Marketing as Storytelling + Planning: Write Your Story
When I tell people that I work with creative entrepreneurs to develop effective marketing strategies, it's often followed with, "Oh, so you manage their social media?" And while the answer to that question is often yes, there's always a but afterwards. "Yes, I help them manage their social media, BUT that's only after we've had a chance to work together to build their marketing plan first."
It's often hard to know where the line is that differentiates branding from marketing from advertising from social media management. In truth, marketing encompasses all of these elements, and in this 3-part blog series, my goal is to help you understand what marketing is from a foundational level. Consider this a condensed version of Marketing 101. So - let's get started!
Take it from the American Marketing Association where they define marketing as, "...the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large." Phew! Can I get a translation, please?
How I like to break it down is that marketing is storytelling + planning.
Storytelling is crafting the story you want your customers & community to know. What words do you use? Where do you tell your story? And who are you telling it to?
Planning is ensuring that the story you have crafted is consistently being seen by all the right people. This all-encompassing plan becomes your marketing strategy.
Let's start off by diving into the storytelling piece of it. We'll begin by looking at the 3Cs of Marketing: Company, Competition/Community, and Customer. Having a solid grasp of these three elements will help you write your story.
Before we even explore the appropriate marketing tactics for your business, you must first take the time to establish what the current limitations and opportunities are that face your company. You must clearly define these goals and objectives for your business, as the answers to these questions will impact everything else.
Take a few minutes here to pause and answer these questions:
- What are your costs? Do you have any overhead (these are constant, recurring payments like office space rent, payroll, monthly fees for software services, etc.)? What about raw materials needed to make your product?
- What are your current capacity restraints? Consider what you have the time and energy to accomplish.
- What is your company culture? Have you established clear goals? Ultimately - what does your company stand for?
As you grow as a company, your resource limitations and costs will change. This will impact what you can provide and on what timeline, and your marketing strategy will also change as you grow. However, it's important to ensure that the core principles - your WHY - stays the same regardless of how much your company grows. Your WHY is the thesis of your story so everything to follow should come back and support it.
Consider what community you are in, or who could be your potential competition. Observe what they are doing, and find what sets you apart. I would encourage you to find 3-5 other companies to examine in depth. Take time to look at their offerings, their website, the language they use to describe their products/services, their social media presence, etc. Once you have collected all of that information, determine where there might be a gap or an unmet need, and see how that gap aligns with what you do - and capitalize on that!
For instance, if you are a jewelry designer who specializes in handmade, minimalist jewelry, it can be hard to stand out in a saturated market. Let's say you've chosen your 3 competitors to observe, and you notice that they all push the handmade element a lot. It's a major focus of each of their websites and through the stories told on their blog and on social media.
An opportunity for you could be to talk more about the minimalist design aspect. Focus on your pieces being something you can wear everyday that adds the perfect finishing touch to your outfit; your pieces exude understated elegance. Although handmade is still an important factor, by concentrating on the design, you are able to speak directly to another customer who is looking for exactly that. If the others in your field aren't capitalizing on the design element, then you can capture the attention of those people who do place a higher value on design and that becomes your differentiating factor - your unique approach.
Now we're getting into the meat of your story. This unmet need, your differentiating factor, is the WHAT you need to proclaim through every touchpoint with your audience. Which leads us to the last C - defining the WHO you're telling your story to.
In order for your story to be heard, you have to ensure you're speaking to the right people. Clearing defining your customer is one of the most helpful tools for your business, and it is important to know that you cannot be everything to everyone.
In order to determine who your ideal customer is, you'll want to ask a series of questions and paint a really vivid picture of them. You may have 1-3 of these marketing personas or archetypes, and I encourage you to take time and really visualize who these people are for your business. Some questions may include:
- What are their current pain points? What do they really need?
- What do they want? (Sometimes there is a disconnect between what customers want and what they really need.)
- What are their demographics (age, gender, relationship status, job & industry, etc.)?
- How do they spend their free time?
- What is their buying behavior?
- How do they make decisions?
- What do they value?
- What are broad trends in society that affect them (ex. if we're in a recession, does that impact their buying behavior)?
Get really specific here. If you're a more visual person, create a mood board or even sketch it out. Maybe even give them names!
The point of this is that you want to ensure that your offerings will resonate with your dream customer. After going through the competition exercise, and you've determined your differentiating factor, now ask yourself: How is this serving my newly-defined ideal customer? Through this lens, make any adjustments to ensure that the WHAT you are offering truly strikes a chord with the WHO you have now defined.
At this stage, you have analyzed three important factors:
- The current capabilities of your Company,
- Where you reside amongst your peers in your Community, and
- The behaviors, trends, and needs of your ideal Customer.
It's important to note that this exercise should be dynamic, and you want to constantly be scanning the environment to identify changes. As your company grows, how does that affect how many people you can serve or how you produce your product? As your ideal customer ages, do you age with them, or do you look to capture a new audience?
The key to an effective marketing strategy is how well you can adapt & change, and staying in tune with any changes to your Company, Competition, and Customer will directly correspond to the health of your business. These three elements will lead to the outline of your story that you will tell about your business. We'll dive into even more detail about how you can better define your differentiating factor and finish writing your story in the next blog post.
Also, a HUGE shout out to Tiane Tuliao who inspired me to write this post by suggesting a collaboration. We decided on the topic together, and she created this awesome Pinterest infographic to go with it.