing tools – your website, and even to launch a how to-based blog, once you have the feel for how your customers and prospects are responding to your new marketing strategy. Done carefully, these additional tools above can make it easier to bring readers to an on-site blog – this brings customers back to your site more frequently, and can be an effective community-building and lead generating tool.

Content & Connection:

4) Develop content to match the interests and needs of your audience. Don’t just pump out company press releases or product info, but craft your strategy so it meets your customers/clients needs and expectations. Use your content to build customer trust in your company, a relationship with your sales force or staff, or build a community that comes to your site for information and solutions – so that when it comes time to buy, they buy from you or recommend your company to friends/colleagues.

Another “C” that fits is Connection: You can’t adopt a “build it and they will come” attitude. There is a lot of competition out there. Build connections with your audience (customers, clients) that provide them with value. As I noted before – people buy from people they like/trust. Give them content that fits their interest and needs, and finding ways to engage with them directly is crucial in today’s interconnected marketplace. If your clients/customers and even competitors are using social media, you will need to add it to you PR / marketing mix sooner, rather than later. But as I cautioned above – don’t just jump in, research and move effectively. Your competition may be on Facebook, but your best customers, the 20% that buy the most, might be using LinkedIn, or visa versa.

Keep It Simple:

5) Simple Plans may be Best: By this I mean that you don’t have to use every tool in the tool chest. Once you’ve followed the steps above, put your strategy in place using just one or two of the tools that most effectively reach your existing audience or potential customers. Then build out from there. I’ll use a building analogy – don’t build a mansion if you only need a house. Start with the plan; gather the materials, tools and your team; build the framework; then the roof, and interior and exterior work; then furnish the building. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither are sound strategic marketing plans.

This scenario I have laid out can used for B2B (business to business) product-based companies, and can be easily adapted to a B2C (business to consumer), non-profit, service-based companies, or even to the entrepreneurial start-up or solopreneur.

So my advice is: STACK the Deck in Your Favorâ„¢ – Strategy, Tools, Audience, Content & Keep is Simple – will help you build a winning hand and be more effective with your promotional, public relations, and strategic marketing process.

Cathy Larkin is a PR professional with 20 years of experience who is having a blast (when appropriate) incorporating social media into the mix as she helps small businesses and non-profits, individuals and solopreneurs learn to create and execute integrated marketing strategies.

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