Marketing Yourself

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I’ve been spending a lot of time developing new business relationships recently.  And it occurs to me as I do so, how much time we all spend marketing ourselves.  Selling your skill set to others is not unlike selling a product, actually.  The marketing process is very much the same, and thinking about it that way really helps keep the process moving.  I find that it comes down to three simple steps:

Step 1:  Understanding your target audience

Who am I talking to?  What are their needs?  How can what I’m selling help them solve a problem?  No matter if it’s you or a product – you have to have something your consumer wants.  For myself, as a marketing generalist, sometimes I find that there are so many skill sets I can draw on, that it’s hard for a potential client to understand where I might fit.  Listening to what they tell me and then identifying specific areas of opportunity are critical to helping find that common ground and making the sale.

Step 2:  Developing a unique selling proposition (USP)

Marketing 101:  What makes your product unique from all the others out there?  Find that point of differentiation, and then deliver on it.   We each have our own USP as well.  For instance, while there are other strategic marketers out there, no one combines my exact set of skills (including having built and run my own companies) and executes them in the same way that I do.  My personality is unique as well.  I’ve been lucky in my career to work with many clients who truly enjoyed working with me – and that’s something that I try to parlay into new relationships as well.  A big reason why I like to meet prospects for lunch or coffee is getting that personality out on the table and seeing if it’s a good fit on both sides.  We spend a lot of time working with our clients – it’s always helpful when we like one another.

Step 3:  Choosing the right mix of tactics to achieve your objectives

Think about what it takes to sell a product.  Brand awareness, presenting your USP, making the sale, retaining a customer. And the range of tactics involved – direct mail, email, social media, outdoor advertising, television, print, event marketing, etc.  There are a lot of choices you can make, and often choosing the right mix is the difference between success and failure.  I find marketing myself is no different – I choose to use telemarketing, social media and email marketing to generate leads.  Then, I use in-person appearances to identify a need and determine if there’s mutual interest (not terribly different from event marketing, really).  Once a sale is made, I shift into retention mode – exceeding expectations in order to generate future sales.  Finding that right mix is going to vary for every product (and for each of us), but it’s critical to being successful.

So, while I don’t like to think of myself as a mere “commodity”, the marketing mentality does tend to be very much the same. And just like not every product is right for every consumer, neither is what I’m selling.  The hope is that identifying a few good customers generates the right ongoing relationships to keep the operation humming.  And that’s true no matter what product or service you happen to be marketing.

Starting Something New

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As some of you know, I’ve recently turned JK Squared into a full-time operation.  And when I say “full-time”, I really mean it.  It’s been more than 10 years since I launched my first business.  I was young, naive and confident, always confident, that the next project would just come rolling in no matter what I did.  This time it’s different.  I have the experience that says things only happen when you make them happen. No time for afternoon naps (sigh), when there’s a coffee, call or meeting to be had.

So, with that in mind, what’s it been like the first three weeks of the JK Squared era?  Busy.  Consistently hectic.  Life constantly in motion.  All great things.  I’m lucky enough to have launched with three paying clients, and, naturally, they all are immediately busy.  Developing a new campaign strategy, while also editing a 24-page newsletter, and finding time for business development efforts is hard.  But that’s one of the things I truly love about it all.  Having to learn where and how to balance my time.  And remembering that you NEVER know where a great opportunity may occur.

A friend of mine called me last Friday night, asking me to join his agency for a meeting that Monday.  Naturally, I was a bit skeptical, given the last-minute invitation.  But the meeting went great, and it could present a nice strategic marketing opportunity.  Later in the week, a marketing challenge presented by one of my agency clients led to reconnecting with an experiential marketing team I’ve wanted to work with, which could lead to a chance to build something really cool on the streets of San Diego.  You just never know, so take every meeting and return every call, and see where they all take you.

All of which explains why my blogging hasn’t been as frequent as I’d have liked.  In fact, have to cut this one short because I’m having coffee with a former client of mine from years ago.  Hey, you never know, right? 

How Strategic is Your Marketing Plan

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In the past five years, like many of you, my business has changed dramatically. As a marketing and advertising professional, the introduction of social and mobile media has produced a brand new paradigm for brand management, retail marketing, and customer communication. So much in fact that it has thrown the entire agency model into chaos.

No longer can advertising agencies count on a 15% media commission for revenue, or rely on some clever television ads to drive the business goals of a client. We have had to become more responsive, more creative and more diverse in what we do.

Plus, now outside marketing consultants find ourselves competing with internal resources when it comes to things like plotting Facebook strategies, deciding when to rely on Pinterest over Twitter or implementing QR codes on a mobile platform.

An organization needs to make a lot of marketing decisions these days.  And, it’s not always clear where and how to start.  This is what makes the development of a strategic marketing plan so important for any organization.

Developing a Strategic Marketing Plan

A strategic marketing plan is a document that helps make sure your organization’s marketing efforts are tied directly into achieving your business goals and objectives.

It is equally important no matter whether your organization is a consumer-facing business, a business-to-business or business-to-government supplier, or a non-profit.

Your strategic marketing plan should be developed collaboratively based on input from both internal and external stakeholders, and presented in an easy-to-follow format (think PowerPoint, not Word) to your entire organization.

A well-executed plan should define your business goals and relate them to marketing objectives that lead to an achievable number of strategies with tactics that your organization has the resources (both in terms of time and personnel) to implement.

It is a measurable plan, with built-in metrics to help judge success, and should establish reasonable milestones for evaluation. In short, it is the marketing rules by which the organization will operate.

Strategic Marketing for a Digital World

In today’s fast-paced and constantly changing world of marketing, a strategic marketing plan is more important than ever. Particularly when it comes to social, digital and mobile media. One of the wonderful aspects of social media is the ability it presents for any organization or individual to respond to market conditions in real-time.

One of my favorite examples of this comes from last years Super Bowl blackout, when Oreo sent out a tweet that read “You can still dunk in the dark,” complete with a picture of an Oreo cookie and milk against a blacked-out background that mirrored the effect inside the Superdome at the time.

While this message and the creative were dictated by the situation at hand, the organization laid the groundwork for this type of response much earlier when they decided strategically how they were going to use social media to help impact their business goals.

And, if you recall, they also ran a TV spot during the game, taking advantage of the immense audience available. This type of synergistic marketing can only come through a well-executed strategic marketing plan.

So, as an organization, sit back and ask yourselves the following questions before starting your strategic marketing plan:

  • How do we make marketing decisions currently?
  • Do our marketing strategies always sync up with our business goals?
  • Are we aligned with the right individuals (internally or externally) to think strategically about how we approach marketing?

If you don’t know the answers to any of those questions (or the answer is “no”), it may be time to get onboard the development of a strategic marketing plan. You’ll be glad you did.

 

Note:  Originally Posted in the Wood Street JournalGreat web design and digital marketing firm that you should totally check out if you haven’t already.

New Year’s Goals and Objectives

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Happy New Year, everyone.

I always tell my clients that before starting any marketing campaign, you need to define your goals and your objectives.  So, in that spirit, I wanted to share with you, my loyal readers, some of my own professional goals and objectives for 2014.  This is especially relevant for me, in that I’m launching a new business in 2014 (website coming soon – stay tuned!), which comes with it’s own primary financially-driven goals and objectives (find clients, make money, pay mortgage, etc.).  But, I also want goals and objectives that will motivate me every day beyond just financial success, and give me something that I can look back on in December and feel proud about having achieved.

So, three goals and objectives for JK Squared in the new year ahead:

1.  Help three new clients solve their marketing challenges.  As I set out in launching a new strategic marketing consultancy, I expect I’ll be working with a lot of clients and partners that I’ve been lucky enough to have met or worked beside in one of my past agency lives.  But, this year I also want to develop at least three new relationships that go beyond a single project, helping these new partners enact meaningful change to their marketing operation – whether that’s helping to build a marketing department, finding a new stream of customers, developing an ongoing social media strategy, or establishing a trusted creative partnership.  This year, I hope to do a little bit of a lot of things, including developing broadcast creative, writing marketing strategies, developing social media campaigns, helping companies re-brand themselves, conducting market research – all for a broader range of clients than I’ve had the opportunity to pursue the past several years.

2.  Upgrade my office space.  This is not my first time starting a business.  And, I’ve learned that there are always sacrifices to be made when you do so.  I’ve had to give up things like administrative support, IT help, software subscriptions, etc. in the past.  It’s all part of the exciting journey of building something from scratch.  This time, my biggest sacrifice has been in my office situation – I’ve gone from a very nice dedicated space in a highly-trafficked retail area . . . to something a bit different.  (Although it’s definitely an upgrade over my first office at my first company, which was a converted craft table in an unfinished basement.)  So, one of my goals for 2014 is to generate enough revenue to justify dedicated office space that fits the tone of my new venture.  (Not an easy task in the suburban wasteland that is Columbia, MD – thanks Julia.)

3.  Identify four opportunities for speaking engagements.  I truly enjoy giving presentations.  It doesn’t matter the audience – two prospects across a table, or 400 people in a ballroom – standing in front of a group and sharing my thoughts on a topic is something I love to do.  And not just speaking either, but I also love deciding what to speak about and building a presentation with impact.  It’s something that I think I do well, and not nearly enough.  So in 2014, I’m going to actively find at least four opportunities to get in front of a group and speak.

Those are my 2014 goals and objectives.  What are yours?  Rather than make new year’s resolutions for 2014 that we’re all unlikely to keep (Weight Watchers, I’m talking to you!), I encourage each of you to come up with your own measurable goals and objectives.  And, I wish you the best of luck in achieving them.

A Guide to Strategic Marketing – Part 3

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As a holiday gift to all my loyal readers, I present the final chapter of my guide to strategic marketing.  This piece focuses on the elements that make up a strategic marketing plan, and how to think about each of them.  As with the other pieces, I hope you find it helpful as you plan for 2014. 

(As a side-note stay tuned to this space for plenty of excitement in 2014.)

And now, without further ado, I present:

A Guide to Strategic Marketing – Part 3:  The Elements of a Strategic Marketing Plan

Goals and Objectives:

Start your strategic marketing plan by defining your business goals and establishing your marketing objectives.  These two elements may seem the same, but in fact are quite different when it comes to developing a strategic marketing plan.

Goals are a quantifiable metric that ties directly into your business.  A goal is finding 100 new members.  Or selling 35 products.  Or building a database of 1,000 new names.  Goals are easily measurable because they are based on the numbers that will help your organization grow and succeed.

Objectives are qualitative measures that are driven by marketing.  An objective is building customer loyalty.  Or enhancing a brand reputation.  Or developing new partnerships.  Objectives aren’t as easily measured because they typically don’t deliver themselves as obvious numerical values.  Objectives must be measured by research, surveys or interviews.  Succeeding in your objectives should translate into achieving your goals.  But they aren’t the same thing.

Start your strategic marketing plan by first defining your business goals and then establishing corresponding marketing objectives.

Strategies:

Once you’ve defined your goals and objectives, how are you going to accomplish them?  That’s the purpose of your strategies.  It’s important to differentiate strategies from tactics.  Radio isn’t a strategy, it’s a tactic.  Building a brand by reaching a wide audience with a compelling competitive message is a strategy.  Think broadly when developing your strategies, and (when possible) try to tie a strategy into multiple goals and objectives.

It’s likely that you will want to develop multiple marketing strategies as part of your plan.  Be sure to prioritize them, and that you have the necessary resources allocated to accomplish them.  Most organizations should rely on no more than 3 to 5 marketing strategies in a given year.  By focusing your efforts on those strategies most likely to achieve your goals and objectives, your organization is that much more likely to achieve them.

Tactics:

Each strategy included in your strategic marketing plan needs to have tactics identified.  These tactics are the method by which you will achieve the strategies.  NOW we’re talking about radio, television, digital media, social media, direct marketing, billboards, sales collateral, grassroots events, and everything else you typically associate with a marketing campaign. 

Again, when developing tactics consider your resources. National television can help build brand awareness, but if your budget is only $50,000 you’ll find it won’t get you very far.  Consider the most efficient and effective ways to execute against your strategy when trying to define your tactics. 

Metrics:

The final step of building your strategic marketing plan is developing your metrics.  At the end of the day, you need to know not just if your marketing is successful overall, but what strategies and which tactics did the best job of helping you achieve your goals and objectives.  Develop a system of metrics that allows your organization to quickly evaluate the success of each individual marketing channel. 

The metric system used will greatly depend on your marketing plan.  If you handle sales through a call-in center, unique phone numbers may be a good way to measure campaigns.  If you’re driving sales online, personalized URLs or promotional codes are always recommended.  If it’s social media, try unique links and structured campaign windows. 

Measuring some objectives may require conducting market research.  Elements like market share and brand awareness often can only be judged by working with an internal or third-party researcher.  Be sure that before executing your strategic marketing plan, your organization is in agreement on the metrics by which success will be measured, and that the correct methodology has been put in place. 

A Guide To Strategic Marketing – Part 2

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Continuing my series on strategic marketing, I bring to you today:

A Guide To Strategic Marketing – Part 2:  How  to build a strategic marketing plan.

Building a strong strategic marketing plan is not always as easy as it seems.  What may seem obvious (what are our business goals?) may be more complex once you step into the process.  It’s important to follow a few key steps as you prepare to build your plan.

Step 1:  Information Collection

A strong strategy is built on top of reliable information.  This information may include understanding your competition, knowing your supply chain, insights into your target audience and indentifying key partners.  Sometimes, information exists inside an organization that you may not even know that you have! The more sources of input that you have in advance, the stronger your strategic plan will be.  And, by knowing what information you dont have, specific strategies can be developed to mine that information.

Step 2:  Gathering Minds

Don’t try to build your strategic marketing plan in a vacuum.  Marketers may find themselves too sensitive to tactical issues.  Manufacturers may find themselves too concerned with operational needs.  Business owners may only look at short-term profits, and not enough at building a long-term, sustainable brand.  But, by combining all of these points of view, your organization can build a strong strategic marketing plan.  Get the best minds that you can involved in building your plan, and consider bringing in an outside moderator (i.e. a strategic marketing consultant) to help tie them all together.  Many times, an outside moderator will glean a key insight just by listening to an internal debate considering different points of view.

Step 3:  Write your plan, and establish consensus throughout your organization

The most important part of a strategic marketing plan is that it is actionable.  You may have brilliant discussion, but if it doesn’t turn into an actionable plan it’s time wasted.  So make sure that once you sit down to write your strategic marketing plan that you do so in a manner that makes it both readable and actionable.  Think Power Point, not Word for your strategic marketing plan – that will get you headed down the right track.  Consider a simple format, using visuals, graphics and a minimal amount of both industry and marketing jargon, in order to make your plan accessible to everyone inside and outside of your organization. Everyone who interacts with your customers, suppliers and employees impacts your brand, so it’s critical that they understand your marketing objectives and how it may affect their daily routines. 

By following these three steps, you will not only be able to build a strong strategic marketing plan, but help ensure that it is actionable as well.

Coming up later this week, Part 3: The Elements of A Strategic Marketing Plan

A Guide To Strategic Marketing – Part 1

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When I’m meeting new people and they ask what it is that I do, I typically answer “I’m a Strategic Marketing Consultant.”  The next question I then often get is “so, exactly what is it that you do?”  I find that for most people (especially those not in marketing), the idea of a marketing consultant itself is somewhat vague – and then applying “strategic” to that makes it even more so.  I usually tell them that I develop solutions to marketing challenges, including making ads, coming up with marketing plans and helping organizations with social media communications.  That typically mollifies them, and the conversation continues.

But I want to go back to the “strategic” word.  What makes for a “strategic” marketing consultant?  Well, I’m glad you asked.  In a series of posts to come over the next few weeks, I’m going to present my to-be-patented “Guide to Strategic Marketing”.  Today’s first part explains exactly what Strategic Marketing is, and how I approach these marketing challenges.  So, without further ado:

The JK Squared Guide to Strategic Marketing – Part 1:  What is Strategic Marketing (And Why Does It Matter?)

Congratulations!  You’ve just opened a brand new factory.  You’ve come up with a great idea, built a fantastic product and have a team of employees ready to create and distribute. You hired an amazing sales force who is ready to hit the ground running and have set aside a budget for advertising.

So, where do you spend your money first?   Sales materials or TV?   Maybe a big public relations announcement and event?  I hear that internet marketing is really popular – maybe that’s a good place to start?

In order to find the right answers, you need a strategic marketing plan. A strategic marketing plan isn’t based on something you learned in business school, but an action plan that’s based on real-world experiences. It’s not filled with industry lingo and jargon, but instead contains “blocking and tackling” elements that start your business humming today.

A strategic marketing plan is the rules by which your marketing is going to operate. It will help you organize your efforts, make difficult budgeting decisions and ensure that all of your marketing is driven to achieve your business goals.  After all, isn’t that why we do this in the first place?

Coming soon –  Part 2:  Building a Strategic Marketing Plan