What is a strategy?
Contrary to all the fancy shit people say ...
... a strategy is just a plan to achieve a goal.
Let’s break that into its components:
The goal needs to be clear and measurable.
The plan needs to be as simple as possible (so it can be executed) but not simpler than it needs to be (so it will work). It also needs to best use the things you have access to, which includes:
At this stage, you can create a very general strategy statement. It helps to have a starting point. Examples:
Our goal is to increase product sales on their website, and we will do this by acquiring customers at the lowest possible cost and increasing the amount of money they spend as a customer.
Our goal is to bring this company more customers, and we will do this by bringing them the most qualified leads possible for the budget.
This doesn’t solve all your problems yet, but it gives you a clear focus of WHAT you want to accomplish. Without this to guide you, you’re just kinda flailing in all directions.
But as nice as it is to be clear on what you want to do, we have to figure out HOW to accomplish it.
OK, so it’s easy to read the above section and think, “Oh, we’ll make a really simple strategy and it’ll work great.” For example:
Post Facebook ads that tell people to buy the product
Users click the ad and buy the product
We measure the increased sales
While I’m not here to shoot that down, it’s important to understand why that approach often times does not work. It starts with understanding how people buy things. They often times don’t simply respond to someone asking them to buy. They first need to form a relationship.
That’s the concept of “the funnel,” which is a buzzword that a lot of people fire out there half-assed, but it actually has meaning. The “funnel” is a good way to visualize how people go from strangers to customers. In reality, it looks more like a funnel with a bowl:
You went from never having heard of GoPro to hearing about it. You saw a video on Instagram, thought it was cool, liked it, and now are following GoPro.
This could a brand awareness Instagram ad campaign
This could a page likes ad campaign on Facebook
This could be media placement in a publication that people read, like Wired or Popular Mechanic or a niche blog like the Social Media Examiner (if that’s your target audience)
This is the stage where a person gets to know a brand and begins to consider becoming their customer.
To continue the GoPro example, you’ve been following them for a couple weeks and keep seeing awesome photos and videos.
You notice that nearly all of them are from customers.
Subconsciously, you like that GoPro is celebrating their customers and makes you like them.
You also subconsciously think that these customers must really love their cameras if they are sharing all their content with this brand.
Consciously, you click over to GoPro’s website and learn a little more about their cameras. You see a couple that are in your price range, but you’re supposed to be working, so you click away.
This is where the person becomes an actual customer
To continue the example: It’s a couple days later, and you’ve been getting a bunch of ads on Facebook and Instagram for GoPro – for the specific camera you were looking at. The ad is funny and cool and shows you some awesome video that was shot on it. It really looks amazing!
You say, “Fuck it, let’s do it” and head over to the website and buy that camera.
This is hanging onto a customer once you get them. If you screw up this stage (or if you products are terrible), then you’ll have a bunch of one-off customers. If you nail this stage, then you could have a customer for life.
To continue the example: As soon as you buy the camera, you get a confirmation email, which also has that same casual feel to it. It welcomes you to the “GoPro family,” and subconsciously, on some level, you do feel part of a family now.
The emails continue. They tell you when your camera has shipped and when to expect it. It arrives right around that time, so you feel happy because GoPro kept their promise to you.
Consciously, you share some your favorite photos and videos with GoPro’s Instagram account. When they share one, you feel special, and as long as that camera is good, you’ll be a customer from life.
A few months later, GoPro emails you about some accessories you can get, like a chest-mount. You’re enjoying your camera and think that could be a way to get even cooler shots. You buy it without blinking.
A year later, GoPro comes out with a new camera and emails you about it. It sounds awesome, and you’re ready to upgrade, so you buy that too without giving it much thought.
My best comparison is to think of this process like a relationship.
If you see someone at a bar, walk up to them and ask to marry them, you’re probably not going to get a serious yes – because you’re pairing the wrong message with the wrong scenario. Same goes for marketing – asking for the sale before you’ve developed a relationship isn’t likely to work.
This process can take a few minutes, a few hours, a few days, or several months. Every customer is different and every brand is different. Often times, the bigger the purchase, the longer the process takes.
Where the funnel doesn’t totally work
OK, so the funnel makes sense and is easy to visualize. But is it right?
Yes, kind of, but it’s important to understand that it’s not a linear thing. It’s just not as neat and tidy. For example, it’s not like it’s ALWAYS:
Awareness: Facebook page likes campaign
Consideration: Social media content
Conversion: Instagram/Facebook sales ads
Retention: Email marketing sharing blogs and promos with customers
That’s one possible sequence, but the truth is that there are tons and tons of sequences that could lead to sales. That same business could also have a sequence like this:
Awareness: High search rankings led a Google searcher onto your site
Consideration: Their time spent on your site. They didn’t buy but signed up for your emails.
Consideration: They continued to get your informative emails
Conversion: A promo email made them buy
Retention: They stay subscribed to your email list and read about half of your emails.
That very same business could also have:
Awareness: Jim’s friend shares the brand’s Instagram post on his account. Jim sees it, likes it, and follows the brand account
Consideration: He pays close attention to all their Instagram content.
Conversion: Later, he is searching on Google for this brand’s industry (not even specifically them). He sees a Google ad for the brand, recognizes their brand, clicks on the ad, and buys off the website.
Retention: He opts out of their email list but still loyally follows their Instagram account and likes a lot of their stuff.
The point is that the reality is messy AF. There are million different paths to purchase. Funnels help you visualize clean, tidy pathways to purchases, but it doesn’t always go down like that.
So, what to do?
Still have a plan – in fact, have a few funnels in mind. Think of it in three dimension rather than two. Then pay attention to the data and adjust along the way. How are people truly converting to a sale or a lead? Look at Google Analytics. Look at AdWords. Look at Facebook ads. See what the data is and determine how people are converting and devote more time and resources to building around those.
In short, start with what is already working and build a few logical pathways out from that. Pay attention to how each platform (search, Google ads, Facebook/Instagram ads, social content, etc.) is contributing to overall success – and to tweak/cut/add to/overhaul each one to get the most out of the whole.
You see, that's the real key to a good strategy. It's not simply having a "great plan" and blaming the execution of the plan doesn't work. It's planning for the plan to be incomplete and to incorporate the things you learn into improving the plan's effectiveness until it works.