When I left the military and enrolled at the University of Florida Journalism School, I did so because the college had a reputation for teaching students how to write. Here was the school's mantra: Don't tell, show. Draw a picture for your readers. Thirty-plus years later, I believe that mantra applies double to marketing and communications. Surprisingly, it begins internally, not externally. Here's what I mean.
To draw a picture to frame our marketing and/or communications strategies, verbal or written, we begin by asking and answering a series of questions around who, what, when, where and how.
- Who are we and what do we do best?
- Who wants and needs what we offer?
- What does our market look like?
- What does our ideal customer or client look like?
- When do they want and need what we offer?
- When is the best time to communicate with them?
- Where do they work and live?
- When do they want to receive communications from us?
- How will we reach our ideal customers and clients?
- How to they want to be reached?
Once we have the answers to create the story, we can then create a Marketing and Communications Plan around the answers. I create an annual plan for my business with one objective (e.g., To grow my business by 25 percent); three measurable goals (e.g., 1) To reach 500 ideal customers, 2) To meet 100 ideal customers, 3) To add 10 new customers); and strategies to achieve the goals, with a variety of tactics (tools) to achieve the strategies. I measure quarterly.
Success hinges on one important question, and as I repeat over and over again, it isn't about us, it is about them. That said, I believe this is the most important question: What does our ideal customer or client look like? I create a story around that answer. It looks something like this.
Today, a business owner, President, CEO, CFO or CMO sits at their desk in an office somewhere in the United States or Canada wanting help growing their business. They don't know exactly what they need doing, but they do know that their current strategies are doing no more than keeping their growth even. They reached a plateau and don't seem to be able to move beyond it. Their product is needed within the B2B business world, but their message and their means to get the word out is just like everybody else's. They are out of ideas to get noticed, and doing the same thing over and over again isn't delivering the ROI they want or need.
However, they are reluctant to hire a marketing consultant because in the past consultants seemed to recommend the same things and relied heavily on advertising, direct mail and public relations and now something called social media. They talked about tools instead of goals and strategies. And although the consultants were able to create better ads and knew more about obtaining reach in the right publications and buying lists, the consultancy's results were only slightly better than theirs. If only they could find a marketing consultant who guaranteed results that were measurable and stretched their current goals.
It shouldn't be that hard. After all, they develop and sell software that their customers love. Why can't they find a marketing firm that guarantees measurable results? They aren't that small and their businesses are located in and around mid- to large-sized cities. Their revenues have been between $1 million and $10 million for several years but they need to get over that hump or they will have to layoff some of their 10 to 75 employees. They read all the trade journals in their industry and the local business journal; they open and look at their own mail; and they use Google and Yahoo to learn what's going on in their industry and their customers' industries. Where are the consultants who can help us meet our objective next year and will back us their talk with a guaranty?
And there you have it--a short version of the story. One story that answers one question. Every year we add details to that story and to each story that describes each of the answers to our questions above. When we do that annually, our business marketing and communications plan has teeth and we use only those tools that reach our ideal customers or clients.