How’s your marketing strategy going?
Even with all the available analytics, I know it’s a tricky question to answer.
But is it really?
Because if your revenue isn’t where you want it to be, then your marketing strategy has issues (assuming everything else is in order). Once you’ve admitted your business needs help, the next question is—whom do you hire?
Here’s something we can both agree on—
With so much specialization in marketing, it can be challenging to know whom you need to hire to help you with your marketing strategy.
Let’s break it down and make it easy.
Start with the customer because, without a customer, you have nothing.
Have you researched and validated the following?
- Your ideal customer (e.g., demographics, behaviors, attitudes);
- What they want;
- What problem they have;
- What they think and feel about the problem in their lives and after the problem is solved;
- What success and failure look like to them; and
- How your product or service helps them.
If your marketing strategy has gaps in any areas above, you need a market researcher.
Every market researcher has different strengths, but in general, they should be able to help you with the following:
- Evaluate the above areas;
- Use existing research or conduct original research to investigate areas such as customer wants, needs, satisfaction, willingness to recommend, experience, and brand perceptions;
- Research and evaluate competitors;
- Know various research methods and be able to explain why the chosen approach is the best one to answer your questions;
- Collect and analyze data; and
- Apply the findings to business strategy to help your team make good decisions.
Questions to ask before investing in market research
- What available research exists on this issue or concern, and what does it say that applies to our problem? You can conduct an online search to see what you find, so you are not uninformed.
- What will we learn if we do this specific type of research project (e.g., market analysis, customer survey, focus group)? What information will we not get? After we completed the research, I’ve had a client ask me, “What about X?” I’ve had to tell them that we didn’t ask about X even though we had thoroughly discussed everything before launching the project. Understand how your marketing strategy will benefit from the research.
- How will the research results be reported? Your researcher should outline how they will convey the results (e.g., presentation, spreadsheets). You should ensure it’s in a format that your team can understand and use. You can also request the raw data.
- How will the business application be outlined? Beware of a researcher who is terrific at data but doesn’t understand how to apply the findings to your business.
- If we invest $XX in this market research, what is our return on investment (ROI)? This ROI may be in dollars or other intangibles (e.g., confidence, aligned vision) but should be identified. If your researcher can’t articulate any ROI, you should strongly reconsider the partnership and maybe even the investment.
- If we don’t do this research, what will it cost us? Again, this loss may be in dollars or other intangibles (e.g., team frustration).
- What other investments will we need to make to conduct this research (e.g., survey platform)? The proposal should outline who is responsible for what costs and if they will be ongoing.
- What is the timeline for conducting the research and getting the final report? Some project types (e.g., surveys) have a quicker turnaround than others. For example, focus groups often have a longer timeline because of the need to recruit the participants, conduct the group, analyze the data, and summarize the results.
A good market researcher can answer all these questions confidently even if they need time to get back to you. Reconsider any researcher who insists that one particular method is the only way to go or has little knowledge of human behavior or business strategy.
Next, think about your organization.
Does your organization have a strong identity that is easily recognizable and authentic and resonates with internal and external stakeholders? Or does your organization blend into the crowd and represent an identity you think it should have, not how you want it to be?
If you fall into the latter category, you need someone specializing in branding who can help your marketing strategy beyond your logo, website, company name, or colors.
Hubspot outlines the components for a comprehensive branding strategy, which a branding specialist helps you with:
- Identifying a defining purpose: Helping you set your brand apart from your competitors, through a functional purpose (e.g., REI sells outdoor gear) and an intentional purpose (e.g., REI believes “a life outdoors is a life well-lived”);
- Being consistent: Making sure that all your content, internal and external, supports your brand;
- Understanding emotion and loyalty: Tapping into the customer’s feelings and building loyalty using a sense of connection, inviting them into a community, and promoting positivity;
- Being flexible: Outlining the bounds of creativity, so your content is fresh but still reflects your brand; and
- Learning from competitors: Gathering insights from competitors to give your customers a better, different experience.
Things to research before hiring a branding specialist
- How do they define an authentic brand? If they answer primarily in design (visual) terms, then their view of branding is limited. You will miss out on fully realizing your brand through words and intangibles such as customer experience and values.
- What industries have they worked with before? While it may be beneficial to work with someone familiar with your industry, you want to avoid someone who will make your company look like everyone else they have worked with. Ask to see their portfolio to ensure they can bring out each organization’s unique brand.
- What questions do they ask to understand your brand? They should have a thoughtful list of questions to ask you about your company and also take action to research your industry and competitors.
- Do you feel like they “get you?” If not, then move on. Also, move on if they try to talk you out of your vision. While it’s their job to point out the pros and cons of taking a specific direction with your brand, there has to be a sense of connection. You don’t want to agree to a brand that doesn’t fit your vision. You will waste money and have to start over.
- What are the deliverables, and how far do they take you? Will you get a logo, a brand color palette, mood board, tagline, or something else? Be clear on what you are getting and when their involvement ends. For example, you may get all the components that need to go on your website, but they will not redo your website for you.
Hire a branding specialist who can provide a portfolio of past clients, asks thoughtful questions, and respects your input. Reconsider anyone who focuses mainly on design, has a brand portfolio that looks the same across all clients, and tries to push you in a direction that you are uncomfortable with.
Are you able to promote your brand online to your target market and generate engagement and revenue?
If not, then you need a digital marketer.
Digital marketing is a broad term for “any marketing methods conducted through electronic devices which utilize some form of a computer.” While traditional marketing is often seen as static and one-way communication (e.g., a billboard), digital marketing is constantly changing and usually two-way communication. If you decide your marketing strategy needs a boost from a digital marketer, your next step is to figure out what type of digital marketing you need.
The American Marketing Association lists the common types of digital marketing:
- Search engine optimization (SEO): Goal is to improve your rank within search engines to increase online traffic.
- Search engine marketing (SEM): Often used with SEO, the focus is on paid online advertising to increase visibility within search engines.
- Pay-per-click advertising (PPC): Online advertising where the business is charged for the ad only when it’s clicked.
- Social media marketing (SMM): Using social media platforms to promote products, services, or brands often using influencers to achieve its goals.
- Email marketing: Goal is to use email to send content to sell products or services or nurture customer relationships. Email marketing often uses automated sequences.
- Affiliate marketing: A network approach with revenue-sharing or pay-per-sale compensation to network members when products or services are sold.
- Content marketing: The development, publishing, and distribution of content to prospects and customers online using text, video, or audio. The most common approaches are blogs, videos, and podcasts.
- Native advertising: Sponsored, promoted or suggested paid content that blends into the specific media and looks like typical non-paid content. Consumers often do not realize they are viewing paid content.
Things to consider before hiring a digital marketer
- Have you identified the specific outcome you want, and is it reasonable? A digital marketing agency can do many things. However, you don’t want to rely on them to tell you what you need. If you want to rank on the first page of Google, you should understand what investment it will take to get there and what the benefit to your business will be. Then you can decide whether that is the right goal.
- Do you know your audience? To evaluate a proposed digital solution, you need to know your audience as well or better than the digital marketer. If you are trying to reach an audience of older adults 65 years of age and older to sell them dentures, you need to know that email marketing would not be the best solution.
- What are their strengths? To evaluate what they are likely to be good at, ask them about what platforms they typically work in and what types of budgets they have managed. Their favorite platform tells you what their likely “go-to” is and where they have spent the most time. Managing a larger budget may be easier than a smaller one, which may require more strategy.
- How does your potential digital marketer stay up to date on trends and changes? Social media is changing all the time. No one can know everything, but it is crucial to understand how the person or agency stays current.
Look for a digital marketer who knows what they are good at and can help build partnerships or assist you in outsourcing what they don’t provide but need. Reconsider anyone who promises you whatever you want without looking at the ROI.
Does your audience prefer learning about or buying your product or service offline? Do you rely on physical materials such as catalogs, coupons, flyers, or communication such as phone calls, text messages, trade shows, or in-home visits?
If this sounds like your organization and you’re struggling with your marketing strategy, then a specialist in direct marketing is your answer.
This article from the Entrepreneur Handbook is a must-read before you meet with a direct marketer. You want to understand each method and its pros and cons concerning your targeted audience.
- Direct mail: Sending out materials to prospects or customers via mail.
- Telemarketing: Calling a targeted group with a specific promotion and ideally engaging in a conversation.
- Direct response advertising: Soliciting responses from interested prospects via an ad placed in a newspaper, magazine, online, or broadcasted via television or radio that is directed to a broader audience.
- Face-to-face sales: Meeting physically with a lead or customer to close a deal.
- Text message marketing: Promotional messages are sent via text messages to leads or customers who are given the opportunity to respond or request more information.
- Trade shows: Industry-specific events at which the current trends, research, goods, and services are presented by businesses and discussed with prospects and customers.
- Experience stands: A physical stand that allows the customer to interact with the product or service to create awareness and promote sales.
- Catalogs: Physical books that outline the product specifications, pricing, guarantees, etc. Customers purchase the products via a mail-in order form, phone, or weblink.
- Leafleting: Promotional materials left at the homes or businesses of customers and not delivered via mail.
Note: Direct marketing does include online activities already mentioned, such as social media, digital advertising, and email marketing.
Factors to consider when evaluating your direct marketing options
- Available demographic and psychographic information: If you have little information on your desired customer, your marketing will not be targeted and not as successful.
- Where your audience is: You may want to use TikTok because it’s fun and creative, but if your target customer is over 65 years old, you won’t find them there. Ask your direct marketer what the research says about your audience and how their suggested approach will integrate with your marketing strategy.
- Type of opt-in or consent needed: People protect their information (e.g., their phone number) and may be unwilling to opt-in or consent to be contacted. If this is the case, could a less invasive approach be used?
- Response rates: Read up on the different ways to measure response rates and compare that to what your marketer outlines. Make sure you understand how they will calculate the response rate.
- Investment: Your budget is crucial in deciding how to execute your campaign. Consider whether you will need to invest in any physical materials (e.g., trade show booth), software (e.g., text messaging platform), or have any other expenses (e.g., need to hire additional staff, reporting platforms).
Hire a direct marketer with a clear proposal that aligns with your audience, goals, and existing research. Investigate other candidates if response rates aren’t clearly outlined, there are surprise costs in the scope of work, or if they claim to work equally well in all direct marketing channels.
Don’t stop reading yet.
Regardless of whom you hire to help you with your marketing strategy, you always want to know the answers to the following questions. Consider any of these factors negotiable.
Answers to have before committing to any project
- What is the total investment? Not only their fee but any other costs associated with the project. Figure in any other internal or external team members who will need to work on the project to calculate an accurate price.
- What are the payment arrangements? A payment schedule should be in the proposal or scope of work. Be clear they expect payment when you sign the contract, upon completing specific deliverables, or some other structure. If you are working on a tight budget, ask about charges tied to each deliverable.
- How do they communicate during the project? If they are an agency, do they assign a project manager as a single point of contact? If not, whom do you go to for what purpose? What is their response turnaround time?
- What is their practice of working with external team members? If you are a smaller company with no in-house marketing staff, your chosen marketer must be willing to work with other freelancers and consultants.
- Who is responsible for what? Any proposal or scope of work should clearly outline tasks and who is responsible for completing those tasks.
- What are the benchmarks for success? Identify your expectations to deem the campaign a success or failure and discuss your expectations with your marketer. If you have unreasonable expectations, they should say so and have clear benchmarks to offer.
- What happens if revisions or changes are needed or the results are unsatisfactory? Understand their policy for modifications, scope of work changes, or if you feel like they are not performing to the stated deliverables.
- How can the relationship be terminated, and how are assets and payments handled? Although you have done your due diligence, something can still go wrong. Maybe that good feeling you had at the beginning turned into a sense of, “This isn’t the best fit.” Ensure you understand how to get out of an unsatisfactory relationship, what assets or deliverables are yours to keep, and how remaining projects costs (or paid monies) are handled.
No business owner can do it all themselves, especially if you don’t have an in-house marketing staff. There’s no shame in getting outside help to create or expand your marketing strategy. Although the vetting process can be time-consuming, using this guide allows you to thoughtfully consider the best marketer to solve your problem and proceed accordingly. And leveraging someone’s expertise is often a key to unlocking your company’s revenue potential.