A few hours before I sat down to write this article, I watched my daughters board the bus for their first day of school. 8-year-old Caitlin is starting third grade, and 5-year-old Cassidy is off to conquer kindergarten.
The drama leading up to the first day of school was relatively minor. Caitlin said she didn’t want to learn multiplication and division. Cassidy had more basic concerns, like knowing where to sit and how to get to the bathroom.
I explained that it’s okay to be nervous and tried to reassure them with simple, fatherly advice.
Listen to your teacher. Pay attention. Do your best. Be kind to the other kids in your class. Make good decisions.
If you do these very basic things each day to become a better student and a better person, everything else will fall into place and you’ll do just fine.
It reminded me of a story I read about John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach. At the first team meeting, Wooden didn’t immediately draw up plays or dive into conditioning drills. He showed his players the right way to put on their shoes and socks.
You play on a hard floor, so you must have shoes that fit right. And you must not permit your socks to have wrinkles around the little toe – where you generally get blisters – or around the heels… Hold up the sock, work it around the little toe area and the heel area so that there are no wrinkles. Smooth it out good. Then hold the sock up while you put the shoe on. And the shoe must be spread apart, not just pulled on the top laces. You tighten it up snugly by each eyelet. Then you tie it. And then you double-tie it so it won’t come undone – because I don’t want shoes coming untied during practice, or during the game.
Long story short, he started with the basics. Just like my Cassidy will be learning to tie her shoes this year while in kindergarten, Wooden taught his players – collegiate athletes – how to put on their socks and lace up their shoes.
Not exactly rocket science, but you won’t be at your best if you have blisters and other injuries.
When it comes to marketing, it’s equally important to make sure you nail the basics before you try to do long division or a crossover dribble.
Before you get your Snapchat account, set up a paid search campaign, or try to animate your logo, take a step back and wrap your head around who you are, who you serve, and how you serve them.
What Is Your Brand?
That doesn’t mean “show me your logo.” Your brand is a promise to deliver a certain experience and result. Your brand should make people feel a certain way. Your brand should convey the values you want your organization to represent.
You can’t market until you get a handle on your brand.
Who Is Your Target Audience?
Get beyond superficial demographic information like age, gender and income. What matters to the people you want to hire you or buy from you? What makes them happy? What keeps them up at night? Where and how do they consume information?
Once you’ve answered these questions, drill down even further to identify your ideal client. That person is your real target audience.
What Makes You Different?
This is your unique value proposition. This is what makes people choose you over your competition. And this is one question business owners and marketers often struggle with more than any other.
Stale, overused marketing clichés like “best service,” “knowledgeable staff” and “highest quality” aren’t unique. In fact, any company on the planet can use them. Most probably have.
I recently read an article by author Mark Schaefer, who suggests finishing a sentence that begins with “only we.”
Only we do…
Only we are…
Only we can…
Only we have…
It might take some time to precisely identify your “only we” and get beyond vague marketing clichés. The answer might not be what you always thought it was. And you might have to – gasp – talk to your clients to figure it out.
What Do You Actually Do?
I’m not talking about answering the “what do you do” question when you first meet someone. I’m talking about explaining how you deliver value to your clients.
I suggest creating a four-column marketing framework.
- Column 1: Common client problems and challenges.
- Column 2: Your solution(s) for solving those problems and overcoming those challenges.
- Column 3: Your process.
- Column 4: The result(s) you deliver for your clients.
Make sure items are lined up across each column. Based on this information, you should be able to summarize what you do and the value you deliver in one simple sentence and one supporting paragraph.
This framework should serve as an internal reference to guide all future marketing.
Think and Plan. Then Do.
These questions may seem simple, but answering them can be difficult. It takes time, deep reflection, and planning.
That’s enough to discourage many business owners and marketers, who would rather launch half-ass marketing “campaigns” based on hope and a prayer and wonder why they fail.
By answering these questions, you’ll create a solid marketing foundation based on sound marketing principles. The strategies, tactics and technology may change, but the basic recipe for effective marketing is the same today as it was 100 years ago and will be in another 100 years.
But you’ll need to put the time in. There are no shortcuts.
As John Wooden said, if you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?
And as my daughters say, you better check yourself before you wreck yourself.