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Category Archive: Recommended Reading

5 Questions: Building a strategy that is practical to implement

Thanks to the crew at 5by5 Design for featuring my advice on practical marketing planning in this month’s guest blog.

Read more as I answer 5 questions on how to build a marketing strategy that’s also practical to implement.

  1. What’s the difference between a marketing strategy and a marketing plan?
  2. What’s the best way to keep strategy on track as you implement ideas?
  3. What are some of the common reasons companies have a hard time connecting a strategy to practical implementation?
  4. How do you keep a team engaged throughout the process?
  5. What trends have you seen in developing and implementing marketing plans?

Read the full article.

No time to plan?

Fast-track stakeholder support with the 30-minute B2B marketing strategy

iStock_000015900242XSmall_OverwhelmedStrategy matters, but squeezing time for big thinking in between meetings, email and day-to-day project management can be a challenge for even the most dedicated B2B marketer. Fortunately, your plan doesn’t need to be arduous or time-consuming to be effective.

In fact, producing numerous strategy briefs throughout the year, one for each significant initiative, can be more impactful and easier to accomplish than toiling over an all-inclusive annual plan.

Drafting your 30-minute plan

For each initiative, set aside a half-hour window to address these four essentials of marketing strategy. If any one is difficult to complete, review your roadblocks and consider whether the program needs to be reworked or eliminated altogether.

(1) Define your approach. Start by describing what you want to do. Limit yourself to two or three paragraphs and focus on specifics such as recommended media for the campaign, timing and target audience.

(2) Make it relevant. Show leadership you understand the big picture by demonstrating the need for your project. Frame your recommendations against a current issue or trend in the market, in the context of other marketing and sales activities or by illustrating the consequences of inactivity.

(3) Link it to a goal. Always show how your initiative ties back to an organizational objective. The stronger the link, the more likely you are to garner support. Be wary of any programs where it’s difficult to connect to company goals.

(4) Anticipate results. This critical step illustrates to leadership that marketing is a discipline—not a guessing game—and that you are the expert in your field. Close your proposal with the potential benefits of the program. Wherever possible, use industry benchmarks or results of past campaigns to establish a range of possible outcomes.

Forget length—concentrate on the four essentials

Remember, the length of your strategy matters less than simply having a marketing strategy. After all, the point is simply to communicate the need for a specific organizational investment in marketing and gain support from your stakeholders—not draft the next best-selling novel.

Every time you share your ideas and request input upfront, you build trust for the marketing team and reduce surprises during project execution.

Six ways to sink your next product launch

Part II: Avoid these common marketing pitfalls

Avoid these marketing pitfallsLaunching a new product or service can bring out the best—or the worst—in an organization. From cost overruns to development delays, the process of innovation is ripe with obstacles.

Make sure your marketing efforts stay on track by watching out for these issues.

Marketing Don’ts:

(1)    Overpromise. A launch means pressure to build a sales pipeline long before the product debuts, but don’t paint yourself into a corner with pre-launch sales tools and marketing messages. Be cautious about including feature names, screen shots, pricing and other details too early in published materials. Instead, sell your vision for the product and leave the specifics for verbal discussions.

(2)    Underestimate your needs. New products and new market entries are two of the most taxing projects for marketing. Do your due diligence and set appropriate expectations; your first year efforts will require substantially more resources than a typical project.

(3)    Skimp on naming. A name is like a tattoo. You’re going to have it for a long time, and it’s complicated, expensive and painful to change. Don’t leave something this important to an employee contest. Hire a professional and find a moniker that has staying power and panache.

(4)    Guess what the market needs. Don’t rely on developers, documentation or third-hand stories to figure out your marketing approach. Get to the source by visiting your audience and hearing firsthand about their needs. Build time into your launch planning for site visits and testing your product positioning.

(5)    Get too technical too early. Yes, features matter. But how your product works only becomes important once your audience knows it can solve their problems. Tell your story so the big picture benefits always get top billing—no matter how much the engineers push to feature the functionality.

(6)    Forget the influencers. From IT to analysts, bloggers to past employees, social media gives everyone a platform. Identify and reach out to those who can champion your solution, with messages that speak to their role and area of expertise.

Ready to move forward? Read the companion post, “Six marketing essentials for a successful product launch.”

Six marketing essentials for a successful product launch

Part I: What to do—and why

Marketing product launchHere are six must-haves as you plan for your next release. These are tailored to a technology solution, but can apply to other goods or services as well.

Marketing Dos:

(1)    Start early. There’s no such thing as too much time to plan; getting ready to market a major initiative can take 12-18 months. Don’t wait until your solution is ready to sell—invite marketing to the table as soon as possible, so positioning, naming, strategy and research can evolve side-by-side with development of the product itself.

(2)    Sell the vision. With new products, we’re especially prone to talking about features and functionality—the “how it works” part. This can be dangerous when building pre-launch buzz, because functionality is still in flux. Instead, generate early momentum by establishing the ideal scenario your prospect can expect, thanks to working with your new solution.

(3)    Find the “wow.” When it comes to promotion, one fantastic feature will create more impact than a dozen ordinary ones. Take time to test messages about functionality until you can articulate a differentiated, relevant positioning. And if you don’t have it—keep looking until you find it, even it if means adding a feature midstream.

 (4)    Map the sales and support process. One meeting with sales, marketing and customer service can avoid countless headaches. Together, diagram how a buyer will move from lead to demo to sale to implementation. Agree on who will be accountable for each stage, how quickly they must respond and where to track pertinent details.

 (5)    Educate everyone. B2B means selling with people—and not just your dedicated sales team. Employees across the company will talk to customers and prospects, so make sure they’re on message and armed with the facts, no matter what their role. Issue regular internal communications, including the correct product name and a consistent “why this product rocks” elevator speech. You’ll minimize misinformation and energize the organization.

 (6)    Build out from a soft launch. Even the best laid plans seldom come to fruition without a hiccup. Minimize your risk—and be kind to your budget—by launching with a beta test or a pilot program. Even 30 days of trial in a small market will give you valuable knowledge to refine your full launch plans.

Up next:  You’ve seen the Dos. Now explore the Don’ts with “Six ways to sink your next product launch.”

Build your best B2B marketing budget

Six tips to smooth the process and win approval

After six years of marketing consulting, I am still surprised by the number of sophisticated, established companies that operate without a marketing plan or formal budget.

Whether your organization requires it or not, the budget process is a smart investment.

Good budgets achieve the three Cs

Developing a budget is about more than just numbers; it’s an exercise in consensus, credibility and confidence.

  • Consensus comes as the organization agrees to marketing goals and priorities.
  • Credibility builds as marketing outlines measurable activities and past results.
  • Confidence occurs as stakeholders see a clear link between their priorities and how marketing will support them.

A sound budget:

  • Aligns marketing efforts with organizational goals.
  • Empowers marketing staff with clear priorities and spending parameters.
  • Streamlines the execution of marketing campaigns.
  • Enables strategic relationships and volume discounts with key suppliers.

Beware of fast-track methods

There are several approaches to budgeting, and the strongest starts from scratch. Beware of fast-track methods that simply increase or decrease last year’s total by a percentage, or base marketing expenses on a percentage of revenue. Macro changes like these rarely account for fluctuations in sales, one-time expenses such as product launches or acquisitions, or efficiencies gained by automation and testing. These approaches also undermine connectivity—the critical process of showing how the proposed budget number correlates to a desired outcome.

Click here to read more »

It’s time to replace that kitchen window

Three strategies to boost marketing productivity

While we are enjoying a blissfully mild Minnesota winter, there’s always a certain amount of seasonal weather-proofing. One of my least favorite chores is sealing up the drafty window in our kitchen, a project that involves about 20 feet of rope caulk, sheets of see-through plastic, a stepladder, several awkward angles and just a few four-letter words. I’ve done this every year since we bought our house in 1999.

This December, it suddenly it dawned on me, wedged precariously into the sink and behind the light fixture: we could replace our 60-year old window with something better fitting and more energy efficient.

We could eliminate the tedious workaround and solve the problem once and for all.

But we’ve always done it this way …

It’s no surprise that it took me twelve years to reach my a-ha moment. Going about our day-to-day tasks, we focus on checking off items on the To Do list, not analyzing whether the way we accomplish completion is the most efficient or effective. We fall into the trap of “because we’ve always done it this way” and simply stop seeing the issues—or the possibilities.

Every marketing department has more on the wish list than resources allow. Identifying and reducing your workarounds is one of the best ways to work smarter and improve capacity.

Find your MacGyver opportunities

Start your marketing overhaul by recognizing your MacGuyver opportunities—those operations held together with chewing gum, old gym socks and good karma. Where do systems lack integration? How often are you re-entering data? Which tasks take seven steps when three should do?

Use these three criteria to address your top issues:

Click here to read more »

Five steps to fast-track your marketing plan

Help! The first quarter’s here and we need a plan now

CalendarIf this cry for help sounds familiar, don’t panic. There’s no time like the present to set your course.

Follow these five steps to expedite your marketing roadmap:

1. Start small

There’s no minimum timeframe for planning. What’s important is defining activities that will help the organization achieve its objectives. Tackle the next six weeks or 90 days and work your way up to a six- or 12-month plan.

2. Prioritize

The marketing wish list will always exceed available resources, so be realistic. Focus your plan on your top three channels, products or organizational objectives and how to support them. Sort potential activities into categories: Required, Desired and Nice. Execute programs in the same order.

3. Delegate

It’s marketing’s job to support organizational goals—not to create them. Ask leadership to share their objectives. Use sales targets, revenue plans and product business plans for guidance. This information gathering will speed your timeline and engage the team.

4. Dedicate time

Like oil and water, strategic thinking and day-to-day marketing tasks don’t mix. Schedule 60-minute blocks of uninterrupted time to draft your plan: no email, no phones, no meetings. If you’re in a high-traffic area, work in a conference room. Make a checklist of items you need to complete, and set a reasonable goal for each work session.

5. Expect revisions

Every plan is a working document, one you will likely adapt as market conditions or business priorities change. When this happens, be flexible, involve others and use the plan as a communications tool. Add or change activities with the same Required-Desired-Nice categories used to develop the plan.

As with any skill, the more you plan, the more proficient you’ll become. And, even a small plan trumps a reactive, ad hoc approach.

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The skinny on content marketing

What the buzz is all about—and why it matters for B2B

Content marketing. It’s a trend that’s spawned agencies, articles, software, and even the new C-suite position of Chief Content Officer.

Here’s the synopsis for busy B2B execs ready to support and evolve your organization’s program.

Content marketing essentials for B2B

Content marketing refers to communications that educate rather than sell: articles, checklists, how-to videos, whitepapers, and other tools. While social media fuels this recent popularity, content marketing is not a new tactic. For decades marketers have executed custom publishing and thought leadership programs to gain mindshare and build brands through expertise and engagement.

What is new:

More channels—and more conversations:  Traditional content marketing relied on sizable budgets and distribution through an in-house list or trade media. By default, the largest companies established the biggest voices for their viewpoints.

Today, the explosion of social media platforms and self-publishing tools opens the field to literally everyone. The challenge now is breaking through the deluge of information to reach your target customer. (And, having something valuable to say.)

Faster pace—and faster turnover:  Conversations about the issues that affect your buyers now occur 24/7, in real-time, and in short rapid-fire bursts of Tweets and posts. Gone is the luxury of waiting to respond, drafting a lengthy communication, or even the guarantee of a focused interaction.

This isn’t an argument for quantity over quality, but a recognition that most online content stays fresh about as long as a carton of milk. Content marketing strategies and resources must be time sensitive.

Five elements of effective content marketing

Follow these considerations to produce content that not only gets found, but gets results.

Click here to read more »

Fear factor: Top five scariest B2B marketing moves

This Halloween, I don’t need zombies, ghosts or even news of the economy to induce a good scare. These five preventable marketing behaviors are enough to keep me awake at night—and to derail the most promising marketing efforts.

Read on, if you dare…

5.  Reactive decision-making.

Market leaders do just that—lead. They proactively listen to their customers (internal and external), recommend the right approach and then stay on plan with marketing activities. Constantly rethinking campaigns or introducing new directions at the eleventh hour only serves to frustrate team members and reduce marketing’s capacity to execute activities.

4.  Brand mismanagement.

Your company and product brands represent the single most valuable marketing asset, and one that requires constant stewardship. From online reputation management to simply policing how the logo is used, it’s critical to mind the details to maintain your investment.

Click here to read more »

Before the A-ha moment? The Oh sh*t moment

Five ways to overcome the fear of failure that often accompanies a big idea

As an entrepreneur, there are many things that wake me in the middle of the night with that sinking feeling of despair in the pit of my stomach: Have I paid my payroll taxes? Did I scope the last project correctly? Will I land the next new client?

Few, however, are as universal as the fear of failure that seems to accompany every new strategic project.

So, it was heartening to hear from my colleague Sarah that I’m not alone in this rollercoaster combination of excitement and dread. Sarah aptly describes this as the “Oh sh*t” moment, as in, “Oh sh*t, I’m not going to make it on this one.”

Big projects = big emotion

We find it most often in the first half of a large engagement, such as helping a client develop a new value proposition, researching a marketing plan, or trying to diagnose the issues that hold back a marketing organization. Between us, we share decades of marketing experience and confidence in our abilities—yet we still struggle with how to push through the gut-level dread that a big project often generates.

Fortunately, the “Oh sh*t” moment eventually gives way to the all-important “A-ha” moment of enlightenment. Yet to get there requires patience, persistence, trust and for me, a good stash of chocolate and caffeine.

Click here to read more »

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