I get asked a simple, pointed question just about everywhere I go. What’s the number one thing I can do to grow my business right now.
Yep, everyone wants one tactic they can employ to massively grow their business.
I do have an answer, of course, but it may not be what you’re expecting.
No the number one tactic for growing a business is more of a process than some way to get more Facebook engagement or some other new, trendy growth hack.
The most potent thing any marketer can do is to create and operate a growth system.
See, no two businesses are ever alike so no prescriptive set of tactics or one size fits all approach will work for everyone.
But that’s the beauty of a system. If constructed correctly it consistently produces the tactics made for the unique fingerprint that is your business.
The system I’ve been evangelizing for some time now consists of four major components. Once in place you only operate and update.
The four system components are as follows:
- Map your marketing foundation
- Explore potential marketing channels
- Create a project catalog
- Execute focused project bets
If you put in the work to build and operate your growth system, you’ll be on your way to consistent, predictable and potentially scalable bliss.
Map your marketing foundation
In my world, a marketing foundation consists of three key elements: Strategy, Journey, and Content.
The strategy element is where you map out the personas of your ideal clients and construct the messaging and positioning for your products and services that will match what these ideal clients care about. You can read more about our approach to strategy here
The journey element consists of understanding how someone is going to move through every aspect of your business. It’s not necessarily about how you want them to move as much as how you guide them based on what they want.
This takes a deep understanding of what they are looking for well before they are looking for you and what they expect in terms of the experience with a company like yours. I’ve used a framework I call The Marketing Hourglass for about a decade to describe how to think about moving your prospects and customers logically through the stages I call know, like, trust, try, but, repeat and refer. You can read more on the Marketing Hourglass here.
Finally, you need to understand how to use content as the voice of your marketing strategy. For many businesses content in the form of blog posts, educational webinars and how to eBooks is the primary way that prospects and customers move through a business on the way to becoming raving fans.
Understanding the forms of content you need for awareness, trust, education, engagement, conversion and even referrals is crucial to success. You can read more about something I call the Total Content System and our approach to editorial content planning here.
Explore potential marketing channels
Once you’ve firmly mapped out and committed to your marketing foundation you can start to explore the various tactics for generating leads and growth.
I believe that there are 16 marketing channels available to us today. (About ½ of which are additions from the last decade or so.)
Now you could argue that there are more or less, or that something should be combined or expanded or that something like SEO isn’t a channel per se at all, but I can make a case for the rational of each on this list and besides that you’ve got to start somewhere.
The real job for any business, depending upon where they are in terms of their growth goals, is to get very, very good at getting clients in just a few of these channels. Trying to master them all is the fastest way to get stuck in the idea of the week rut.
A business just getting going may need to root around in marketing channel test mode to figure out which channels can produce sustainable growth while a more entrenched business may be better served finding ways to cut back and optimize the channels that are already working.
Here are your channels to choose from.
- Referral Marketing – This includes intentional word of mouth activities, viral tactics as well as intentional referral generation
- Public Relations – This includes activities aimed at receiving coverage in traditional media outlets
- Online Advertising – This includes the use of pay-per-click platforms, social networks, display ads and retargeting
- Offline Advertising – This includes advertising in offline print and broadcast outlets such as magazine, TV and radio
- Content Marketing – This includes publishing, optimizing and sharing educational content that draws search traffic, links and subscribers
- Sales Playbooks – This includes the creation of specific actions aimed at mining, generating, nurturing and converting leads
- Email Marketing – This includes the use of targeted and automated email campaigns based on conversion actions
- Utility Marketing – This includes the creation of useful tools that stimulate traffic, sharing and brand awareness
- Influencer Marketing – This includes the practice of building relationships with individuals and outlets that can influence pre-established communities
- Search Engine Optimization – This includes on page and off page optimization activities aimed at generating organic search engine traffic
- Partner Marketing – This includes co-marketing activities run in collaboration with strategic marketing partners
- Social Media Marketing – This includes the act of building engagement on established platforms and networks such Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn as well as targeted industry platforms
- Online Events – This includes events such as webinars, demonstrations and workshops conducted using online tools
- Offline Events – This includes events such as workshops, demonstrations, seminars, trade shows, showcases and customer appreciation events
- Speaking Engagements – This includes the appearance of company representatives in sponsored speaking engagements at events such as industry conferences
- Community Building – This includes the intentional act of building and facilitating a community around a shared interest or topic related to the organization’s industry
Create a project catalog
Once you analyze your current business channels and start the process of considering new ways to grow, you can begin to create a list of potential projects you plan to test in your channels of choice.
A project is any tactic you want to employ to see if it show potential for profitable growth.
So, for example, in the public relations category you might decide to target small niche publications with stories in an effort to get some press that might lead to coverage in bigger publication or social sites. Or you might consider a publicity stunt or two that could trigger some viral coverage.
Here’s the trick when brainstorming potential channel tactics to try on. First map out the 3-4 biggest objectives for the quarter ahead. Then tie some trackable goals to each objective. From here you should be able to get some focus on tactics that might actually help you achieve some of your stated goals.
So let’s say one of your objectives is to build an online community and one of your goals for doing this is to grow your current subscriber list. Armed with these two ideas you should be able to create a list of potential tactics you might want to bet on to achieve this goal.
Brainstorm an entire catalog of ideas and you may produce a few months worth of hunches focused on your objectives.
From this brainstorming you can probably identify some candidates that would make likely projects to test.
There are many variables that go into determining what projects to test. Look around and see what’s working for others, ask your entire team to weigh in, network your ideas with strategic partners, and even look to competitors for ideas.
If you can tie a new channel to something that’s already working in another channel, you’ll increase the likelihood of success. For example, if sales – even cold calling – is an effective channel right now, imagine how much more effective it might be if you armed the sales team with content marketing, social selling or referral tactics.
Execute focused project bets
Once you identify your high priority project bets it’s time to start testing.
Like all things these days you want to test and fail fast so you can move on and succeed even faster. Don’t wait until you have every Facebook ad variation designed and every call to action match to a targeting goal. If you’ve never run any Facebook ads, just get in there and run one based on what you are trying to do. You’ll know very quickly whether or not it shows any promise and then you can more into full execution.
Here’s the key – and it’s always been the key to successful marketing – spend time before you test to design the project so that you know what you are trying to do and how you are going to measure its success.
So often marketers get a good idea and they run off and try it without any way to know if it worked or not. Like a science project you’ve go to be precise is what you think will happen, how it will happen and how you know if it happened.
You’ve also got to test variables – things like headlines, images, messaging, should all be part of the equation. Running A/B tests of this nature are a snap these days thanks to so many great online tools.
The entire point of the exercise is to identify a couple bets that pay off big so you can double and triple down of those and shelve the others.
When you do this repeatedly you start to find the most potent channels for profit and you can start to play in those few channels like a champ. Ultimately your goal is to simply create and refine projects optimized for your best channels.
The last component of the system is to take the winners and find the best way to document and delegate. If you can operationalize your winning bets you can free up more time to strategize on ways to make new, informed bets.
Keeping a running log of all of your tests, bets, successes and failures is not only a great way to stay focused on what works, it’s a great way to learn how to get better at creating new bets. Sometimes you learn as much from what didn’t work as what did work.
Once you get the system down you simply continue to operate and evolve. I suggest you set aside a day once a quarter to reshape goals and objectives and brainstorm a new list of projects to constantly stay on the move and many, many steps ahead of your competitors.
So you see the single most potent marketing tactic isn’t really a single tactic after all.