We made a valuable choice a long time ago. We decided to NEVER build a logo, website, or any subsequent marketing material based on limited knowledge of a client, the business model, market, and perhaps most importantly, the target audiences. To really do things well, you need to have a plan; what we refer to as a strategy. And to have a plan that will work, it just seemed proper to do our research and find out exactly what it is that "keeps them coming back" to the client's business. It's that unique value that could be winning you more business. You need the right message before you market it, and so we vowed to implement a formal strategy phase to find it. To keep things short, I’ll discuss a few of the major components to the type of strategy research we do to get properly acclimated:
This is a tired, but true expression: “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Whether you use SWOT, or some other type of investigative matrix, marketing strategy can really benefit from an in-depth analysis of the competitive landscape your business operates in. Even the simplest cruise around a competitor’s website can open your eyes to powerful insights. What’s the message they’re trying to convey? What channels are they using to push increase visibility to their brand? What can we do to differentiate ourselves? This exercise should surely get you fired up and ready to compete
Hand in hand with competitive analysis, benchmarking is another beneficial process. The point here is identify the strategies & tactics that are executed well. In my own research I tend not to look at competitors, but to focus more on companies producing complimentary goods and services. For example, in the case of Red Caffeine client, Bi-Link - a prototype thru production plastic & metal component & sub-assembly manufacturer, I took a look at the brands of cutting edge CAD-based software companies. These are the names and brands that product design engineers (my key target audience) may also be purchasing goods/services from. These are not competitors, yet still organizations working hard to further ongoing engagement with the engineer. Great campaigns and brands exist across the boundaries of industries and segments. To properly benchmark, you must interpret the effectiveness of other brands, and do your best to recreate it in your own unique way. At the same time, keep a close eye on tactics that seem ineffective in driving engagement, and keep away!
Interviews & Focus Groups
I recently read an article that mentioned "your brand is the one sentence people say about you behind your back" and I think there's probably no better way to put it. This is where we derive a lot value in formulating strategy. Interviews and focus groups, if manageable, tend to be the best avenues for acquiring that key sentence. This is especially true when a third party, some sort of non-employee, facilitates these sorts of open discussions with customers and prospects. These are unique opportunities to gain insights that your sales team would be hard pressed to get. In my opinion interviews & focus groups are a great balance to competitive analysis. What I mean by that is, that it's easy to get excited about match-ups: You vs. Competitor Inc., but a keen focus on customers is critical to marketing and business success. Your customer's own words can be a powerful enabler to that focus.
Market Influencer Identification
This is one of my favorite parts of my job. A market influencer, to us, is an influential voice in a given industry or segment. Influencers can be individuals, industry associations, magazine and other publications, Using tools like Sprout Social, SocialBro, Inkybee, and some good old fashioned creeping on websites, Twitter accounts, and more you can really get a sense for who's got the clout in your specific market and the broader industry. (Oh, that reminds me, Klout is another great tool for finding trending topics and their originators)
The Point: Keep yourself honest
The best marketing is integrated across many channels, but this can lead to a lot of loose ends if not executed intelligently. This is why I urge you to start with a strategy. Similar to the challengers of a detailed business plan, some might argue against strategy. And sure, in both cases you might succeed without the formalized plan. Still, many organizations fail. In marketing, this can be due to the overwhelming reality of "moving parts" or just plain missing the mark with chosen tactics and messaging. So no matter how you look at it, there's no doubt we can all benefit from the strategy exercise. At the very least, having a strategy keeps you honest. You have a starting point, a current state of reflection, and that can be a powerful asset as you move along with marketing initiatives. Feel free to comment below if you've had experiences with these or other strategy research topics. We'd love to know how you got smart about marketing. What worked? What didn't? And how could more robust research have played into it?