Marketing is a system, plain and simple. Now, some people take that to mean that you simply create a one size fits all, turn-key set of tactics and call it a day.
The truth, however, lies not in the repeatable tactics, but in the repeatable process based on the right strategy.
There is, in my view, a very systematic way to come up with a predictable path for growing any business, but every business is different – so, their system is unique, while the process for getting there does not need to be.
So you see, you don’t need a marketing plan so much as you need a marketing process.
Below are the ten steps I’ve used over and over again to help grow every business I’ve worked with over the last two decades.
Strategy for where you are going
The fist step is to determine where you want to go. I know everyone says this, but few do it. Or, if they do, it’s based on some over the top world domination dream that nobody can buy in to.
In my experience, three years out is a long view for most and merely a target to get a sense of the vision for growth. You can surround this vision with things like revenue and hiring projections, but the main thing it to create something that can guide your decisions today based on even a murky map of the future.
Now, what’s this year need to look like to propel you towards the three-year picture?
Strategy for where you are
I like to work in 90-day chunks because few people can focus much beyond that and most of the time things are so fluid you need to remain nimble enough to change course throughout the year.
The key thing here is to identify the 2-3 highest priority initiatives and focus all of your efforts on meeting the goals you set for each.
So, for example if the highest priorities for the quarter are to grow a new revenue stream and to increase client retention then all of your efforts need to be focused on those priorities, even if some pet projects need to be put on hold.
Build community first
The secret to sustained growth lies in creating a loyal community, monetizing this community and leveraging this community for additional growth.
Many businesses focus only on trying to find people to sell to. Today’s most wildly successful companies build a following and then figure out what they want to buy. It’s a model that few get, but it is the most profitable way to grow a business.
Now, if you’re starting a business or in a business that you want to grow, you may have to make community building a priority while you do the things that generate cash flow for today.
You can, however, make the community building frame of mind, something that you use to evolve your content marketing efforts, customer service, and even product development.
Put a free version of your product out, create premium content and invite community members rather than subscribers, surprise the heck out of every customer by doing something they never imagined you would do.
Set your near-term goals
Set measurable goals for every aspect of your short-term priorities and use the scorecard for those objectives as a way to hold everyone accountable for the tasks and projects associated with the goals.
The discussions you have around why goals are met or not is how you course correct and keep everyone focused on the priorities you’ve already established rather than things that don’t matter beyond the day to day grind.
Decide on some bets
Here’s the fun part in my mind. It’s hard to know what will work and won’t work for sure when it comes to marketing, that’s the reality. The best marketers make informed bets, but they test and measure everything.
Now, what these bets or optimizations are for your business will vary largely depending where you are. If you’re in startup mode, you can try big things. If you’re locked down and just trying to acquire more market share you test little things.
These bets or tests should be based on your near term goals and some amount of educated brainstorming, but as a team you must commit to what they are going to be and see it through.
A bet might be a total repositioning of your value proposition. It might just be using a video on the homepage or trying lookalike audiences on Facebook.
Again, the key is that the bets are based on your priorities and will be fully developed rather than seen as the idea of the week.
Implement with tests
Once you have decided on your bets, you must figure out the proper plan to execute and perhaps more importantly test, retest and measure every element as though the life of the business depended upon it.
This is the difference between building a marketing system and simply throwing stuff at the wall.
This is how you prune that bets that fail and go all in on the bets that work.
Experiment and analyze
Now that you are starting to measure results you can begin to test a winning email subject line against another, a winning landing page against one with some element changed or even one sales page against another.
Once you have some things working, you always try to better through experimentation.
Document and delegate
Now, here’s the part that even successful marketers tend to gloss over.
Once your bets start to pay off and are headed towards long-term implementation, document the process or system or campaign in a way that allows you to delegate it to a marketing assistant type or even a VA so you can move on and make some more bets.
This is how marketing gain momentum and this is the essence of an effective marketing system.
Review and plan
Every 90 days review your priorities, your scorecard, and every bet you’ve made.
The goal of this review is to create a new set of priorities for the upcoming quarter and to start to learn what’s been working and what hasn’t been. This is how you start to develop patterns that make you better at making hunches for future bets
You probably knew this was going to end this way, but marketing isn’t ever done – the process never really ends – what you optimize will certainly evolve but working the system is your real job.