Just about every company wants more customers, or at the very least wants to build greater awareness for who they are, what they do, and why they’re better than everyone else. The classic answer is, “Let’s go do some marketing and advertising and people will come.”
But will they?
If your marketing and adverting activities aren’t grounded in market behaviors and customer needs, your activities will fall flat and you’ll be throwing money out the window. Yet you don’t want to spend all of your time doing market and customer research and not have the time to actually get to the marketing itself.
Thankfully, it’s a challenge that can absolutely be overcome. By selecting only those strategy and research efforts that directly inform marketing activities, you’ll get the best of both worlds. The tailored intelligence you need to build marketing materials and activities that will actually resonate, executed quickly and effectively so that you can actually get to market in a reasonable span of time.
MARKETING & BRAND STRATEGY BASICS
It’s true that you can do market and customer research until the cows come home. But again, if the goal is to do just what’s needed to have strong guidance for how to build effective go-to-market plans and drive towards a strong market presence, there are a few key strategic items you’ll want to check off your list.
Competitive Analysis A competitive audit is focused on building intelligence about your competitors to identify how key category players talk about themselves and the benefits they offer to their customers. Depending on the type of audit being performed, areas analyzed can include: website structure, business positioning, message tone and style, marketing technology in use, pricing, search engine marketing activity, and much more.
With a structured analysis completed, you can visualize where your competitors are strong…and where they’re weak. In the process, you’ll identify opportunities for your business to excel, perhaps through brand and messaging differentiation, customer targeting focus, marketing channel usage, or something else entirely.
Customer Research You can’t be everything to everyone. That’s why customer research is so important. It lets you identify unique groups within a particular buyer category and understand exactly what is and isn’t important to them.
The actual research you perform can vary depending on your goals. You may want to do one-on-one customer interviews to identify trends in how customers think about the market and where they place you versus your competition. Or, you may wish to do customer segmentation work to get an objective, data-oriented picture of the distinct customer groups within your category and their relative market shares, interests, and pain points. Regardless of which type of research you do, the outcome will let you pinpoint which customer you want to target and it will lay objective foundations for developing brand tenants, messaging, and value propositions.
Brand Positioning & Customer Personas Competitive audits and customer research culminate in two key areas. The first is customer personas, or distinct profiles of individuals you’ll be targeting with your business. Personas establish the typical challenges, core goals, purchase drivers, and purchase obstacles faced by your customers. They lay the foundation for future marketing work by clearly establishing who the customer target is…and who it isn’t.
Meanwhile, brand or business positioning clearly defines who your target customer is, how you meet their needs, and how you are unique from the competition. It’s a seemingly simple 2-3 sentences, but it serves as your business’ North Star by establishing what it is your business does and how it truly stands apart.
Depending on the scale of the work to be done, this entire strategy process can last as little as 8-12 weeks. That’s a remarkably short span of time considering the amount of money that may ultimately be part of your annual marketing budget. As we’ll see shortly, it’s a small upfront time investment to drive strong tactical execution.
HOW MARKETING & BRAND STRATEGY IMPACTS MARKETING ACTIVITIES
With all of the “thinking” done, how do you move into “doing?”
Let’s take a look at some of the key marketing and branding activities any business needs to have to effectively drives awareness and new customers, and we’ll show you how all of that “thinking” work makes sure each activity is knocked out of the park.
Brand Identity This refers to the visual elements that influence how your brand will be perceived. It spans the gamut from codified colors, fonts, and shapes to logos, packaging, and standard imagery treatment. In essence, these are the core design assets that play a key role in setting you visually apart from the competition and helping create feelings and emotions about what your brand stands for.
With the right upfront strategy work, you’ll have informed guidance about how to best to craft your brand identify. Should it skew masculine or feminine, ethereal or solid, bright or dark, whimsical or grounded? A strong grasp of your market and customer needs will drive aesthetics that best align with their emotions and needs.
Website At the most basic level, a website is a series of digital pages where people can learn more about your business. However, a host of aligned elements must go together to make a site that visually resonates with an audience and also gives them the information they need. This includes the basic structure of the site itself (called a sitemap), the content needed on each page to effectively educate site visitors, as well as resources that should be readily available.
The inputs needed to build a good website come from taking upfront strategy work and marrying it with your brand identify work. The strategy drives the on-site content, messaging. and tone while the brand identity work defines the visual look and feel of the site. When brought together, they will create a unified picture that helps create your brand.
Content In the marketing world, content is information used to attract new customers and retain existing ones, usually by developing or curating interesting, relevant, and educational information. It’s an opportunity to show your know-how and, in doing so, demonstrate how your product or service excel in a particular area. Content can take a variety of forms, including blogs, whitepapers, eBooks, data sheets, videos, and much more.
Good content is built on knowing who your customer is, with a particular focus on knowing what information is of interest to them and what are the typical barriers to customers engaging with your business category. This foundational knowledge, gleaned from customer research, drives content development plans and ensures that your content resonates with the right audience, convinces them of your expertise, and encourages them to buy.
Performance Marketing This refers to using paid tactics like Google Search Ads, LinkedIn Ads, or Facebook/Instagram Ads to drive towards a measurable outcome. This can be driving awareness in your business by encouraging people to visit your site, educating individuals about your businesses’ expertise by getting them to download content, or attracting leads and new customers.
Good performance marketing is driven by effective, targeted advertising. This means tailoring ads with the right messaging and visuals to a honed in audience, improving the chances of strong ad resonance and ultimately ad click rates. Without spending time upfront to learn about your audience and define your messaging points, you’ll end up launching mediocre advertising that is less likely to strike a chord.
BUILDING A COHESIVE GO TO MARKET PLAN
Much of what we just described falls under the rubric of a Go To Market Plan (GTM). That is, a cohesive document that defines your business goals, explicitly demonstrates how you will use different marketing activities to achieve those goals, and helps get a team on board with the stated plan of attack. Any standard GTM plan includes the following:
- Customer & Market Targets
- Product Positioning & Brand Tenants
- Marketing Channel Execution (i.e. what marketing mediums you’ll be using)
- Marketing Calendar (i.e. when you’ll be doing certain activities)
- Resource & Budget Needs
- Projections & Expectations
If this looks like a linear plan that defines how you’ll go from high-level customer targeting (i.e. strategy) to in-market execution (i.e. tactics), that’s because it is! A strong marketing engine is built on a grounded strategy that uses the right marketing channels with the right messages and the right visuals targeted to the right audience.
By spending just a bit of time upfront considering how to position your business and who to target, you’ll vastly increase the chances of putting together an execution plan that resonates with the market and therefore actually gets people to buy.