Marketing isn’t rocket science. But it’s not a walk in the park either. Target audiences can be hard to find. Messaging can be challenging to get right. Choosing the right channels and tactics can be tricky. Design (well, good design) is an art—literally. Data collection is a science. Analyzing that data and acting on it requires know-how, flexibility, and patience. And then there’s the cost to do it all.
None of this is news to you. But you may not know the best way to tackle these challenges. Should you rely on your in-house teams who may be tapped out with other tasks, or hire someone from the outside—like an agency? The answer is likely a combination of both. So, we’ve developed this guide as a place to start when determining where to start.
Every project we take on for a client starts with us asking a slew of important questions. If you keep the work in-house, you’ll likely be faced with questions as well. The answers to those questions will serve as navigation for getting the best possible results in the end. If you start asking (and answering) them early, you’ll be that much further ahead when you start.
Let’s take a look at six of the largest, most common marketing initiatives and explore the range of questions to consider before engaging your marketing partners.
1. CAMPAIGN STRATEGY
Your marketing calendar (or perhaps your boss) tells you it’s time for a sales promotion. Before you start brainstorming with your team about a campaign theme, special offers, and which channels to use for spreading the message, do some (not as fun) planning on your own first. Start by asking yourself…
What problem are you trying solve?
Before you can even start thinking about planning a marketing initiative, you need to figure out what problem you’re trying to solve and what you’re trying to accomplish. This sounds like a no-brainer but “we need more sales” is just too broad, even if that’s the end goal. Ask yourself why you need more sales. Is it because sales have dropped? Or goals have increased? Or maybe you’ve got a new product that’s not living up to its potential and taking up space in your warehouse? Whatever the reason, you need to define it up front.
Have you defined your specific goals and KPIs?
Once the problem is defined, you’ll need to set specific goals to shoot for (and to measure your progress against). If getting more business from your current customers is your goal, define your goals around those sales. Will they come from specific products? Or specific customers? How many sales need to be made to call it a success? How long does it typically take to make a sale? Get specific and be ready to measure when the time comes.
Who is your audience?
With your goals set, you should have a clear picture of who you need to get in front of. The more you know about these people, the more tailored you can make your message. And the more effectively you can reach them. Personas or other profile data are a good start. If you don’t already have personas, or the ones you have are outdated, there are companies that can help. HubSpot has a great template that will get you started, and it’s free.
What’s the best way reach your customers?
You already have access to this group—you just need to determine the best way to reach them. Do they prefer emails? Text messages? Phone calls? Social media interactions? You should have data on their past behaviors. Take a look and see what works. If not, you could do some testing. Or you could ask them. Online surveys are easy to administer, or if you’ve got sales or customer support reps, they could ask them in person or on the phone. You know your customers are your most valuable asset—use the data and tools you have to nurture them in personal ways to keep them happy and loyal.
Do you know how to find prospects?
This one will keep you up at night. If it helps, you’re not alone—everyone struggles with it. Start with the basics. How is your SEO working? This is the fastest and least expensive way of making sure you’re getting found online. It takes time to get results, but it’s worth it. If you’re doing PPC (pay-per-click), are you getting good leads? Calculate your CPC (cost-per-click) and determine if it’s worthwhile. Read more on that here.
Then, think about all the other channels you could utilize to find prospects. You learned a lot about them when you created your personas. Use that information to figure out which tactics will work best to reach them, whether it’s through social media, email, direct mail, advertising (online or offline), trade associations, trade shows, referrals, etc. If they need several encounters with your brand before they interact with you (and they will), mix up your channels. Prospecting can be a long game, especially for B2B companies with long sales cycles. Research and testing should be ongoing and learnings should be used for constant optimization.
Even if you know your product is a gamechanger, don’t fool yourself into believing it will sell itself with one email to a group of people who’s never heard of you. According to multiple experts and articles, including this one from Hubspot, it typically takes 6 to 10 interactions (sometimes more) with a prospect to move them from the top of the funnel to the point where they’re ready to buy.
A lot of work can (and should) go into putting together a campaign strategy. First, you need to get specific about the problem you’re trying to solve and define your goals around it—this is the first thing an outside agency will want to know, and it’s how they will ultimately measure their success as your service provider. Agencies or other outside firms are great for conducting audience research, because they come with no preconceived (and potentially incorrect) notions about your audience. As a neutral third party, they might also get more honest answers than you can, which will lead to deeper, more useful insights.
Another added bonus of working with an agency is having access to specialized services from their vendors and partners, like digital service providers (DSPs), printers, marketing automation services, and consumer data platforms. With digital campaigns especially, there are rules and regulations around privacy and data, so you’ll need to be sure you’re working with reputable companies. Agencies have done their due diligence by vetting these companies beforehand and that can save you from a lot of headaches down the road.
Your brand defines who you are to the world and that’s pretty important. It should be reviewed on a regular basis to find out if that definition has changed. Start by asking yourself…
Does your brand truly reflect who you are?
Maybe you know it doesn’t and that’s why you’re reading this. Or maybe you’re not sure. Does your messaging and visual design represent who you currently are as a company? Have you recently grown through acquisition, or have your products and services changed considerably? Are you the leader in your industry? Are you recognized as such? Do you want to be? Your brand is a big part of getting you there, or wherever you want to go. If you want to dig deeper into this subject, check out our branding white paper.
Who are you?
This seems like a silly question at first glance. Of course you know who you are. But who you really are and who you want to be aren’t always the same thing, and it takes some research to figure this out. You’ll need to talk to a lot of people, including a variety of employees, customers, and other stakeholders to find out what they think about you. And you’ll need to assess your competition.
All this research will help you determine your brand personality factors and key differentiators, which create the overarching strategy for your brand. But be sure you’re doing this work with a neutral mindset. Don’t ask leading questions. Let people have their say. They may reveal things you don’t want to hear, but it’s better to hear them early on so you can address them before you introduce your new brand to the world.
What components do you need?
Your brand story needs to be written in a compelling way. Perhaps you’ll need a tagline. You’ll definitely need an elevator pitch, mission, and positioning statements. And then there’s design—logo, photography style, and color palette are key to bringing it all together and keeping it consistent. Developing these components into an official brand identity document takes time and resources. And it’s an absolute must that everyone in your company has access to this brand-defining information.
Once complete, will you be ready to launch it?
It’s imperative to bring everyone in the organization, from executives to front-line employees, on board with a brand update/launch. They are the ones who will help build it and bring it to life. Buy-in is the key to success once the new brand is put out into the marketplace, too. This allows you to effectively communicate your new brand with your audiences through advertising, collateral, online/offline marketing materials and every other touchpoint you have with customers, prospects, and investors.
Organizations turn to outside agencies for assistance with branding for many reasons. Having an experienced agency who has the time, resources, and proven process for getting to the essence of a brand can be well worth the investment. They can help you develop research questions, do the heavy lifting of conducting the interviews and surveys, and organizing the data. They will also find insights, draw conclusions, give you guidance on how to best update and position your brand, and execute the plan.
And because they’ve seen hundreds of branding guidelines documents from a large variety of clients, they know how to create them better than anyone. They’ll include everything your internal teams and external vendors will need to keep your brand consistent—which is a pretty big deal.
When launching your new brand internally, you’ll need to choose a team to act as brand ambassadors for rolling it out. If that’s not an option, your agency can help. Sometimes an outside organization can help make new brand rollouts seem more inclusive of the company as a whole. And, of course, they can help with the external rollout in whatever capacity you need.
3. LEAD GENERATION
Leads come in all shapes and sizes for all sorts of business. Even the biggest brands in the world, who everybody knows by name, are always looking for new leads to grow their business. When you’re ready to undertake a lead generation campaign, start by asking yourself…
What kind of leads are you looking for?
As tempting as it might be to expect a prospect’s first encounter with your brand to be the thing that convinces them to do business with you, it’s rarely that easy. So be sure to consider your sales funnel. In general, top-of-funnel leads are easier to attract because you’re not asking for a sale right out of the gate, but they take longer to convert. Bottom-of-funnel/SQL’s (sales qualified leads) are more valuable, but they’re much harder to engage. Ultimately, everyone wants SQLs, but skipping the top of the funnel is not a realistic way to convert prospects to customers.
How will you find them?
Read about finding prospects here.
Once you get them, how do you nurture them?
First, get to know them. Know what they need to be happy/successful/satisfied (or whatever outcome you’re hoping to provide with your product or service). Then develop a strategy that gives it to them. If they have questions or concerns, provide them a useful tool with more information—like a Q&A or competitor comparison chart. Use marketing automation to set up a nurturing program that stays in front of them on a regular basis and feeds them relevant information that takes them through the desired journey you’ve defined for them.
How do you get to know them?
We’re not suggesting you don’t know your customers. But we are suggesting you could possibly get to know them better. Surveys are great for learning about what they’re thinking. Talking to your larger customers one-on-one is also a great way to find out what they’re thinking. Don’t worry about bothering them—generally people love to talk about themselves and the challenges they face. You’ll get great info, and you’ll be lending an ear to help. It’s a win-win. You can also talk to your sales team, CSRs, and distributors (if applicable) and find out what kinds of questions they’re being asked by customers and prospects. Industry research and trend reports can also provide topical information to supplement what you learn.
How will you attribute new leads?
It can be difficult to give credit to one channel or tactic as the thing that got someone to notice your brand and offer up their contact info. Rather than focusing on that one thing, focus on the entire journey. Dig deep into all the ways someone interacts with your brand and your content. Then compare their journey with the one you’ve defined as most-desired. It may be different, and that’s okay. Attribution is about learning and adjusting as you go, not about giving credit to one magic bullet.
You’ll need to work with your internal team to determine the type of leads you can realistically expect. If you’re not sure where to start, do some testing to learn what works. Strategic agencies can help you determine the best way to find those leads and offer ideas on content to keep them engaged. Many can create that content with your direction, and/or review the content you already have and suggest ways to use it for nurturing.
Some agencies have staff that can set up and manage marketing automation on your behalf. We’ve seen clients get really excited about marketing automation when they first start using it, but then drop off when the tedious work of monitoring and adjusting for optimization takes more time than they planned. Marketing automation is a game-changing tool, but there is no set-it-and-forget-it formula.
This goes without saying, but we’re going to say it anyway—if your business can’t be found on the internet, you’re not going to last very long. So how do you get found by someone who could truly benefit from your product or service but has no idea you exist? One important way is to show up in their search results. There are several ways to do this. Start by asking yourself…
What kind of search do you need?
In the world of search, you’ve got acronyms like SEO, SEM, and PPC that are used interchangeably. But they’re not all the same. HubSpot does a good job of defining each of these and discussing how they work together. In a nutshell, SEO is organic (unpaid), PPC is paid, and SEM is a term that is generally considered paid search but is sometimes a combination of both. Deciding which one you need depends on the goals of your organization.
If you’ve got time to build an audience organically, SEO is the most cost-effective way of getting found. This will require optimization of your website copy and content so it can be found by search engines. If time is of the essence, you’ll need to invest in PPC (in addition to maximizing your SEO).
How much should you spend on PPC?
This depends on your goals (like everything does) and also the industry you’re in and the product or service you’re selling. The degree and relevance of competition, the size of your business, the nature of your product, the location of your business and audience, and the demand for your services are all factors in determining the amount you’ll spend.
Start by conducting a review of keywords that your potential customers might search to find information related to your product. Then find out what the CPC is for those terms. You’ll also want to consider geography, timing, and devices on which you want your ads to appear. All this research can be done via Google Ads without spending a penny, so use those tools to make your plan.
How will you measure success?
You’ll ultimately want to know what a sale or a new customer is worth to you. Then determine if you’re spending a reasonable amount of money to make that sale or acquisition happen. Another thing to remember with all SEM is that attribution can be tricky. Even if a prospective customer sees your ad, they might not click on it. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t leave an impression. They might see an email or retargeting ad from you a few days later with a special offer and remember seeing your ad. This combination could create an incentive for them to take advantage of your offer.
Many companies choose to manage their own SEO and do a great job with it. If you start lagging behind, there are zillions of content writers and creators that offer their services at reasonable prices (but watch out for keyword stuffers—these are content writers who write for the Google crawlers only and don’t consider that humans actually read your content). Agencies also have staff that can develop content for you and can offer high-level strategy and ideas for additional content if needed. If they already know you, they’ve got a head start.
PPC can get complicated and expensive, so investing in an expert who can get you the biggest bang for your buck might be a good move. Many agencies have them on staff, and there are plenty of freelancers out there. Just make sure you find someone who is reputable, honest, and transparent with your media budget. PPC isn’t cheap—don’t throw your money into the Google machine without a good plan for getting tangible results.
5. WEBSITE DESIGN
The idea of updating or completely redesigning your website is exciting. You’ve got creative ideas, business goals, and a fair amount of stress over the whole thing. We’re about to make it even more stressful (sorry). Start by asking yourself…
Is your brand up to date?
If you’re going to do this right, you need to make sure your brand is where you want it to be before you even think about updating your site, or you’ll just be wasting your money. Brand work can be hard and time-consuming, but there’s no sense in building a new website based on an outdated brand. If you’re not sure, read this.
What is your website’s primary purpose?
A business website can serve a multitude of purposes, but it’s important to identify the primary reason you want it to exist. Is it to lend credibility to your brand? To serve your current customers? To find new prospects? To sell products? To recruit talent? To inform? Even if it’s all these things, for an optimal user experience, you’ll need a hierarchy and a plan for sending people in the direction relevant to their needs.
Are you putting your visitors needs first?
Go to just about any website and you’ll find a bunch of messaging about who the company is on their homepage: what they do; why they do it well; how long they’ve been doing it; recognition they’ve received. This is important stuff, for sure. And all of it should be included somewhere on the website—but not in the opening copy.
That copy should focus on your customer—how you understand their needs, what you can do to meet those needs, and how you can make their life better. It’s a subtle difference, but it changes the entire vibe. And people will notice. They’ll find themselves being heard, understood, and empathized with. And who doesn’t want that?
Is it clear what you want them to do?
It can’t be stressed enough that you have to be really clear about what you want a visitor to your site to do when they get there. How you direct them should be related to whatever you’ve identified as your primary purpose for having a website in the first place. If you want them to buy something, give them options that correlate with your customer journey. If you want them to contact you, put your phone number or email address front and center. If you want them to fill out a form, tell them what to expect if they do it (i.e. they’ll get a link to the thing they want to download, a call from a rep within 24 hours, 10% off, etc.). Whatever it is, make it very clear.
Are you paying attention?
Your website analytics reporting is a powerful thing. The data it provides can give you tons of insights into the ways people are interacting with your site. Be sure to look at it regularly and be prepared to adjust as necessary. Technology is constantly changing, and peoples’ interaction with it changes too. This takes time and energy, but without it, you’re leaving all kinds of opportunities on the table. They say knowledge is power. This is the perfect example. Take that knowledge and use it to improve. There is no better power.
Is your content useful and relevant?
There are so many ways to make your website useful to your visitors. Providing them information about who you are and what you do is just one tiny part of that. This goes back to putting the needs of others first. Offer demo videos, checklists, product comparison sheets, calculators, templates, quizzes, instruction guides—whatever your target audience might need. Make this stuff easy to find, pay attention to how often it’s being accessed, keep it updated and relevant. If you don’t know what your audience needs, ask them.
If you’re a big organization with in-house designers and developers, they will clamor for the opportunity to do a website project. It’s what they love to do. If you don’t have a team like this at your disposal, an agency is the way to go. Whoever your team is, one of the first things they will ask you is “What do you want your site to do?” Be ready to tell them. And then have fun with the process. It can be long and arduous, but the result will be well worth it.
6. CONTENT STRATEGY & MARKETING
Good content can set you apart from your competition (or, at the very least, keep you in the game). But just like everything else, creating good content—and making sure it’s found—requires some planning. Start by asking yourself…
What are your goals?
By now you’re probably getting the idea that setting goals for any marketing initiative is an important first step. Why do you want to develop a content plan in the first place? “Because everyone else is doing it” probably isn’t your best answer. Instead, think about what you’re trying to accomplish. Is it to attract more new customers? Keep the ones you already have? Attract better talent? It could be “all of the above”, but whatever the reasons, be sure to identify them, rank them in order of importance, and attach goals to each one.
Who do you want to be?
This sort of goes along with your goals. What’s your voice? Are you educating or putting on the hard sell? Are you trying to win business from a competitor, or find an entirely new audience that doesn’t even know they need you? Are you the smartest player, or the one with the best customer service? Are you funny or serious? Some of this is defined in your brand voice, but you can be more creative with your content depending on what you’re trying to accomplish and which channels you’re using.
What do you have now?
Next, do a content audit of everything you have, including blogs, social posts, white papers, sell sheets, brochures, videos, and anything else that tells your story or features your products and services. Then look at any statistics or analytics you have that indicate how your audience currently interacts with this content.
Now, review your customer personas and journeys from a content perspective and ask if each audience has access to the information they need to continue their journey with you. If not, what beneficial information or tool can you offer them? This is a good time to do some brainstorming with different departments from your organization, especially those that have direct interaction with your customers or prospects. Do some research on what your competition is doing. Ask your vendors how they can help. From there, you can start developing topics, trends, and areas of expertise you want to focus on to differentiate your brand, product or service. This is the beginning of your content plan.
How will you structure it?
This one is a biggie. So big that we can’t even begin to cover it here. But we can tell you that HubSpot Academy has a really great (and free!) Content Marketing Training Course that can teach you a ton. We’ve used their approach for several of our clients. It’s a great way to wrap your head around everything that falls under the content marketing umbrella.
Who will create it?
Even though your MarComm team will ultimately be responsible for refining and promoting your content, they shouldn’t necessarily be the ones creating all of it. You know those people you go to for ideas—subject matter experts, sales reps, product managers, and executives? Ask them to give you high-level talking points. Ask them what type of media and channel is best for the audience and the topic. The more you ask for their input, the more they’ll buy into your plan and act as content-pushers on your behalf.
How will you promote it?
Speaking of pushing content, you’re going to need a plan for that too. As a marketer, this is right up your alley. You’ve got your audience defined. You’ve got your killer content. You’ve got all kinds of channels available for promoting it. Now you just have to put together your plan and make it happen.
Creating an effective content strategy and sending it out in the world is a long game. And it’s one of those things that can easily get pushed to the back burner when more pressing marketing needs arise. But it’s likely those other needs will entail some sort of customer interaction or prospect engagement, and having good content ready to share with them will make it all a lot easier. If you’ve got creative thinkers and good writers on staff, you might be able to tackle this yourself. An agency can fill in any missing gaps in strategy, creation, or marketing of your content, or they can lead you through the entire process.
You’ve got a lot on your plate and someone is always adding more to it. A good agency can help. Don’t be afraid to reach out and get to know them. They’re smart people just like you, who spend their days living and breathing marketing, and they want you to be successful.