Category Archives: Andy Slipher

Strategic Planning: Answering the Next Magic Question—“How?”

By Andy Slipher

Strategic Planning, by Andy SlipherHow do we get it done? What’s our next move? Now that we know what we want and why we’re here, where do we begin? You’ve likely heard variations of these questions in your organization—particularly if you’re at any level of strategic planning how to achieve favorable outcomes.

It’s one thing to know why you’re doing something, who you’re selling to, or even what makes your product or service better than the next guy’s. But, until you can adequately and effectively answer for how, your idea, product, sales, or whatever you endeavor to achieve may not become all you hope for.

The biggest how you can ask begs for a coherent approach. It means building a distinct advantage toward a favorable end. This level of “How?” is best answered with strategy.

Strategic planning exists to solve problems. More often than not, calling upon strategic planning means that your problem is big—significant, complex, and with higher-than-average stakes. That’s why we call upon strategy. It is the means to simplify and unify activity to get from your Point A to Point B with greater clarity, effectiveness, confidence and efficiency.

Planning without strategy is like feeling around in the dark. You may eventually find what you’re looking for, but it will most certainly be unpredictable, take longer than anticipated, and you run a greater risk of falling on your face along the way.

Here are three things you need to know about strategic planning in order to adequately answer any big “How?” and to improve your strategic planning process, no matter what the challenge.

1. Strategy is about choice.

Strategy is a word and concept that is abused today. People love to use it because it sounds, well, strategic. Unfortunately, calling something a strategy doesn’t make it one. Strategy, in order to function as it’s intended, means choosing—making significant choices throughout the planning process. In any complex or challenging situation, such choices are hard. Something must be sacrificed in order to move in a true and distinct direction. If you’re not making hard choices in your planning, you need to ask yourself and others how distinct, clear and achievable is your approach?

Consider this example: When Steve Jobs returned to a struggling Apple in 1997, one of the first things he chose to do was to stop selling so many products. He literally put an end to more than 70 percent of Apple’s products (laying off more than 3,000 employees in the process) in order to focus on a handful of truly innovative products. This hard choice allowed Apple to focus its resources around innovation—developing something truly game-changing. The result? The Apple iPod.

There’s little doubt that Jobs’ efforts would have been significantly more difficult and unclear if he had not made this critical strategic choice.

2. Strategy fits between your goals and plans.

Strategy is not the most important thing. But good strategy is necessary and often critical in order to be successful. Once you’ve defined your goals, strategy comes next. To delineate between goals, strategy and plans:

  •  Goals answer, “What is the end for the effort?”
  • Plans, which follow strategy, answer, “What are the blueprints for success?”
  • Strategy is the point in between that answers, “In what way are we going coordinate our efforts to get there?”
Planning without strategy is like feeling around in the dark. Click To Tweet

A good example of this hierarchy can be seen in the successful approach of the Allies in World War 2. The goal (the end for the effort) was clearly to win the war—to defeat the Axis powers (Germany, Japan, Italy). At the time, the U.S. was faced with the prospect of a two-front war. Without a clear strategy, plans would undoubtedly be murky. However, the overwhelmingly critical factor was the clear and growing threat of Germany to Europe and Russia. Therefore, the Allies made the critical strategic decision to focus first on taking back Europe and defeat Germany. The resulting plans included the D-Day invasion of Normandy (effectively thwarting a German invasion of Britain) by the U.S., the Allied movement upward from Northern Africa and the Russian forces fighting the German army to the east.

3. Strategy marries strength with opportunity.

The beauty of strategy is that it coordinates and integrates activities around a common goal. What’s more, good strategy finds the sweet spot where strengths meet opportunity. If you identify an opportunity, yet have no strengths to take advantage, how effective will you be? Likewise, if your strengths abound in a certain area, yet no opportunities exist, your strategy could come up short.

Know that in order to improve the odds of achieving your goals, your strategy will need to amplify your strengths, while playing to the opportunities at hand. A great example of this can be seen in the way Procter & Gamble (P&G) has nearly cornered the consumer package goods market. With its humble beginnings in soap and candles in the 1800s, P&G slowly and methodically built a strength producing, packaging, marketing and selling package dry goods of all types. Over the years, the company has taken advantage of opportunities to both develop new products and acquire its way into new product categories. Today, the company’s product holdings cover close to 80 products spanning roughly seven categories of products we buy every day. P&G has employed different business strategies over the years, but has always weighed opportunity in light of the company’s inherent strengths.

Whatever your challenge, follow these three fundamental principles for better strategic planning. Your strategy will be both more clear and coherent.  What’s more, you will be incrementally farther down the road toward more successful outcomes sooner.

Andy Slipher is founder of Slipher Marketing, a consultancy where strategy comes first, followed by tangible marketing results. He is an accomplished strategist, interim CMO, speaker and writer on marketing strategy. He is marketing lecturer for SMU’s accredited Bank Operations Institute for professional bankers, and for the Independent Bankers Association of Texas (IBAT). Andy is the author of The Big How: Where Strategy Meets Success. For more information on Andy Slipher, please visit TheBigHow.com.

Three Critical Ways Marketing Can Be Applied to Close More Sales

By Andy Slipher

Andy SlipherDo you operate in an organization where sales begins with a capital “S” and marketing with a lower case “m?” Sales-centric organizations often operate at such a high level in sales, they lack marketing prowess. Some are even altogether marketing-phobic, believing marketers exist to usurp the importance of salespeople or to replace them altogether. What happens, as a result, is that sales-centric organizations fail to integrate fundamental marketing principles into the sales process—principles that could actually improve their effectiveness. Although this phenomenon is not uncommon, it can leave customers with feelings that range from a lack of a clear understanding to downright confusion. Who does this kind of thinking benefit? Certainly not the customer.

The bottom line regarding marketing and its place in a sales-dependent organization is that it should thrive upon supporting sales, and not to supplanting it. It’s a simple fact that in certain environments where customer relationships must be continually nurtured and where product investment is high (business-to-business environments, for example), sales and good salespeople are of paramount importance. They help solve customer problems, bestow benefits, share product knowledge, behave proactively, and are simply there for customers when called upon.

At the same time, such organizations can have blind spots when it comes to using marketing to their collective advantage. They don’t see that marketing is there to extend and expand the sales opportunity. As a result, their salespeople aren’t fully prepared and equipped with what they need to do their best while enabling better outcomes for their customers.

Want to improve your odds of success in sales by using marketing to your advantage? Here are three ways:

1. Understand what marketing is and what it is not.

Marketing is not simply media. It’s not cheap or cheesy gimmicks designed to get the attention of your customer. Rather, proper marketing is anything you do in good faith to get your product or service into the hands of the customer. The breadth of marketing spans the entire buying cycle, and beyond. As such, effective marketing involves planning, investment and understanding of the needs of your customer. Think of it as everything else that wraps around your sales approach (in front of, during and beyond) to ensure that the customer has a positive and persuasive experience.Effective marketing involves planning, investment and understanding of the needs of your customer. Click To Tweet

For example, what if, by asking your business-to-business customer, you learn that he or she will have to champion your business and product to others within his or her organization? What do you do? It’s not feasible to be at every internal meeting. You might instead think in terms of clear, succinct messaging and professional materials to leave with your customer—ones that upon initial presentation by you, he or she could then represent to others with an adequate degree of confidence and knowledge. This is one possible marketing tool. But, it begins by discovering and understanding customer’s own mindset, needs and buying process.

2. Embrace the visual.

Effective salespeople are generally great at the verbal aspect of selling—persuading with words. However, virtually all customers today also rely upon and expect the visual. For example, who would have thought twenty years ago that we could manage a significant part of buying a new home by taking virtual home tours from anywhere? Yet this is the world we now live in, thanks to technology. The lesson is that people are now accustomed to buying only what they can see. It’s a studied fact that people generally remember only 20 percent of what they hear, but up to 50 percent of what they both hear and see. Therefore, the more you can help them visualize what they are buying (even if what you sell is a service), the greater your odds of success. How does this play into your sales process? How could you improve upon the visual beauty of what you sell? What objects, models, graphs, photos, maps, videos, tables or illustrations could you use to better persuade? What is both practical and effective? If you cannot yet answer these questions, start by asking your customers what they would want to see more of.

3. Integrate your process.

Have you identified and broken down your sales process? What is the first thing you do? Second, third and so on? How does your process both move the sale forward and serve the needs of the customer? These are wider questions beyond, “How do I get more chances in front the customer?” Yet, by asking such questions, you have the opportunity to integrate a wider range of tactics into your sales process that work toward a common goal. For example, rather than focusing on getting a sales call first, what about an approach that begins with having a wider conversation with would-be customers about their needs and challenges? How would you ask such questions? Would you engage with them around a common issue through social media? Would you mail them an old-school letter? Would you offer a free lunch-and-learn session? Or would you make a gratis overture to solve a relevant problem in order to build even more goodwill and trust? This opening up of the sale to a larger process engages a marketing mindset. It integrates your everyday sales tools with a broader set of options that work together for better outcomes.

Sales and marketing shouldn’t be thought of as mutually exclusive. After all, they serve a common goal. Even if you are deep in a sales-centric organization, you can still integrate strategic marketing thinking and tactics into your own approach to improve your chances for success, while delighting more of your customers in the process.

Andy Slipher is founder of Slipher Marketing, a consultancy where strategy comes first, followed by tangible marketing results. He is an accomplished strategist, interim CMO, speaker and writer on marketing strategy. He is marketing lecturer for SMU’s accredited Bank Operations Institute for professional bankers, and for the Independent Bankers Association of Texas (IBAT). Andy is the author of The Big How: Where Strategy Meets Success. For more information, visit TheBigHow.com.

Marketing and the Myth of “We Need A New Idea!”

By Andy Slipher

One of the biggest challenges in marketing heard by businesses across almost all industries is the constant search for their next idea—the one that’s going to hook and reel in new customers and clientele. It’s the idea that constantly eludes them yet, if they find it, will lead to more revenues, long-term relationships and evergreen sales.

Unfortunately, this way of thinking is largely mythology. There is almost always no missing other. And, if you haven’t figured out the big idea of your product or service—what’s intrinsically compelling about it—you have bigger problems than coming up with the latest gimmick.

Searching for a single elusive idea is like looking through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars. It depends on that which is neither familiar, nor within reach. It calls upon disconnected tactics over a focused and cohesive strategy. And, in the end, it manifests itself in the form of one-off and lackluster attempts that yield underwhelming results.
Want to address the true need behind the “new idea” myth? Here are three steps to moving away from this myopic approach, and toward a more strategic and holistic way of finding better tactics, more creative pathways, and greater results from your marketing.

Focus first on the bigger challenge

Take your attention off the symptoms of the moment—a sales slump, for example. Instead, begin to ask yourself these questions: What is the nature of the challenge or problem we face? Is there a larger issue we’re not facing that is causing our current predicament?

A short-term bump in sales, for example, is going to be hard to bring about without a larger understanding of what is causing the symptom of a temporary sales slump. Is it due to the seasonality in your business? Is it due to an increase in competition? Or, is there a downturn in the market or economy that’s causing customers to spend fewer dollars?Develop a plan instead of brainstorming a single idea. Click To Tweet

Know what you’re up against before you assume that your current predicament can be solved through a single tactical idea. Understand the causal factors contributing to the dynamic that has brought about your present challenge. By understanding the true nature of the problem at hand, you will effectively prepare yourself to devise a better and more accurate approach. This new approach can be used to mitigate or overcome the forces that are causing a symptom, such as a short-term dip in unit sales.

Develop a strategic plan

Yes, develop a plan instead of brainstorming a single idea. Will it take longer and require more effort? Most likely, yes. Will it also solve your issue more effectively than a short-term tactic? Definitely.

Strategy is a form of problem solving. Good strategy clearly identifies the problem, and then formulates a larger and binding approach to addressing, head on, the problem at hand. In marketing, as in other areas, good strategy demands choice—choosing a path to the exclusion of others, whereby all plans can be coordinated and work together to overcome a problem (not just a symptom). Symptoms can sometimes be relieved through temporary tactics, but rarely will they go away for any length of time or with any great effectiveness without a strategy to deal with their source.

A good strategic plan integrates:

  • Goals—the end for the effort, usually one or two, at most;
  • Strategy—the binding approach that will inform all other plans and tactics;
  • Plans—individual recipes, each with coordinated activities in accordance with your strategy, that will serve your goal;
  • Objectives—observable, measurable and time bound declarations of how you know you are successfully fulfilling your plans; sometimes called key performance indicators (KPI’s);
  • Tactics—last, the details and activities that will be undertaken to fulfill plans and reach your goals.

One of the best things about a strategic plan is that it is relative to the challenge at hand. It is designed to address a problem head on. Finally, the role of any strategic plan is that it serves as a blueprint for thoughtful, coherent and logical pathway for solving any complex challenge.

Rely upon integrated tactics

Once you have a thoughtful strategic marketing plan in place, you will be shocked at how much more easily the tactics present themselves. Why? Because a thoughtful strategy serves to focus everyone around a centralized, agreed upon approach. And because strategy forces choice, it eliminates the need to consider disparate (and sometimes desperate) ideas.

In fact, what you once thought of as innovative and other-worldly ideas will become almost foregone conclusions when a strategy is present. New possibilities present themselves more readily when you and your team are provided a guided pathway upon which to engage creative thought and energy. Best of all, because such ideas must fall within a guided strategic pathway they become, by default, integrated tactics.

If you utilize this three-step process of thinking bigger to tackle larger problems, thoughtfully planning your marketing approach, and then tactically integrating ideas around a strategy, you will move away the myth of, “We need a new idea.” Instead you’ll find yourself in the wonderful reality of, “We have a strategic approach to overcoming our marketing challenges.”

Andy Slipher is founder of Slipher Marketing, a consultancy where strategy comes first, followed by tangible marketing results. He is an accomplished strategist, interim CMO, speaker and writer on marketing strategy. He is marketing segment lecturer for SMU’s accredited Bank Operations Institute for professional bankers, and for the Independent Bankers Association of Texas (IBAT). Andy is the author of The Big How: Where Strategy Meets Success.  For more information, visit TheBigHow.com

Seven Best Practices to Budget (and Spend) for Marketing

By Andy Slipher

Andy SlipherFor anyone charged with allocating marketing dollars, it can seem like an arduous and even dicey process to decide how much to spend annually, and on what. For some, it’s the autopilot response of last year’s budget, plus three to five percent. For others with limited marketing dollars, it can mean the equivalent of putting all one’s eggs in a single basket. These are examples of the extremes, but not altogether unheard of in marketing.

But, all the same, there are effective ways to plan, allocate and intelligently spend marketing dollars. Each involves a step backward from the narrow framework of the budget, while interjecting the purpose of the marketing into the practice of budgeting dollars toward success. Here are seven best practices to follow when approaching any marketing budget process

1.Think bigger: Don’t limit your marketing to media in the traditional sense. Go beyond even digital and new media. People immediately equate marketing spending to media. What if you could spend your marketing dollars in a way that would mean reaching your target, but not having to dump lots of dollars on big media? Marketing is also promotion, incentives, rewarding loyalty, creating positive experiences, enhanced service, direct communication with the customer, sales, relationship-building, or any combination of activities working together.

Get outside the confined silo of the marketing function and media option. Begin to think how you can most efficiently impact customer conversion. Don’t be afraid to be dramatic. What if time, money and scale were not consequential factors? Let your mind wander to big ideas, then find ways to work around your resource limited. If you need help, bring someone in from the outside to challenge your thinking. None of this has to be expensive—just effective.

2. Build the cost of marketing into your product or service: Have you accounted for the cost to market and sell your product or service into its cost to produce? It’s too easy to say,” we’re not spending enough on marketing.” But, you’re handicapping yourself even further if you’re not building marketing into the cost of your product or service. In short, you’re cheating yourself by not being realistic.

The If-You-Build-It-They-Will-Come approach works only in the movies. Drawing customers (large or small numbers) to your service or product is an inherent part of selling. You’re either generating such attention yourself or drafting off of something else. Either way, resources (usually in the form of people and money) need to be allocated for such activities.

3. Target: This might seem obvious, but basic consideration of your specific target customer in your spending strategy can make your marketing budget go much further. Knowing your best customers inside and out will enable you to do this. You don’t have to speak to the universe. Just speak to your universe. Focus on the essential few with the highest chance for conversion.

Budget and spend your acquisition dollars toward them first. Then, migrate out from there. If your target audience is too big, you probably don’t know enough about them. Look, listen and learn in order to segment. It is well worth the time.Your strategic goals, business and marketing objectives will lead you to tactical media spending. Click To Tweet

4. Focus on behavioral change over attitudes and awareness: If you’re short on marketing dollars, don’t even think about building awareness. Forget consideration sets and good feelings about your brand, company or product. If you have very limited marketing dollars to spend, these are not your biggest issues. Instead, focus on differentiation, an emotional hook and getting the customer to act (i.e. buy).

Demonstrate why you’re better, engage them in an emotional decision and call them to action. No cheesy or cliché come-ons. Be dramatically and truthfully different in a way that convinces your customer to give you a try. Attitudes follow behavior.

5. Treat marketing as an investment: If you want it to yield a return, you must treat marketing as an investment. One of the biggest mistakes by some marketers today is throwing around the term ROI (return on investment) in conjunction with their marketing spending, while treating it as an occasional or periodic expense.

This is hypocrisy. If you want long-term, sustained ROI from your marketing, treat it as you would a true investment (in your product, service and business). Remember: the “I” in ROI stands for investment.

6. Strategy first: This is the single most valuable tool in your marketing arsenal. Thinking efficiently and with reverence to clearly defined marketing and business goals will help you distill your goals, intentions and plans guiding you to determine how much to spend and where to spend it. Speaking from experience, the practice of strategic thinking takes a load of time and guesswork away from determining where to best spend marketing dollars.

7. Zero-base your budget: If you’ve made it as far as a strategic plan, a zero-based marketing budget should come as no surprise. Your strategic goals, business and marketing objectives will lead you to tactical media spending. Start from scratch so that your spending matches that of what you’re wanting to accomplish. You’ll be amazed at how focused a budget it can yield.

Budgeting for marketing is far less complicated when you can approach it with greater intention and priorities in mind. Follow these tried and true practices and your marketing budget process will be a much more effective exercise.

Andy Slipher is founder of Slipher Marketing, a consultancy where strategy comes first, followed by tangible marketing results. He is an accomplished strategist, interim CMO, speaker and writer on marketing strategy. He is marketing segment lecturer for SMU’s accredited Bank Operations Institute for professional bankers, and for the Independent Bankers Association of Texas (IBAT). Andy’s forthcoming book is The Big How: Where Strategy Meets Success. For more information, visit www.Slipher.com.

What has Changed About Marketing in the Last 100 Years?

By Andy Slipher

In 1975, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a largely overlooked ruling that allowed earth-orbiting antennas—satellites—to be used for broadcasting television over large areas. Around that same time, a little-known regional broadcasting network called Home Box Office (HBO) took notice, and decided to use the FCC’s landmark decision to begin distributing its own programming via satellite.

HBO’s innovative move would have a ripple effect that would spill over onto the landscape of marketing. Soon, satellite networks proliferated, and with them, marketers’ ability to target in ways that were never previously possible.

Since that time, there has been so much technological innovation that marketers are faced with choices beyond measure. It can be blinding and bewildering for anyone charged with allocating marketing dollars on behalf of a business. And, this very issue is what has caused marketers to go awry. This is an age of unprecedented communications, and yet many still struggle to connect with one another. But this problem is not the real problem.

The true problem is that too many marketers have failed to recognize that only one thing has changed in marketing in the past 100 years—technology. That’s it. Yes, you now have social media and tweets and followers and apps and branding and re-marketing and analytics and focus groups and ROI and CRM and customer personas and digital and so on. It’s all certainly true. But, what has enabled nearly every bit of it is technology.Only one thing has changed in marketing in the past 100 years—technology Click To Tweet

So prolific is the role of technology in marketing that it has become for some an alluring distraction. Panic and peer pressure set in, and organizations pursue the latest and the greatest technology-based marketing tactics without taking the time to thoughtfully consider a strategic approach. As legendary philosopher and strategist, Sun Tzu once put it, “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

Marketing must ultimately get the product or service into the hands of the customer – a real person. Marketers need to realize that it is way too easy to distract ourselves (via technology) away from what is centrally important in marketing—generating a sale to a real person and, hopefully, repeating that process again and again to her or his delight. Marketing strategy is not so much about a plan, but a system. Build your marketing (including the sale) around a strategically-based, customer-centric system, then technology becomes a true and valuable tool, and not a distraction.

If you want to plan your marketing communications on a more strategic level and with a more integrated and seamless approach, consider the following methods and means to do so:

Strategic Marketing Plan: Full-on marketing guidance—someone asking the right questions and enabling you to think critically about your industry, business, customers, competition, brand and marketing activities. A strategic marketing plan answers both, “What are we trying to do?” and “How are we going to achieve it?” in a thorough, resolute way that doesn’t miss a lick (broad-to-specific). It facilitates a systematic way of measurably and methodically moving your business’s overall marketing activities from point A to point B.

Strategic Brand Plan:Marketers love to talk branding these days, but few truly understand what a brand is. At its core, a brand is simply a (strong) promise. Everything after that is embodying the promise or not. A brand plan helps an organization answer the why’s and how’s of their brand in a way that actively demonstrates its value.

Brand Landscape: A collaborative document and process that combines visual (graphic, photographic) and distilled conceptual elements (written) to succinctly express what a particular brand is, and what it is not, to a broader internal audience. At its core, it’s a reference and training document. It serves to familiarize an organization’s management on the concept of their own brand, so that they themselves can more consistently demonstrate and articulate it to others.

Vision: Your organization needs to aspire to something greater in order for its marketing to become something that inspires others. Sometimes there is no unifying or inspiring vision—an expression of what an organization aspires to reach or become in the next five to ten years. Other times, a vision reads as flat, academic or long-winded. A good vision statement isn’t fluff. Rather, it helps all stakeholders reach to something higher.

Public Outreach Strategy: Address and formalize a communications approach for the public-at-large. This does not necessarily mean customers. Rather, it’s about respecting and interfacing with the general public as influencers, opinion holders, social activists and supporters of personal, political or economic interests. This type of strategy addresses a need for responding to criticism, opposing or competing points of view. Its purpose is to build and demonstrate credibility and to authentically communicate it.

In conclusion, plan your marketing. Don’t be led by technology, or allow it to distract and overwhelm you. Know who you are, what you want from your marketing and how you’re going to achieve it. Only then will technology become a navigable means to achieve your goals.

Andy Slipher is founder of Slipher Marketing, a consultancy where strategy comes first, followed by tangible marketing results. He is an accomplished strategist, interim CMO, speaker and writer on marketing strategy. He is marketing segment lecturer for SMU’s accredited Bank Operations Institute for professional bankers, and for the Independent Bankers Association of Texas (IBAT). Andy’s forthcoming book is The Big How: Where Strategy Meets Success.For more information, visit www.Slipher.com.