Think First, Tweet Later

We convince ourselves going with our gut means that we’re on top of our game. This isn’t always the case when it comes to marketing.

Never before has it been so simple to engage our customers and share information. With the rapid development of social media and mobile technologies, most of which are free and easy to use, it now takes just a few seconds to tweet about services or post a product photo on Facebook. But such reactive or “fast-twitch” marketing isn’t always a good thing.

Savvy business leaders know the grim statistics about consumers being flooded with marketing messages: The average person sees over 5,000 a day. Companies must work even harder to break through all of that noise but that doesn’t mean they more marketing. Success comes from doing smarter marketing.

The other day, I had a strategy session with the CEO of a biotech startup. His company is about to launch a mobile app to help people better manage their type-2 diabetes and share medical information with their doctors. Marketing is at the core of his overall business strategy. Right out of the gate, he’s infusing marketing into everything he’s doing, from business development activities with angel investors to partner strategies with globally recognized pharmaceutical brands. He has a clear vision of where he wants the company to go and is using marketing every step of the way to help meet his business goals.

It takes a small investment of time up front to be as strategic with your marketing as you are with your business. That’s a challenge for some business leaders, especially in our fast-paced culture. We’re led to believe we do our best when we fly by the seat of our pants, reacting to every new opportunity and situation that crops up. We convince ourselves going with our gut means that we’re on top of our game. This isn’t always the case. Improvisation has its place but delivering a well-rehearsed, five-star performance is equally impressive.

Marketing can’t be an afterthought. Here are a few of the most common mistakes businesses make when it comes to marketing:

Overachieving
Desperately seeking the secret to marketing nirvana, some entrepreneurs try a little—or a lot—of everything and anything. They randomly pin pictures on Pinterest, produce videos for YouTube and launch Groupon campaigns. With no strategic approach, quantity becomes a poor substitute for quality. Marketing efforts are spread too thin, unable to deliver the right results.

Over-obsessing
Another mistake made by business leaders is putting all of their marketing eggs into one basket. They get obsessed with a tool or technique and social media is at the top of the fixation list right now. Many companies think it’s the absolute best way to reach people. It isn’t. According to a Gallup poll of roughly 20,000 social media users, corporate social media is often the least effective at influencing people’s opinions, especially potential customers. Personal recommendations from friends and family still rule when it comes to promoting your products and services.

Being impatient
I recently spoke to a group of entrepreneurs at a business development conference. Many people in the room complained about the lack of immediate results from their marketing efforts. One person said, "I posted three things on my business’ Facebook page last week and not one person liked them," and another grumbled, "I spent hours writing a new blog post yesterday and not one person commented on it." We live in a world of instant gratification, but effective marketing doesn’t always work that way.

The best way to avoid making these three types of mistakes is to use a more strategic approach to how you market your business. Doing so is especially important if you’re in startup mode with limited resources. To begin, take a close look at your current definition of marketing. Most people think marketing is promoting products and services. But strategic marketing is different. It’s about sharing your brand story in ways that connect with the right people so you get the right result.

Being strategic doesn’t mean you can’t have fun along the way. Marketing can be incredibly innovative and exciting. What other aspect of business involves throwing parties, making cool t-shirts and creating eye-catching logos? Just be sure you don’t put the cart before the horse.

Here are three steps you can take to ensure there is purpose and intention behind your marketing efforts.

1. Map the landscape: Start by getting a lay of the land from every vantage point. Some call this a situational or SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis. Whatever you call it, pull your team—or a few colleagues—together and map out what’s going on in and out of your business. Do a reality check of your current situation. Take a close look at the competitive environment, your industry and even the world at large when it comes to things like the economy and social issues.

I facilitated this type of strategy session for some members of the Washington State Bed & Breakfast (B&B) Association. In the process, they realized that neighboring residents could be their biggest threat, thanks to websites like Airbnb.com, a service that helps people monetize their extra living space. At the same time, the B&B group uncovered one of its greatest strengths: Many of Airbnb’s individual-owned rooms and apartments are not regulated. In contrast, all of the B&B group’s properties are fully licensed and inspected. That’s an important competitive advantage that could be promoted strategically to potential customers and with media outlets and other opinion influencers.

2. Dig deeper: Once you have a snapshot of your situation, and have identified your greatest opportunities or marketing “gold nuggets,” it’s time to assess the information at your fingertips. Is it instructive enough to inform decisions on its own? Be sure you have the details and specific data you need to make the smartest marketing decisions.

For example, I consulted with a sports hypnotherapist specializing in helping athletes improve their game. A unique strength was his ability to get great results for kids in sports. This distinct aspect of his business had tremendous marketing potential but he needed to do additional research to get solid data on his success rates with youth. He could then use it strategically as his main marketing message directed towards those parents with a burning desire for their kids to win.

3. Take action: The final step is to turn your information and ideas into marketing campaigns that deliver real results for your business. Create test pilot programs to see what works, incorporate feedback along the way and course correct.

When marketing is a foundational part of your organization, at the core of every business strategy, it helps fuel your company and move you toward the goals that matter the most to you. Success for every organization comes down to doing smart marketing activities, right from the start.

Whitney Keyes is a speaker, marketing expert, professor of strategic communications and author of Propel: Five Ways to Amp Up Your Marketing and Accelerate Business. Find Keyes at whitneykeyes.com or follow her on Twitter.

[Image: Flickr user Ricky Romero]

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