In my last post we discussed the importance of strategic planning. What it is, why you need it, and, importantly, the challenges it can present - the biggest being getting bogged down in details and not focusing on the actual “doing”.
So today we’re looking at the doing - an example of strategic planning put into practice. What better way to explain this than as a story of one marketer's struggle through strategic planning? Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
First let us look at all the actors in this strategic struggle...
Maggie the marketer
Maggie is in her mid 30s, lives with her husband and two children, and has just started working for a relatively successful small-to-medium-sized software company in central London called Business X. Aside from her hectic family life, Maggie is responsible for all day-to-day marketing activities for Business X: she gives direction to the website, helps develop the brand through social channels and offline media as well as trying to give Business X the push it needs into the digital 21st century.
Maggie has been working in marketing for nearly ten years. As with many marketers, Maggie experiences job satisfaction from making a difference, but finds marketing is an endless task that involves more skill sets than she can care to mention. She can often be found lurking by the coffee machine inconspicuously grumbling about the wealth of digital opportunity her company is ignoring, but that she would need “a marketing team the size of Wales” in order to accomplish her grand plans.
Business X is good at what it does and the majority of the sales of its software comes from face-to-face encounters. It has a website, but it’s not really working - it gets less than 50 visits a day and generates few leads (if any). Maggie is aware of all the problems - search engine results, low brand awareness, not measuring success, low lead conversion and no cohesive content marketing strategy.
To add to Maggie’s growing stress levels, the website problems have reached the authoritative ears of the managing director, who, like a hormonal teenage boy who’s just realised his parents have confiscated his Playstation, swiftly stomps downstairs to the office floor and demands 50 leads through the website by the end of the quarter.
So Maggie is left stranded, alone, new to the company, struggling for budget, great ideas stuck in her head but with no clue where to start. Luckily for Maggie, Business X has just started working with Strategic Content Marketing Ltd…
Strategic Content Marketing Ltd
Maggie's problems sound all too familiar to Strategic Content Marketing Ltd. I’m not going to waste your valuable time describing Strategic Content Marketing Ltd, just know that it has over ten years of experience and deals with strategic problems like Maggie’s every day. In fact it reminds me of Axonn Media, but with a name that - conveniently - is much better optimised for search engines. Just to reiterate, its name is Strategic Content Marketing Ltd. It is good at content marketing strategies.
Enter: Ms Strategy
Maggie calls up Strategic Content Marketing Limited and speaks to Ms Strategy and they arrange a meeting. The meeting lasts just under an hour, during which Maggie describes her strife. Ms Strategy gleans all the information she can and reassures Maggie there is a solution, and she will go away and speak to the relevant experts at Strategic Content Marketing Ltd and come back to her.
As soon as Maggie leaves, Ms Strategy delves into her strategic mind and begins to form an idea of the expertise she will need around her in order to help Maggie to achieve her goal of getting more leads to the website. She swiftly arranges a meeting with Mr Data, Miss Editorial, Madam Social-Media and Reverend Website.
The beginnings of a strategy
In case you’ve forgotten, this is a story of strategic planning. I’m not going to spend time here on the development of the strategy itself as this is covered extensively in Adrienne’s ... I mean Ms Strategy's ebook that you can download for free. All that's important for now is that you know the basics of what their strategy is.
Given their lack of budget, Ms Strategy and her team decided to focus on a new feature on one of Business X software products - let’s call this “feature X”. This is a key area of the business which can quickly generate leads. They decided they wanted to optimise Feature X through the whole buyer cycle.
What this means is that instead of having to redevelop a new social, search and website strategy for the whole of Business X, they can do this just for Feature X at a fraction of the cost. Not only that, they can learn from Feature X so that when they come to optimise more of the site, everything will be much quicker and easier and they will have learnt from previous mistakes.
A descriptive strategy document is then developed, containing:
Goals of the Feature X campaign
Feature X persona (challenges, age, interests, etc.)
Content that will interest the Feature X persona (topics, types of content)
The channels which the Feature X persona uses (social media, search, etc.)
What journey they expect the Feature X persona to take through the website
Ms Strategy then calls Maggie and explains why the strategy has been chosen and how it will be put together. Maggie, after suggesting a few changes to the document, says: “This all sounds great, but what I need is a concrete plan of how this is going to work to show my MD ... he can be difficult like that.”
Well I’m glad you asked, Maggie...
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Strategy to Plan - Strategic Planning
What Ms Strategy has now developed for Maggie is a blueprint which everyone can follow in order to know what decisions to make with the Feature X campaign. But these planning decisions now need to be made and each area of expertise needs to have a say. Ms Strategy goes back to the team with whom she originally discussed the strategy, gets four hours of their time, buys some post-it notes, whiteboard pens as well as some drinks and pizza to keep morale up, and arranges a meeting.
Ms Strategy writes the campaign goal in big letters on the whiteboard…
“Gain at least 50 leads for Feature X through the Business X website by the end of the next quarter.”
This goal needs to be the focus of every decision they make, so having it written on the wall makes it hard to ignore.
Ms Strategy decides to break the meeting down into four hour-long sections, with each section focusing on a stage of the customer journey. Using the strategy documents, by the end of the session they should have a plan of what needs to be done for each stage of the user journey and subsequently a framework of activities that need to be carried out for the whole campaign.
Hour 1: Awareness
In this hour the question that needs to be answered is how to make the personas defined in the strategy documents aware of Business X and therefore Feature X. The strategy research indicates that persona X tends to use a mixture of Linkedin and Google's search engine when looking into new software online.
So the team already know the channels they need use, and all members of the team turn simultaneously and stare intently at Madam Social-Media and Mr Data who have done SEO work in the past. They, in turn, look at each other and start to scribble ideas down on the post-it notes, with other team members joining in where relevant.
But alas, now they have too many ideas. So the ideas (post-its) are voted for by the team considering the following criteria:
Alignment with the goal
Likelihood of success
By the end of the hour and some debate later they agree on:
Joining Linkedin discussion groups around areas related to Feature X
Hour 2: Interest
Pleased with the ideas for awareness, they move on to answering the next question. Once we have persona X aware of Business X, how do we keep them interested and coming back to the site? Now people look to Miss Editorial and Reverend Website for their thoughts.
Similar to the previous hour, post-its are scribbled on and ideas are discussed and voted on, all while keeping a close eye on the ideal user journey from the strategy document.
All agree that some helpful and in-depth content will be required. On top of this, the landing pages identified in the ideal user journey diagram will need to be redesigned to include better calls to action and some more in-depth text and images.
Hour 3: Action/Conversion
Luckily, the team finished hour two a bit early because the Action/Conversion stage can often be the most important and trickiest stage to get right. The holy grail of questions is put to the team: How do we get persona X to actually contact Business X about Feature X?
I won’t give away all of Strategic Content Marketing Ltd’s knowledge here but the team analysed all of the possible ways persona X could get in contact with Business X, including everything from contact forms to request-a-demo pages and the location of their contact details.
This leads the team to decide on the following activities:
Optimise contact landing pages for conversion
Create downloadable whitepaper and video content with detailed advice on Feature X
Make the contact details prominent on all pages related to Feature X
Hour 4: Advocacy
The last stage is to work out how can we get persona X to be an advocate for Feature X. The team first debate if this stage is necessary for the goal as ultimately if 50 people get to the conversion stage then the advocacy stage is not necessary. But Ms Strategy makes a good point, which is that if they have advocates of Feature X then there are going to be more of persona X aware of the feature and therefore more conversions are likely.
Therefore the team decide on the following activities:
Contact existing customers of Feature X and ask for case studies
Promote existing customers on LinkedIn and ask them to write reviews on the company's LinkedIn page
The meeting ends by Ms Strategy taking photos of all the post-it notes and whiteboard scribbles. She then writes up the activities into the strategy document and discusses the strategic plan with Maggie.
All done now?
No, sadly not. What Maggie and Strategic Content Marketing Ltd have created now is a framework of all the activities that need to happen to implement a strategy. What they don’t have is a set of dates, resources and order in which to make them happen. Without this, nothing will happen on time, each production team will get annoyed with the other and the implementation will therefore be nowhere as good as it should be.
What the meeting has given Strategic Content Marketing Limited and Maggie is a framework in which they can plan. You may remember this from my previous post “Strategic planning - What's the difference between strategy and planning?”.
The problem with strategy is it is different every time ...
“When we have a past experience as a frame of reference, the task of planning is much easier. We can take established wisdom of the task in hand and create a cohesive plan. But the nature of strategy - particularly in the digital age - is that it varies greatly from business to business. Strategy involves taking dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of factors into account - it is multifaceted, not one-size-fits-all. You’re going to need to design a framework in which you can plan. This can be seen as strategic planning.”
As with the strategy section alluded to above, classic planning is not part of this story. But hopefully you can now see that having been through strategic planning, Maggie, Business X and Strategic Content Marketing Ltd have what they need to plan effectively.
So, Maggie can live happily ever after, with a perfect plan and well over 50 leads after three months. Well, not quite. After the three months are up, Maggie and Strategic Content Marketing Ltd will need to review how the strategy performed, learn from it and do the same all over again.