Stop Complexity from Killing Your Marketing Strategy

As a business owner, I can often move between head in the sand and just ‘doing’ to head in the sky planning and ‘strategising’.  It takes effort and a lot of self-awareness to get the balance right.

The latter can seem time-consuming when we’d much rather be getting on with it. We know it’s important to take a step back and plan our marketing strategy but it’s no surprise that many business owners find themselves going round and round in circles. We can find ourselves spending hours working out how best to create and communicate a marketing strategy.

In this week’s guest post, CMA Member Roger Edwards talks about why just using the word ‘strategy’ makes marketing more complex than it needs to be and how to solve it with three simple words.


Would marketing be easier if we dumped the word “strategy”?

If we deleted it from the dictionary. Obliterated it from textbooks. Forbid its use at marketing conferences.

Does it seem strange that someone who makes a living helping people with their marketing strategy would like to abolish the word “strategy”?

Well, I think we should. The word “strategy” stops people from putting together strategies. I think the “S” word gets in the way of proper marketing.

And by proper marketing I mean finding customers who have a problem, solving their problem better than anyone else and engaging with them in a way that lets them get to know, like and trust you enough to buy your stuff.

What’s the problem with strategy then? Here are a few reasons why we’d be better off without it.

First. It’s a marketing buzzword.

It’s jargon. It’s something the Apprentices drop into every statement they make because they think Lord Sugar will be impressed with their business know how.

It’s hard to avoid jargon. I’ve been fighting against it for 20 years but I still slip up and use it. I’ve probably missed some whilst writing this article. Marketers must talk in the language of their customers.

Second. People associate it with complexity.

If you ever worked in a big corporate, you’ll recognise the annual strategic planning process.

You’ll know that feeling when the gigantic “strategy” pack containing hundreds of pages arrives on your desk.

Your heart sinks. Your shoulders slump. You know that you’re in for 2 to 3 months of intense, repetitive dullness. Long away days. Endless meetings. Hours spent sticking post-it notes on walls and then rearranging them endlessly until they lose their stickiness and flutter to the floor.

Senior management may bring in an external facilitator. Maybe a gigantic consultancy brand. They’ll get you doing SWOT analysis and PEST analysis. You’ll fill in Boston grids, create Ansoff’s matrices and if you’re lucky, bury yourself in Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs.

This intellectualisation of marketing is often just a consequence of a company getting big. They can afford the six-figure consultants and require doctorate level analysis paralysis to justify the price tag.

The process can suck the life out of people.

It can drain the creativity and motivation from the most creative and motivated people.

Many corporate people, therefore, associate strategy with a painful time in the business year. Even if you don’t work in a big company, there’s enough complex material out there on the internet to convince people “strategy” equals complex.

Result? They shy away from it.

Third: Many people confuse strategy with tactics.

This is a symptom of the digital age. If you’re like me you’ll get excited by shiny new toys. Whether it’s a new app helping me to be a better tweeter or a drone letting me add some drop dead gorgeous coastline shots to my vlogs, I want them and I want them now.

  • Live streaming apps – yes please!
  • New storytelling apps – yup, gimme.
  • New ways of creating graphics – yep sign me up.
  • New ways of creating webpages – okay – stick me on the alert list.

It’s natural to want to play with the latest gizmos. To use them to get our messages out there. To engage with our customers.

The problem is most of these apps and most of these platforms are just tactical.

And tactics don’t work without a strategy.

“Oh, but Roger! Strategy is dull, boring and bollocks. I want to get my hands on the fun stuff!”

And some of the “influencers” compound the problem.

We see Instagram experts. Periscope and Twitter gurus. They’re doing so well in business. They lead jet set lifestyles and get to speak in front of stadium-sized audiences.

It might lead us to believe these tactics on their own are enough to build a business.

And as some of these influencers use the word strategy when they mean tactics, people believe tactics and strategies are the same. They aren’t. You need a strategy to plan your tactics.

There’s nothing wrong with their enthusiasm and advice for their speciality areas, but only the best “influencers” talk about their toys in the context of a proper business model.

If marketing buzzwords, jargon and black magic terms, and the complexity, create dread in people’s minds perhaps it is indeed time to abandon the word “strategy” and all the guff associated with it.

We just need to make sure business people understand the simple steps they need to go through to market their business effectively. And talk them through those steps on their terms and in their language.

A Simpler Approach

A simple 3 step approach…

1. Goal

Let’s start with a goal. Something like, “We want to increase revenue by 20%.” Or “We want to get 2000 people paying for our premium service.”

Next, have a close look at the market to develop your offer.

You can get just as good an analysis of a market, as you would from SWOTs, PESTs, Ansoff’s and Maslow’s, by answering three simple questions.

2. Offer

Who is my customer?”

This needs to be clear, targeted and specific.

Millennials is too general. Men between the ages of 18 and 30 is still too general.

Be pin-point precise. Maybe even use the targeting functionality in Facebook ads to shine a spot light on your target audience.

What is their problem?”

Then listen to what they are saying to find out their problems and issues.

Big corporates can afford to do expensive qualitative and quantitative research, including focus groups. Without deep pockets, insight for smaller companies comes from one to one meetings, phone calls and questionnaires, and genuinely knowing their client base intimately.

And use social media to listen.

This is where our customers shout loudest. This is where they will unload their thoughts without mincing their words. They’ll be candid, critical, and scathing.  But often they’ll be constructive, complimentary and supportive. And we can learn so much from what they are saying.

Sometimes the problem might not be what you think. Look at dentists. You might think the main problem their customers have is tooth ache. But a bigger problem could be people are just shit scared of going to the dentist.

“How do we solve their problem better than anyone else?”

The answer to this question is your product or service and the customer experience that goes with it.

Continuing with the dentist example, how could you develop a service that makes a visit to the surgery less scary?

If you answer these three questions you’ll get your offer. The intellectualised or gobbledygook way of describing this is the “customer value proposition”. Let’s keep other marketing bullshit out of this if we can.

From that you can differ derive your “positioning statement”, sorry more marketing speak, your ‘one liner’.

If you’re missing a “why” for your company (in jargon terms, your mission statement and vision) this also flows simply from the three answers. And your brand too can develop from here assuming you haven’t got one already.

3. Activity

With the goal defined and an offer developed you have everything you need to plan your activities (yes – the tactics). Content, social media, even good old fashioned advertising all slot into place.

As this is a guest blog for the Content Marketing Academy, let’s just pause here to consider how easy it is to come up with the content ideas you need. What are the questions your customers are going to have about your offer?

Split those questions into the big five categories.

  • Cost/price
  • Problems
  • Comparisons
  • Reviews
  • Best of

And because you are pin point accurate on who your target customer is you shouldn’t get side tracked by shiny tactical technology. If you’re targeting older demographic, for example, delete SnapChat from your activity list.

As your plan comes together, you might want help with the activity. If you approach an agency with a clear goal, pin point accurate target customer, offer and one liner, they’ll love you for briefing them so well. It’s something agencies say companies rarely do.

They can then get on with what they are best at. Creative use of those tactical channels.

In summary we have:

  • Goal: We want to increase revenue by 20%
  • Offer: We’ll do this by focussing on a clear defined group of customers who have a problem, fix their problem better than anyone else, and engage with them in a way that lets them get to know like and trust us enough to buy our stuff. Here’s our one-liner. Here’s our why.
  • Activity: We’ll engage them with content, promotions, social media, and seminars

There you have it.

A strategic and tactical marketing plan without ever using the “Strategy” word. Without being scared off by SWOTs and Boston Grids or bored to tears by Maslow. Using the 4 Ps of marketing without even having to worry about what they are.

It’s simple and it makes business sense.

I just can’t promise you won’t have to use post-it notes as you put it together.

Your turn

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic too.

  • Have you ever felt paralysed by the through of creating a strategy?  Did you overcome this and if so, how?
  • Do you have goals, an offer and activity in relation to marketing in place to drive your business? It not, what’s stopping you from doing so?

Please share your experiences below and feel free to ask if you have any questions.

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About Roger Edwards

Roger Edwards Guest BlogRoger is a marketing consultant and podcaster from Edinburgh.

Roger helps people keep their marketing simple in a world where business bullshit and complexity threatens to stifle success.

An experienced marketing professional helping businesses with their marketing strategy, content, and social media, Roger clocked up many years in the ‘big corporate’ world as marketing director of several UK financial services brands before getting out of all that and starting his own consultancy.

He now uses his expertise to guide his clients in designing engaging campaigns and is known as a prolific content creator, podcaster, and a speaker. He’s the host of the popular Marketing and Finance Podcast.

As a qualified exercise class and yoga teacher, Roger’s also been known to ask his clients to take off their ties, put on their trainers, taking their fitness, and well as their marketing, to the next level.

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