David Hewlett, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, used to say this:
“Marketing is too important to leave to the marketing department.”
He knew the strategic questions that drive great marketing execution are the same questions at the core your business strategy. These deeper questions are just too important to delegate to any department, consultant or agency.
So why do many founders, business owners and CEOs delegate these strategic marketing questions to a marketer or a consultant? Or avoid answering them altogether?
There is a misperception that marketing is just tactics and not the strategic questions that are intertwined with business strategy. I see a lot of confusion between the execution of the marketing tactics and the strategic decisions that make all that execution work better.
I find this definition clarifies the difference between strategy and tactics:
Strategy is simply the decisions you make so your tactical execution works better.
Marketing strategy is for the CEO and the leadership team to wrangle first, with the help of others in marketing and across your company. Once the strategy has been defined, tactical execution can be handled by the marketing department: websites, lead generation, PR, advertising, customer marketing, etc.
Take a simple question, “What should we say in the headline on our website homepage to make it most effective?” Well, it depends.
It depends on answers to all the deeper strategic questions. Questions like: Who exactly is the customer? What do they value? How do we uniquely deliver that value?
Those questions need to be answered clearly and simply or your execution isn’t going to improve. Without clear answers to the underlying strategic questions, you could change tactics for months and never get closer to great execution.
If you keep asking, “What decisions could we make so the execution produces better results?” (like the 5 Why’s), eventually you come upon the same strategic questions business leaders have been asking for decades.
These seven simple questions need to be answered to do great marketing and build a great business.
7 Marketing Strategy Questions for Entrepreneurs
1. Who is our target customer?
This is the first and most important question for any business, and it’s a hard one. Most CEOs, owners and marketers define their target too broadly. I call this the Target Market Trap. If your sales pitch isn’t converting or your product doesn’t deliver great value, you are probably trying to serve too many different customer types.
2. What problem are we really solving for our customers?
The customers you serve have many problems, needs, pains and desires. Sometimes they can actually describe what these problems are, but not always.
Perhaps your product or service can solve a lot of problems, but great marketing execution in requires that choose the most valuable single problem that you are trying to solve for your customers. This problem needs to be defined in your customers’ words, not yours.
3. What product or service do we offer?
You offer a product or service that provides the solution. The thing you sell can probably be described simply, but the thing is never just the thing. Starbucks isn’t just coffee.
What business are you really in? Are you providing the whole solution to their problem or just another widget? Answering this question be especially challenging when you have a newfangled product that people don’t understand yet.
4. What is the most important benefit we deliver?
Maybe product or service does many things and provides many benefits to many people. Your prospective customers are asking a simple question: “What does it really do for me?” You need a simple answer.
Pick one. Which benefit is the most important for your customers? McDonald’s offers speed, Amazon delivers convenience, Southwest Airlines is cheap. They do many other things too, but they are primarily known for only one.
5. How are we different and better than our competitors?
Our brains always require a simple answer to “How is this different and better?” before we buy anything. It’s cheaper, it’s easier, it’s the one for people like me, it has the features I want, it has better service, etc.. It’s always something, and it’s always simple.
You may have heard that “differentiation is everything” in marketing. I don’t think it’s everything, but it is an essential component of marketing strategy that you can’t avoid.
6. What is our company’s greater purpose and what are our goals?
If you have a greater purpose than selling more and making a profit, you need to be clear about what that the higher cause is. Which higher principles and values would you never violate even if you could make more money?
Your customers almost never care about your internal business goals, but you need to be clear about what you are trying to achieve to help marketers execute efficiently and get great results. For example, you’d choose different tactics if you were trying to get five new customers this year versus 500, run for school board versus run for president.
7. What is our credibility?
Credibility is a multiplier for every message you deliver. When you tell your company story to the world, does everyone automatically believe you? Nope – especially when you are just starting out. If Oprah or Bill Gates said the exact same words, they would create a much bigger effect. The difference is credibility.
What one or two irrefutable facts can you communicate that would multiply the impact of all your messages? Over 30 billion served? Rated best burger in Tucson? Mind-blowing customer experience?
How do you know if you have the right answers to these questions?
Simple. Your execution gets better and you get better results. Customers hear and understand you better. They engage more. They buy more. They use your product more. They are satisfied. They tell their friends.
Will Rogers said, “If it doesn’t go up, don’t buy it.” He was talking about buying stocks, but the rule applies here. If your results aren’t getting better (with sufficient effort), you need to keep refining the answers to these strategic questions until results improve.
It’s harder than it looks, for this reason: There is a single, simple answer to each one of these questions.
That’s all you get. Because that’s all the outside world will give you, if you’re lucky. We want a sharp point with any message we hear or we ignore it.
Simple is hard. Finding your focused message takes a while to test and tune and refine.
One of the key roles of any CEO, founder or business owner is to continually clarify the answers to these strategic questions to enable great execution in every part of your business.
You can’t delegate these strategic questions to the marketing department.