March 15 2016

Why Marketing Strategy is the Future

Marketing, Open Source Marketing


If you’ve read “Web Design is Dead” you will already understand why the old generalist web designer/developer/webmaster role is facing imminent extinction, and why I believe that “marketing strategy” is a viable evolution for web professionals who are both smart and multi-talented.

In this post, I’d like to dive a little deeper into that idea of Marketing Strategy as a discipline: why we’ll benefit, how it may work, and what kind of future we could build around it.

What is Marketing Strategy?

It’s the answers to questions like these…

  1. What is my exact brand, and my position in the market? (i.e. Why will people care, and why will they trust me?)
  2. Who exactly is my target market, and what problem do they want to solve?
  3. What exactly am I offering, and why is it so special?
  4. How do I think I’m going to reach my target market cost-effectively?
  5. How will I engage them, earn their trust, and communicate the benefits of my offer?
  6. What assumptions am I making about all this, where could I be wrong, and how will I find out without going broke?

To sum up,

How are we going maximize our chance of success when we go to market?

My position is: if you go to market without having very good answers to these questions, you will waste time and money. (You’ll waste some time and money anyway, that comes with the territory, but having a clear, flexible strategy will help you to minimize the amount you waste, often making the difference between success and failure.)

Why Marketing Strategy?

sensoryAs publishing technology has matured and the technology benefitted from increasing investment, the barrier to entry has dropped like a stone. Practically anyone can publish a great bare-bones website now, with zero technical skills.

That means the web is rapidly getting busier. There is more competition for customers’ attention. Even though most of the competition is poor, the place sure is getting noisier!

A by-product of more noise is more customer apathy. We have tuned our bullshit meter to a hair-trigger.

We don’t want more content or information… we want more intelligence, editorial guidance, trustworthy brands that can help us to navigate daily life more easily.

So publishing online is no longer enough to differentiate. Winning is not about publishing more, or publishing faster, or even reaching more eyeballs. It’s about reaching the right people, with a compelling message, earning their trust, turning them into customers, and then nurturing them through a long-term, mutually-empowering relationship.

We can sum up that strategy as qualitative. We need intense research, deep understanding, focus, and commitment. Scatter-gun, “Chuck it at the wall and see what sticks” approaches won’t work, only add to the noise.

I guess I’m saying that what’s most crucial is having a strategy that’s clear, good, and responsive. If you don’t know in exactly what direction you want to go, how will you know if you’re heading there? And how will you know if the next webinar that’s offered, or the next cool piece of software, or the next coaching programme will help you?

Know exactly who you are. Know intimately what group of people you choose to serve. Know what their problems are. Know what questions they’re asking. Know where they’re asking those questions. Know how to reach them. Know why what you’re offering will help them in a way nothing else can at the price.

Don’t guess. Know!

You (or your clients) can’t try everything. You will break the bank in the attempt. And there are more potential marketing channels today than there have ever been, with more coming online every week.

Whereas a few years ago, you could count the viable channels on two hands (TV, radio, outdoor, point of sale, print ads, direct mail…), today there are literally hundreds of channels.

Plus, success depends on applying focused force. If you spend a day trying AdWords, another day trying email marketing, and the next trying blogging, you will undoubtedly fail at them all.

It may be that there are one or two great channels among the hundreds, where the majority will drain your resources. Or it may be one PR story, one relationship, or one subtle message that outperforms everything else.

The point is, you cannot figure out your path to greatest success by trying everything. Paradoxically, you also can’t figure it out on paper before you start. Sure, research is essential, but sooner or later you also have to try stuff in order to test your assumptions and actually find out.

So strategy is not about figuring it all out up-front. It’s about figuring out how we’re going to find out. That requires discarding a bunch of options early-on, based on logic alone, and then coming up with a plan for cyclically testing and learning using a reduced set. (This is the area where we can learn a lot from the Lean Startup movement.)

Here are a few questions that the Marketing Strategy process should be able to answer…

  • Should my campaign try PPC, social media, PR, organic SEO, content marketing, webinars, books, etc.?
  • Should we try to get prospects’ contact information? If so, what ways shall we try?
  • What other products, cross-sells, or up-sells should we offer, and when?
  • How will we enrich our relationships with our customers over time, delivering and getting maximum value?

I believe that it should be possible not only to answer all those tough questions, but also to do so using a system. We have some handles on some of the logic already (for example, don’t even consider SEO for a short-term campaign, and Facebook organic marketing is unlikely to be profitable for a B2B proposition).

Summary: Why marketing strategy?

  1. Businesses need it, and deserve it. It is disgusting that so many companies have wasted so many resources on websites and campaigns that need not have failed.
  2. Web designers and online marketers need it. The market for delivering websites has lost most of its value, and it will never come back. So web professionals need a more solid way to deliver real value to our clients.

When I look at my work over the past few years, I can tell that the problem of systemizing marketing strategy has permeated most of what I have done. That really is the big problem that I would like to crack.

The Circuit Questionnaire took a few months to develop, and now gives us a great foundation for what questions we should ask. The next challenge is the logic, and I think that’s a much bigger one. The Stack model is also proving to be very useful.

When I started Open Source Marketing, my vision was to create an automated wizard that would take your answers to the Circuit Questionnaire and print out the bones of an effective marketing campaign. I would like to believe that’s still a possibility.

It may well require some human intelligence, or to ask a bunch more questions, to reach final conclusions, but if this decision-making process can be simplified in any way (even as simple as, “Should I use AdWords Yes/No?”) we should try!

How Can We Make it Work?

The Stack teaches us that, whatever the market, there are potential customers at every level, from the free DIY user, through the “self-serve” paid DIY, coaching, mentoring, and consulting models.

Of course this holds true for the “market” for marketing strategy. There are small business owners who want to know how to invest $100 per month in marketing, who have time and desire to learn. At the other end of the scale, there are large businesses who invest $100M per month in marketing, and who want to hire the best person or team they can to do the heavy lifting for them. Both (and everyone in between) deserve access to the right kind of marketing strategy intelligence for their needs.

  • DIY market: They can invest time, but little or no money. Books, free or low-cost self-study courses, group support (like forums) and automated wizards are common solutions.
  • Done-With-You market: These are businesses who have some talent in-house, and who need (and can afford) more guidance than the DIY users. They want more direction, to maximize their chances of rapid success. Typical DWY solutions include group coaching programs and time-based, directed courses, often with some “hot seat” or 1-1 element.
  • Done-For-You market: At the top end, we’re playing with bigger stakes, so buyers want the best expertise money can buy. This is where we get into consulting, and also where profit-sharing models become more attractive (as explored in my WebPro2 concept).

One of the things I like to do when considering a Stack model is to ask how we can take learning from the point of the stack (the DFY, hands-on consulting end) and let that knowledge filter down to the other levels.

(You can apply this thinking to many service businesses. Even, for example, a vacuum cleaner repair guy! Now, you might think you can’t get more of a hands-on business than vacuum cleaner repair. But even there it might be possible to generate DWY or DIY streams. If the repair man diagnoses a particular fault that’s common to a certain model of vacuum cleaner, he could make a video of the repair job and sell that online for a few dollars. Or he might create a self-study course in vacuum cleaner repair, including all the training videos plus some centralized marketing support. The principles are: there are always people who need your skills, and they always want those skills packaged in different ways.)

So let’s start to put some flesh on the bones. If I’m serious about creating a real marketing strategist discipline, what would that look like, and what would it require?

My Vision for the Future

The first thing is a personal step for me, which would require stepping into the “Mr. Marketing Strategy” shoes. I teach a lot about the importance of finding your genius, choosing your niche, and putting your roots down in that space, so that you become the most intimately-connected brand. Essentially, you become equivalent to your niche.

(Personally, I have struggled for years with how to brand myself. The main reason is because I have enjoyed some success at a range of different things. Each of us needs to find the environment that complements our unique capabilities, desires, and interests. What appeals to me about marketing strategy is that it allows me to indulge my interest in everything!)

Marketing Strategy Agency

brain-powerAt the top end of the Stack, we need a model for a new kind of marketing agency: i.e. a marketing strategy agency. I think this is a very interesting idea indeed.

By focusing entirely on one area (in this case, strategy), one can increase one’s knowledge and expertise faster than by being a generalist.

One of the cool things about hiring someone only to do your strategy is that it can increase trust by removing the conflict of interest. If you go to a marketer who specializes in SEO, they’ll offer to help you with your SEO (for a fee), and the same goes for most other professionals in most other disciplines.

But when you go to your marketing strategy person, if they’re paid on your success (say a percentage of turnover), and if they do not actually deliver your marketing campaigns themselves, it is not in their interests to sell you an idea that won’t benefit you. If I’m paid when you succeed, why would I propose you hire a PPC person, unless I’m confident that PPC will be profitable? It is really interesting how aligning the service provider’s success to the client’s success changes the decision-making process.

Clearly, we would need more than one agency, so a model for an agency is required. How does a marketing strategy function efficiently? What business models should we use? How do we write up contracts, manage compensation, and resolve disputes? WebPro2 could expand to fill this space, i.e. an open-source pattern that anyone can use to set up their own strategy agency.

I am already on this path, as I am now choosing to work with clients more on strategy (including keyword research and high-level copywriting) and less on “lower-level” delivery tasks.

Marketing Strategy DIY

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 18.03.42There is always a range of possible DIY products, both paid and free, including courses, ebooks, and online content in various formats.

My thinking is that the Open Source Marketing project is already the natural home for the “how-to” of marketing strategy. There is a big space there that remains unfilled: the exact steps for designing a marketing campaign that has maximum chance of success.

So, as the agency does its stuff, what we learn should be turned into useful DIY materials, useful both for DIY clients who want to do their own marketing, and also for people who want to develop their marketing strategy skills to market to clients.

Marketing Strategy “Done With You”

That leaves the middle band, the “done with you” section of the market. There are a few possibilities here, among which a coached course, which combines live and pre-recorded material, for prospective strategists is likely to be the most appealing.

However, first I still need to make progress on developing the discipline. Right now, the process of strategy has very little shape (beyond the Circuit and Stack models, which prove to be helpful in practically every instance).

Another interesting option could be to have a working group of end-users (i.e. businesses, not marketing professionals). I ran a program called Breakthrough in 2015 along these lines, which was very effective.

What’s Next?

I’m giving serious thought to how a marketing strategy agency might work, and am enjoying developing ideas using my existing clients. To launch a dedicated agency would massively accelerate this learning.

If you know that the marketing strategy discipline is for you, or if you would love to be part of an early working group, feel free to reach out to me and perhaps we can set up a working group.

I plan to continue to develop Web Design from Scratch Premium, and to open it up to more providers, so we can keep a good flow of web design best practice, always anchored to “the right way.”

All feedback welcome. Please leave a comment.

About the author 

Ben Hunt

My job is to look at the world and wonder... "How should we live?"

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  1. Ben, it makes perfect sense that you could build an Agency where you are financially vested in the success of your clients, & where you have a network/alliance of very-specifically-niched marketing contractors who you hire for their standard fees. You have the technical expertise to vet those individuals & educate them about using their skill-sets inside your framework. You have the much bigger philosophical/conceptual framework to guide your clients through the real work that is going to grow their success. You have the communication ability to transfer the essentials about your clients’ campaigns & products & philosophy/message to those contractors, so they can execute their niche-skills & tasks effectively.

    So, to describe that scenario a bit ….. Suzie has a knack for knowing what kind of graphics & images work just right in Pinterest, and likes to do that all day long. Awesome. That’s her gig & you hire her for that task when it’s a logical choice for a primary sales channel for a particular client of yours. But you never ask Suzie to deal with creating a landing page, or posting articles on Facebook. No, because that’s bad-for-her-and-bad-for-your-clients. Joey lives to tweet all day long, & has some kind of crazy intuition about how to phrase things in that particular medium. That’s his thing & you hire him for that, but not for anything else, and not when that channel doesn’t really make sense for a particular client.

    You’re right that it’s possible to logically-assess which options should be picked off the sales-channel-menu first, based on the product or market or situation of your client. So maybe your Agency has somebody in the role of handling that step in the process full time, too, once you’ve grown enough.

    SOMEBODY has to understand the big picture of what is technically possible, and what innovation is happening in the world generally in terms of marketing infrastructure & tools & tactics, but also has to know that isn’t the MOST important thing. You are perfectly situated for that role. And if you can locate the right contractors, I would think it should be easy to help a lot of clients understand the value of what you are offering them.

    1. Thank you Kelly. You’ve totally got it! And yes, it makes sense to organise business in this way so that it can scale, so that individual experts are empowered to use their top-20% skills most of the time. And nothing works without a conductor at the front, guiding everyone’s movements and timing.

  2. Hey Ben,

    Thanks for another excellent article. Kelly’s interpretation really echoes everything you’re saying by providing a couple of real world examples.

    To me, what you’re describing (and dare I say – where you seem to be positioning yourself) is somewhat like a traditional consultant. It’s a role where you know how all the pieces need to go together, but also who the client needs to put all the pieces into place.

    Love your posts. Keep up the great work, mate!

  3. I read a good amount of content that you wrote. Not only this piece of blog post but 10-15 other posts today. From one article to another, I went on and on to discover the logical arguments that you have been putting together.

    In simpler words I believe you want to distribute the work smartly. In that case I do strongly feel that someone like you should be planning to build a spam free Freelancing Platform.

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