When should I update my marketing strategy?
And how often should it be refreshed?
All marketing is experimental, until it is not.
Building the right marketing hypothesis.
When marketing or sales strategies don’t work but we do them anyway.
Twelve situations that call for an updated marketing strategy .
Is it time to refresh your strategic marketing plan?
Here are the times when you need to revisit your marketing strategy:
- When you make the transition from launch to operations
- When conditions in your target audience change
- When you are not meeting business goals
- When your competition changes the rules of the game
- You have leadership turnover in your sales or marketing
- When your competition is winning customer you think you should have won
- When you are working to align sales and marketing
- When you have added new services or products
- When you are planning to open a new location
- When you have refreshed your brand imagery or logo
- When you need help securing a larger budget
- When the leads you are getting aren't the right ones
Your marketing plan needs to be revised whenever any one or more of these situations are true for your organization. For strategies to work they have to line up with the leadership involved in marketing and sales, the conditions in the market and the changing opportunities among all the different marketing tools and channels. When any one of these big factors change it is important to revisit the strategy. It’s also important to adjust the marketing strategy when that strategy is demonstrating that it is working well (time to do more of what’s working), or not delivering as intended (time to stop doing what isn’t working).
( Until it is not. )
Marketing strategies should really be viewed as experiments. Each part of the plan is a hypothesis that should be based upon real expertise or previous history. It’s tempting to base these experiments on the amazing claims that many people make who are trying to sell one of the “marketing solutions.” The saying, “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” fits here. Some of those solutions might work, but until they work for you they are a hypothesis.
The elements that you build into your plan should come from trusted sources. Those include industry training, the experiences of others whom you know, and the list of things that you currently do that are working. The more proven the strategic element, the higher up the confidence scale you can place it. Some strategies should be placed in the testing category until they demonstrate some level of effectiveness. Strategies with higher confidence should be moved toward the improvement status -- they should be retained but evaluated to see how they can be improved.
Marketing Hypothesis Example - Facility Tours
For many organizations, a tour of the facility is a vital part of the marketing and sales strategy. It is common for a high percentage of those who tour to become customers. Since this is a strategy recommended by many industries, and you probably have a track record that demonstrates its value, tours have probably become a part of the marketing strategy. But that does not mean that the hypothesis approach shouldn’t be applied. For example, as you review the communication that occurs before and after the tour, could stronger communication improve your close rate? That’s probably a hypothesis worth testing, and the right combination of communication types and frequency can be drawn from your persona. This hypothesis should go into your updated marketing strategy until you can narrow down what the best combination of digital, telephone, print communication creates the most consistent results. Since it has the potential to improve your close rate with otherwise qualified prospects, it can take a high priority in your strategy.
Other more experimental elements may also be worth testing. For example, what can Facebook marketing do for the number of people who want a tour and those who become customers? Based upon industry advice, expert guidance and experiences of others you know this could also be a strategy to test.
Keep the experimental approach to marketing.
A hypothesis approach to marketing creates consistent improvement in outcomes but requires a more frequent approach to updating your marketing strategy. Is it worth it? The answer is probably yes if the budget you are working with can help you reach your business goals more quickly or consistently. This approach also allows you to balance out the number of resources you apply to something that is proven versus something that is more experimental.
The ability to treat marketing as an ongoing experiment requires the ability to careful track marketing and how it performs - learn more about tools for tracking and management.
Keeping the experimental perspective on marketing allows you to be prepared to adapt as changes occur. Even the most trusted strategy may have to be altered if the right combination of changes is present. Very little in marketing will ever obtain a status above the need for testing and improvement, and if it does, then you are setting yourself up for being entrenched in practices that no longer work. Becoming institutionally invested in a dated strategy happens in all industries and those that fail to adapt will soon lose market share and may even fail to survive. Many organizations, for example, are still rigidly focused on print marketing for tour building, while digital strategies are creating amazing outcomes at lower costs.
Let’s face it, we sometimes hold onto things that aren’t working. We do that for a variety of reasons ranging from wanting things that meet ego needs, wanting solutions that fit our skills, or even for sentimental reasons. One example of this is found in some approaches to newsletters. Newsletters used to be a staple for marketing. They were usually delivered in print form and were kind of a mini-newspaper of what was happening (for those of you who have never received one:). Lots of organizations still put out newsletters either in print or digital form, and for many of them are almost entirely unproductive. The point of an effective strategy is to ask the question: “is this use of our time and effort that produces anything of value for our organization?” If the answer is yes, then it makes the cut in the marketing plan if the answer is no, then either drop it, or if you include it anyway, at least you know that it should consume as little resource as possible.
If you are struggling with marketing on a tight budget, then these questions about effectiveness take on an even larger importance. But if we fail to ask the question about effectiveness, it can, put us squarely into the suggestion by Einstein -- “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”
Story Collaborative has an advanced approach to marketing strategy that helps build a competitive advantage for a team of any size, called the Story Team Framework.
Are you missing the most important part of your strategy?
It’s easy to focus on using the latest tactics or checking the box with standard elements of a marketing plan and miss the most important element - the brand story. Without a brand story, a marketing strategy might be just a formatlity. It is the brand story that connects the personality and differentiators of an organization to what matters to the customer. The brand story is the heart of the marketing strategy and cannot come from an external vendor or a simplistic story line. Brand stories are the ultimate social proof of value and when they are captured from the authentic benefits that an organization creates in the lives of customers, they power the marketing strategy to a new level.
->Learn more about how to capture and implement your authentic brand story
Revise your marketing plans when you transition from launch to operations.
The initial plans for your organization, new service or location may be created without the benefit of on-the-ground experience with the new product or location. Building a launch marketing plan may be driven by requirements for budgeting, obtaining funds or certification, and if that is the case these plans should be considered experimental. You’ll choose from the best available options and as you get started you’ll begin to see whether those strategies are actually working. Your launch plans will also require a specific level of customer growth, and the launch marketing plan may not create the kind of results that you need to meet your budget. Additionally, launch planning should be heavily focused on brand development. Brand development will capture some of the most available members in the community, but may not be able to drive consistent growth. The last thing that often requires a strategy update occurs when the launch marketing budget is spent.
Revise your marketing strategy when conditions in your target audience change.
Changes in the target audience can occur because of a variety of factors such as the economy, new technology that becomes popular, and trends that accelerate ahead of projections. Your target audience personas should detail the preferences, habits, and interests of those you want to reach. When those details change, your strategy has to adjust.
For example, very few people knew that Facebook would become a dominant source of news, or that video consumption among seniors would rise so quickly. Streaming video has taken over and completely eliminated the video rental store. During the last recession, the entire fast-food industry had to move over to value-priced meals. The presence of a new competitor, or the public preferences of a well-known celebrity in your market can have big impacts on how people interact with the plans you have made.
Being alert to these changes is vital, and your awareness should help you be aware that a strategy shift is required before it hits your bottom line.
Revise your marketing strategy when you are not meeting business goals.
Bottom line measures have a way of getting our attention as soon as we review financials. Especially if you have already made several adjustments to the elements of the marketing strategy, a plan update might be in order. If you accept the experimental nature of marketing, then your plan adjustments can include several tests that have limited scope to determine which one can help correct the lower performance.
There can be a number of underlying issues within the marketing strategy that contributes to low goal performance:
- Lack of accurate or detailed personas can water down the content and ads so they don’t’ stand out
- The brand itself may be dated or not presenting your real differentiators
- A disconnect between marketing and sales can mean that the leads aren’t the right quality, or that a hand-off between the two is not happening effectively.
- Your competitive analysis may need to be revisited to find gaps in the competition’s marketing that you can step into.
- Your selection of channels for marketing may be placing you in a more costly position, or facing off head to head against your strongest competitor
- Under-developed marketing content can perform poorly in whatever method it is delivered
- Response and conversion methods may not be working and may simply need to be improved
Update your marketing plan when your competition changes the rules of the game.
Walgreens recently mailed out pharmacy discount cards that offer an 84% discount on medication compared to the 75% offered by CVS. They are attempting to change the existing perceptions of value and responsiveness to consumers with this offer. Will many people make a pharmacy change for a 9% savings? Changes may not be as dramatic, and can simply result from shifts in the emphasis on marketing. One facility that Story Collaborative has a much-beloved chef that cooks the meals. Building on this reputation, especially in a well-known area of concern (people believe that most institutional food is bad) can represent a significant market shift, just like having a pet mascot or another amenity.
Technology can also create a significant shift in a very short time. Having wifi in your location was a big differentiator not that long ago. Change can be driven by the technology offered in the facility or the technology that is used for marketing. For example, Story Collaborative uses an email system that routinely creates 60%+ open rates on email, far above industry standards. When a competitor implements a technology change, a competitive advantage can result in a very short period of time and a rework of marketing plans is required.
Plan updates should follow major turnover in sales or marketing roles.
The operations of a marketing or sales plan are not just dependent upon assets and technology, it is driven by people. And leaders in these roles have been comfortable with the technology and adept at their implementation. With more than 5,000 Martech software providers, the number of options is immense with new advertising approaches being added on a regular basis.
New team leadership brings with it new preferences and levels of confidence in a variety of approaches, and it almost always suggests that a marketing strategy is updated. It’s also a good time to complete some additional analysis.
When your competition is winning customers you think you should have won.
It is frustrating when clients that you've talked with and invested time in helping choose another provider. Even if the competition has an edge in price or offerings, your marketing and sales process needs to help you build your competitive advantage. The cost of marketing strategy is small compared to losing customers who you invest in and don't close.
If you've already tried to optimize your marketing to attract the right prospects, and you don't have a new direction to go with for sales processes and approaches, it's probably time for a new strategic marketing plan.
When you are working to align sales and marketing for greater productivity.
The silo that used to separate marketing and sales is disappearing in many industries. People used to rely upon sales to answer all of their questions, but today as much as 70% of product and service information is gleaned by the customer before they ever talk to anyone. That marketing content is actually doing part of what used to be the sales role.
With conversational marketing approaches, the potential customer who is exploring a service may be connected digitally to a salesperson very early in the process, or they may in fact be connecting with someone cross-trained in sales and customer service.
If you are a one-person team providing both sales and marketing, a “smarketer” as we like to call it, then you already understand the reality of a dual marketing/sales role.
Here’s the other thing. The insights that salespeople gain from actually talking with people represent vital information that marketers need. The questions, the objections, the comparisons between you and competitors are all part of the knowledge in the salespersons’ head. When the marketing and sales team align what they know and what they are promoting, then both become more effective.
Salespeople need to be able to speak into the level of interest and knowledge that prospects have. The leads they receive may, or may not be truly qualified, and when salespeople feel that they are being fed low-quality leads, they may even stop working them as a result.
Marketing and Sales alignment should be a part of your strategic planning process. If it is new to you, then it can radically alter the way you plan and execute both marketing and sales.
Update your plan if you have added significant new services or products.
When you add new service lines or products, a revision or update to your strategic plan is important. The specific persona of people who will be interested in the new offering may or may not be the same as the one you are currently working with.
The introduction of new services or products can also change the customer decision process and may provide new avenues to attract and keep customers. Important questions like, “Is the new product an introductory or upsell?” or, “What kind of customer will this product bring to our business, and how do we best reach them?”
Revisit your marketing strategy if you are planning to open a new location.
New locations create the same types of opportunities that new service lines or products open to the organization. But the same factors must be considered - persona, product/market fit, competition, and others all come into play.
For example, Story Collaborative has helped a number of companies open new locations in a variety of industries. Every time we do this, we encounter a significant shift in the persona and the way that the brand is experienced in the new community. This requires that most of the elements of the Strategic marketing plan are updated or changed. The best time to make these plan adjustments is pre-launch with as much advance planning time as possible.
Get a fresh strategy when you are refreshing your brand imagery or logo.
Since a brand is not just a logo or collection of fonts and colors, brand refreshes should occur alongside a rebuilt marketing strategy. The brand imagery is part of the larger brand story and strategy. Your desire or need to refresh your brand comes with a list of assumptions about your brand that should be reflected in your broader marketing strategy.
A brand is not just the logo, it is everything that a prospect comes to know and feel about an organization.
The same concerns that are prompting a refresh of the brand logo, will impact the strategy. What about your brand or presentation feels date or “off” for your target audience. How do these concerns affect all of the other content, assets, and channels that you are using to reach your audience?
One way to effectively bring the strategy and brand imagery together is to complete a Story Deck Workshop. This workshop builds brand elements from the customer experience rather than from just our organizational perspective and delivers the power of the brand story to go along with fresh imagery.
When you need help securing a larger budget.
For many marketers and “smarketers”, whether in a large team or a team of one, budget is an issue they wrestle with consistently. When advertisers like Facebook, raise their prices 25% in one year and restrict the use of organic (free) reach, it has a cost impact. If competitors are using this strategy effectively, your lack of adequate budget can become a real problem that leads to poor bottom-line performance.
A number of the key elements in the strategic marketing plan provide substantial help in explaining and supporting the need for additional budgets. Having fresh insights into your competitive marketing place, what customers and competitors are doing, and real tracking of your marketing “experiments” can make a big difference in budget discussions.
When the leads you are getting aren't the right ones.
When reaching monthly goals is an ongoing challenge, many times you can track it back to just getting the wrong kind of leads. When you put in the time to build rapport and then continually qualify them out, it can create a vicious cycle that leads to low closing numbers.
Your marketing plan should be targeting people based upon their likelihood to buy plus good service fit. Otherwise you can get stuck with leads that aren't going to close no matter how strong your sales approach. If the leads are consistently a poor fit, then the marketing plan needs to be reviewed.