Start with a marketing strategy.

chart your course with a marketing strategyIf you truly want to improve the marketing of your business or nonprofit, and you still haven’t developed a marketing strategy, stop right now and develop one.

Regardless of industry or trade, no matter how big or small, your organization needs a strategy to guide the ever-growing myriad of marketing decisions that confront you every day.

You wouldn’t sail off on a cruise without some idea of where you are going. Once you have it in place, your marketing strategy essentially charts your course for strategic outreach to grow your business.

“Wait,” you say, “I don’t have time!” In actuality, a marketing strategy doesn’t need to consume a lot of your time, it just requires some honest thinking to develop a working plan. A marketing strategy is an internal working document. It does not need to be formal, it just needs to be done.

Once your marketing strategy is in place, you can concentrate your resources, no matter how large or small, on opportunities most likely to increase sales and maximize profitability for sustainable growth.

A series of steps.
I recommend developing a well-crafted marketing strategy through a series of steps, taking into consideration the unique qualities that distinguish your company from the rest of the pack. Your strategy becomes the foundation of all your communications, content and messaging—on your website, on social media platforms, and in brochures, advertisements, letters and proposals.

Are you ready? Follow these eight simple steps to develop your marketing strategy:

Gather materials.
Assemble materials you have on hand: a mission statement, an elevator speech, a company profile and your biographical statement. If you don’t have a mission statement or short description about your business, you’ll find these important elements will emerge as you continue to develop your marketing strategy.

Define your prospective customer base.
Exactly who is your target customer? Who wants to purchase your products and services? Jot down your primary customer’s features such as age, lifestyle and disposable income. If you’re selling to businesses, define the size and industry, as well as the end user, and identify the actual decision-maker you’ll need to convince to make the sale.

Often, it’s easiest to visualize your target customer base if you create simulated personas for your primary prospects. You then can hold these images in your mind as you create your marketing materials and write your content.

Identify your ideal client.
You’ll find some types of clients are more attractive than others. Perhaps they have the potential to become repeat customers, bringing you sustained business over long periods of time. Others are simply a joy to work with. Who is your most desirable client?

For example, the owner of an interior decorating company might define her ideal client as an upscale, affluent homeowner with impeccable taste and sophistication who:
•    appreciates the finer things in life;
•    views interior design as an art form, not just window treatments;
•    recognizes that interior design needs to flow and carry through connected spaces within the home;
•    is not afraid to make decisions;
•    trusts the designer and values her services;
•    interacts positively and pays gratefully for services rendered.

As you define your ideal client, you may come up with secondary personas for your prospective customers. In the case of the interior designer, a secondary prospect would have the same ideal qualities, but would seek services for a commercial space or upscale office.

Describe your offerings.
Detail your products and professional services. How do you interact with customers when delivering these products/services?

Put yourself in the shoes of the potential client. What would your customer want to know about the buying process? If the purchase involves more than just an online shopping cart, what are the steps? Are there designs, drafts or customizations? Is there a logical sequence to the delivery of your services? Do they need to prepare for a consulting session, and if so, how?

Define your limitations.
Limitations might affect your service area or product availability. Do you sell worldwide or are your products and/or services limited to a certain geographical region? Perhaps your clientele is regional, such as a computer repair service, or even hyper-local, such as an auto repair center or an ice cream store. In addition, there may be limitations on the products you create; an artist might complete only a certain number of paintings each year.

Detail your skills.
List your qualifications, then dig more deeply to identify your special qualities, skills and talents.

Develop your narrative.
What’s your story? Every business or nonprofit has a compelling background story to tell. Often, it’s this narrative that identifies the unique qualities of your business, and differentiates you from competitors.

Apply your findings.
Considering your offerings, your prospective customer personas and other findings, decide how to implement your marketing strategy in a permission-based manner that reaches customers on their own terms.

Look for the perfect balance of tactics to reach the largest numbers of your target market in the most efficient ways. Consider a mix of marketing vehicles such as your website, content creation, website landing pages, email marketing campaigns, online and print advertising, social media and public relations. Even direct mail can be appropriate under certain circumstances.

Once you have charted a course and solidified your strategy, you will be amazed at how structured your marketing becomes, how easy it is to have all the right words at your fingertips, and — instead of dithering over decisions — how relieved you will be to say to an ad rep who calls out of the blue that you’re sorry you can’t advertise in his publication because it doesn’t fit with your marketing strategy.

Do you have a marketing strategy in place? If you do, don’t hesitate to share your experiences. If you have questions about how to develop your strategy, please feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.

Six tricks to avoid typos in your marketing materials.

Enchanted Forest Road sign in Eastsound, WA

This road sign on Orcas Island recently was replaced due to a spelling error. It formerly read: ENCHATED FOREST RD.

Every time you publish something, from an email or blog post to a brochure or your website, you need to prove time and time again that you’re a capable professional worthy of earning someone as a new customer.

It’s all about perception. You want your marketing materials to demonstrate your ability to communicate persuasively and with close attention to detail, reinforcing the message you are capable and confident.

So what happens when a typographical error appears in your headline?

Yesterday, an example arrived from a completely unexpected source. A prestigious private school sent out a mailer encouraging alumni to attend an upcoming reunion with the salutation: “Mark you calendar and register today!” The typo came as quite a surprise because this school demands perfection, and usually demonstrates it as well. The mailing must have been sent to thousands and thousands of alumni—how embarrassing!

Printed piece contains typo in headline

Dropping the “r” from “your” is a common misspelling, but that does not make it any less harmful to your image. You don’t want readers to focus on the error instead of the message you are trying to convey. And you certainly don’t want others to make a judgment call about your professional skills based on something so avoidable.

How can you ensure your published product is free of mistakes?

No matter how small the project, put as many eyeballs on it as possible. Usually you are too attached to whatever you’ve written or designed to be able to proofread the piece with precision. Your brain sees what it wants to see (the job completed!) and once your eyes begin skimming, they can easily fly over any errors. On a long-term project, often those on your immediate team are also too close to the product to carefully proofread.

If you have to go it alone—if your situation or the time factor dictates that you cannot reach out to two or three others for proofreading, here are six techniques I use to avoid dreaded typographical errors:

  • Use spellcheck. This obvious first step is often overlooked. Of course, spellcheck is of limited help because it will not catch “you” when you meant to type “your” and it won’t tell you the “manger” should be a “manager.” But spellcheck is a good start, and can be helpful in finding comparative words spelled incorrectly, such as a last name typed two different ways in the text, or two words running together, or repetitive words such as “the the.”
  • Know yourself. There probably are certain mistakes you make regularly as you type, some words that get tangled or letters that become transposed, such as “form” and “from.” As you work, be on the lookout for typical typographical errors.
  • Double up. Double-space a draft and double the size of the font. Reading Times 24 pt will force your eyes to look at the words differently and reveal unexpected blunders. Changing the font in this step will also trick your brain into seeing the words anew.
  • Print it out. Use 100 percent recycled paper so you don’t feel guilty. It is much easier to proof copy on a sheet of paper than it is on a computer screen. In addition, you will have a better grasp of the alignment of your layout and how it will look to others who may print the piece you intend to publish.
  • Go backwards. I learned this trick from one of my clients. If you start at the end of the text and read from right to left, your eye focuses on each separate word. This allows you to see the words in a new way, which makes it easier for you to pick up any errors.
  • Talk it over. Read your work aloud. This will reveal errors you would not notice otherwise. When working on annual reports, books and important pieces, I read aloud to one of the members of my team. We sit facing one another, each with our own copies, and take turns as one reads and the other follows with a critical eye. We even read the punctuation, like this: “Capital M mark you calendar and register today exclamation point.” In this way, the “you” stands out like a red flag.

Fortunately, in the example of the alumni reunion mailing, this was a piece sent to the school’s community members, not a mailing to prospective students.

Whether you are publishing online, in print, in digital format or simply writing an email, remember to appear as professional as possible. It’s difficult to catch every mistake, but it’s definitely worth making the effort.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to proof this post about five more times to make sure it’s free of typographical errors!

 

Secret of marketing success: Deliver ahead of schedule.

Making Our Own LightA project that began one year ago finished up last week as the printer delivered cartons of books to a local community college.

Everyone is happy: the professor coordinating the poetry anthology program, the group that spearheaded the project, the poets, the printer, and of course, our design and project management team.

Why are they happy? The books are beautiful, and 35 county poet laureates and their families are thrilled to see their work appear in the volume. The entire project is paid for by a grant. But the primary reason why they are ecstatic? The books were delivered ahead of schedule.

Meeting a deadline is critical, but when you can exceed expectations by delivering early, it’s simply remarkable.

Remember this: Awesome customer service is one of the most important components of your marketing, and delivering a project on time, even ahead of time, can convince your client to become a customer for life.

Why? Because you have established trust—they know they can rely on you, they know they can sleep at night with the confidence that everything will work out because you will come through for them.

So, how do you take a project that involves more than 50 people and, over the course of a year, shepherd that project to a positive conclusion? The answer is to plan, schedule, build a professional team, and communicate clearly and frequently.

 

Plan ahead and stick to your schedule.

 

Over the course of a year, many things can throw a project off track. Babies are born, family members become ill, team members move from one town to another, life happens—you need to plan ahead and stick to your schedule so you can adjust and move the project forward, no matter what happens.

  • Working backward from the deadline, schedule every step that needs to be completed and pad the amount of time allocated for that portion of the job. In this case, the project was due April 15, so we set an arbitrary deadline of April 1. The entire month of March was blocked out for printing, a generous amount of time. The last two weeks of February were dedicated to final revisions. We scheduled every stage of the process, working our way back around the calendar to the original proposal and grant application.
  • Build a team of professionals you can trust to get the job done well and on time. Even on this project, we received the book materials a month late, but because the team was ready to move and the designer was responsive, we were able to swiftly recoup lost time.
  • Communicate clearly and check in frequently. The professor and I emailed regularly, especially during draft revisions, and I made a point of being responsive and proactive, setting his mind at ease about progress on the book. The local printer was a huge link in the chain of events—I checked in with him regularly, too, making certain he was aware of our deadline and on track.

So the next time you are asked to work on a project, commit to yourself to delivering extraordinary customer service every step along the way. This type of marketing speaks volumes about you and your business, builds trust and can often secure you a lifetime of customer loyalty.

Sowing the seeds of future opportunity.

like peas, ideas sprouting up all overSome friends have asked — why a blog after 25 years? I guess I just can’t contain myself anymore. There are so many ideas I want to share—like the peas I planted last week, they are sprouting up all over and demonstrating great promise.

My marketing communications company, Sircely Marketing & Design, has operated as a traditional advertising agency and design studio for most of its 25 years. We were based in the Delaware Valley, as were most of our clients. We strategized with clients face to face. Advertising campaign presentations were made in person. Clients found us at chambers of commerce, through referrals or by admiring our pro bono work for area nonprofits.

But much has changed.

The natural evolution of the business and our outreach model through social media has expanded our client base across the nation. Now that we have relocated from the East Coast to Washington State, most client strategy sessions are now held over the phone, on Skype or via other internet platforms. Presentations are delivered via PDF. We’re no longer an offline, hyper-local communications company. All of these changes, along with repeated requests from far-flung clients, are driving my inspiration to establish an online base of useful marketing content, both to help others get a grip on their marketing, and to lead by example.

I advise clients to blog for greater visibility, credibility and for all the content it builds on their website. Few take the plunge, but the brave ones are building a valuable online presence.

There is no question that a business blog:

  • establishes your authority as the credible expert on your particular subject;
  • serves as a efficient tool to get your message out;
  • helps your business to be found online, which is where people are looking for solutions and answers to their problems;
  • cultivates relationships that have the potential to further your business in many ways.

Actually, business blogging is not a lot different than the traditional marketing tactic of making a series of contacts with a potential customer to lay the foundation for an eventual sale. Content marketing, or the sharing of information and ideas, is an effective way to establish authority on a topic while adding searchable depth to your website.

I regard this blog, Enterprising Marketing, as another opportunity to sow seeds of unforeseen opportunity. My peas soon will wind their way up a trellis, and I’m eager to share ideas that have quietly matured over two decades — the potential is thrilling, the future is wide open and the opportunities are infinite.

Be enterprising.

Twenty-five years is a momentous milestone. January 2012 marked the 25th anniversary of the founding of Sircely Marketing & Design. My company evolved over the years with an efficient and creative team, adapting to meet new technology, new demands and market needs. Essentially, every project boiled down to me—a quiet and unassuming professional who loves to write and design (at the same moment if possible), painting a canvas to communicate each client’s powerful marketing message.

Over the years, I’ve witnessed remarkable changes while many things remained the same. Old rules form the foundation for most new marketing tactics. Tried and true methods still exist beneath the hype of social media and online marketing.

Enterprising Marketing is for those who want to grow their businesses—it applies to business owners and managers, nonprofit administrators, solopreneurs and start-ups. For those who are enterprising marketers, the common thread is possession of an independent, energetic spirit along with the drive to work hard and make things happen.

But energy and action needs direction. With a few exceptions, most of the advice I read is difficult to follow or burdensome to implement, and almost always loaded with cheap marketing jargon. My goal is to clarify and demystify the marketing process. I want to explain the terms in plain English and help you tell your story, empowering you to make the most of every opportunity to grow your business.

Out here in the Pacific Northwest, everything grows, even with challenging circumstances. On the tall seaside bluffs and rock faces, life is literally on the edge. There’s a groundswell of energy and hope as life clings to a precipice, sprouts in dicey and unlikely places, and illustrates rugged determination, persistence and perseverance.

All of these qualities apply to Enterprising Marketing, and they converge to help make your campaign/outreach particularly remarkable. Get noticed in unusual places. Stick to your marketing plan, because results follow persistence and perseverance. Sometimes, it’s imperative to go where no one has been before.