I stumbled over this quote the other day by Edwards Deming:
If you can't describe what you are doing as a process, you don't know what you're doing.
Its a harsh statement (for a Friday afternoon), but if you think about it there is a fundamental truth to it. Because if there is no documented process, there is no strategy, and if there is no strategy it likely means you haven't thought about what you are doing in enough depth.
For a long time, "strategy" felt like an elusive concept to me. I can sense when there isn't a good strategy (or any strategy), but it's been hard for me to point my finger and articulate why. You know it when you see it.
So over the past few years, I read books and kept an eye out for good marketing strategies and their underlying principles. And I found two components (among others) that are essential to judge if your strategy holds up:
The 2 components of an effective marketing strategy
A good indication that you don't have a strategy is a lack of cohesiveness of your tactics. If you are using multiple marketing channels and the tactics are all unrelated, you might not have a strategy. For example, you have a newsletter because every other company has one. You start a podcast because everyone seems to be podcasting now. You run a couple of ads because marketing must have ads, right? The issue is: These tactics don't connect with each other.
On the flip side, if your tactics can all link back to "one thing", then I would consider that "one thing" your strategy. For instance, your strategy might be to use content marketing and SEO to acquire new customers:
- You create content that ranks well on Google and YouTube.
- You share on social to generate backlinks, which will help you rank better.
- You build an email list using your content to have an "owned" audience to talk to when you launch new features.
→ Everything is connected back to content and SEO.
The other component to consider is your advantage. Just because a strategy is working well for another company doesn't mean it will work well for you. Does that company have an advantage that you do not have? Do you have an advantage that others do not have? My favorite example is Ahrefs. They are in a unique position to do content marketing and SEO with their own SEO product (called product-led content). Not every company can do marketing with their own product.
Sometimes your strategy might require you to develop an advantage (rather than creating a strategy based on your advantage). The question remains the same. What are you uniquely positioned to do and how can you use that position for your marketing? This could revolve around exclusive access to proprietary data, riding on a trend with lots of public interest, a product that's easy to show off etc.
Frameworks for Solid Strategies: Loops and Flywheels
When developing a strategy it helps to pull in existing frameworks to guide you through the process. There are hundreds of different marketing strategy frameworks out there. I recommend the "loops and flywheels model".
The following two essays have fundamentally shaped and updated my understanding of marketing strategies:
- Andrew Chen's The red flags and magic numbers that investors look for in your startup’s metrics – 80 slide deck included!
- Reforge's Growth Loops are the New Funnels
For example, Chen talked about a paid marketing loop. Companies like Blue Apron, Casper, and Uber spend a lot of money on ads. The ads generate a bunch of signups. A percentage of the users pay for the product. The companies get more money to buy ads.
But that's not all. The loop can be broken down into smaller steps to be optimized. Tactics within the strategy. For example, when people click on the ad, they will see a landing page, which will persuade them to sign up or not. The team can work on improving the page, which will improve the signup rate and the entire loop. More users!
Chen explained a few other loops in his essay. I would recommend checking them out.
Connecting the pieces
If you can come up with the growth loop or flywheel for your company, that will serve as the core of your marketing strategy. Then any tactics you want to try should ideally fit with this core.
For example, if you are running the paid marketing loop, you could try partnering with influencers to get more photos and videos of your product, which you can then use in your ads.
This way, you can still try out different channels but have them link back to your core strategy.
Coming up with the entire strategy is not easy. Every situation and context is different. But if you make sure your tactics connect and work together within a bigger picture and you take advantage of your unique product and position in the market, you are half-way there.