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17 One Thing About Marketing Strategy

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Marketing Strategy

In the movie City Slickers Jack Palance’s character tells Billy Crystal that the secret to life is one thing. Crystal, of course, is left to discover what that one thing in life is on his own, but I believe the same is true for business. I believe the most effective marketing strategies, the one’s that I call real-life marketing strategies, hold together by focusing relentlessly on one simple thing.

That one simple thing can be an idea, like providing shoes to kids in need around the world as Tom’s One for One Movement does, focusing on simple, yet stunning design, as many people feel Apple does, or building a business by intentionally keeping things simple, in both products and processes, as I believe 37Signals does.

In all cases though, these companies accomplish many, many things, but do so first and foremost through the realization of one single-minded purpose. This single minded purpose is the filter for every business decision, hiring decision, product decision, and marketing campaign – and it often starts by simply realizing and capturing who the company is being at some point in time – the here’s what we really stand for moment.

Of course, finding and committing to a real-life marketing strategy – the one thing – isn’t enough. You’ve also got to find a way to make it part of the DNA of the organization. You’ve got find symbols and stories and metaphors that allow every part of your business ecosystem embrace the strategy.

There’s an article in this month’s issue of strategy + business magazine titled Eat Your Peas: A Recipe for Culture Change. The article chronicles Jamie Oliver’s (Food Revolution) struggle to change the eating culture in a small community and how he finally breaks through by focusing on one simple and digestible theme – peas.

Previous attempts to change behavior and implement his ideas around healthy eating met with fierce resistance until he made the entire strategy all about embracing eating peas. This “one thing” became the metaphor for the entire culture shift.

In this week’s episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I continue a solo discussion on this idea of real-life marketing strategy. Some of you may have guessed by my seeming infatuation with this topic that I may be working on something bigger related to this theme and you would be right.

I’m convinced there’s a book worth writing on the idea of creating real-life marketing strategy, the kind that amplifies why a business does what it does, the kind that demonstrate how a strong culture can become a powerful strategy, and the kind that suggests anyone, by embracing this idea of “one thing” can create a stunning brand.

So, tell me about companies that you think have this “one thing” down. Or, tell me what your one thing is and how you communicate it.

You can listen to the show by subscribing the feed in iTunes or a variety of other free services such as Google Listen (Use this RSS feed) or you can buy the Duct Tape Marketing iPhone app. (iTunes link – Cost is $2.99) or

35 7 Characteristics of a Real Life Marketing Strategy

In my opinion, developing and executing an effective marketing strategy is the most important job of any marketer and failure to do so is the single greatest threat to creating anything that looks and feels like business building momentum.

While few would argue with the statement above, marketing strategy as a practical tool remains little more than an academic exercise for most businesses.

Inside Threadless HQ in Chicago

I’ve spent a great deal of time wrestling with the idea of developing useful, real life marketing strategies for small businesses and have concluded that there are a handful of characteristics that can be mined, explored and shaped in order to make marketing strategy the foundation of business building.

The key to discovering an effective marketing strategy lies in understanding first that its essence is much more about why a business does something than what or how the business does something.

These elemental characteristics are rooted deeply in human wants and desires and act to create a connection between a company, its products and services, its people and ultimately its customers.

I believe any company can create a marketing strategy that will actually serve as the catalyst to creating a remarkable business by deeply exploring and embracing one, or some combination of several, of the characteristics outlined below.

Single minded purpose

If I were going to point to a requisite characteristic it might be this one. When a company is built with a single-minded purpose and can communicate that “why we do what we do” in a way that makes meaning in the lives of its customers and prospects, magic can happen.

The idea of higher purpose can be a tricky one too. A customer can resonate with the fact that your mission is to bring peace and harmony to the world, but it’s just as likely that there’s a market hungry to do business with a company that believes bringing beauty to the world through incredibly simple design is why they do what they do.

The key is a thorough understanding and simple and consistent communication of the why. You can’t fake this characteristic but you can move your higher purpose front and center in your marketing strategy.

Some of the companies that enjoy the highest levels of staff and customer loyalty focus almost entirely on why they do what they do, as opposed to simply trying to do what they do better.

The product is almost secondary to this single-minded purpose – Shatto Milk Company’s marketing strategy is one that claims to bring a return to what’s good about creating all natural products in small, hand crafted batches and, by the way, we sell dairy products.

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, has said repeatedly that Zappos is a customer happiness business that happens to sell shoes.

Desperately seeking inspiration

People want to go on journeys they feel are epic in nature. Now this may sound a little far fetched if you’re simply building a small law firm focused on small businesses, but every business can inspire.

We can inspire by telling stories, by communicating the why, by standing up for simplicity and by bravely connecting our own purpose in life with that of the business and that of the goals and objectives of our clients.

Leadership, the kind that’s drawn from deed and word, the kind that understands that the best way to get more is to want more for others, is inspirational. Firms that draw commitment from customers and staff give them a way to sign up for something that can allow them to be their best self.

Steve Jobs is cited more often than any other company leader for his ability to inspire through telling stories about the Apple brand.

An obvious innovation

Every industry engages is some practice that customers just come to live with. And then someone comes along, either from outside of the industry or as method of survival, and shakes it up but suggesting there’s a better way.

Creating what ends up looking like an obvious innovation in an industry and then embracing that change as a marketing strategy is one way that companies create a clear differentiation.

Rackspace, a hosting company located in Austin Texas, created an obvious innovation in the hosting industry by simply making a decision to provide real service. While that shouldn’t seem like an innovation it was in an industry that appeared to abhor actually talking to its customers.

To sum up Rackspace’s marketing strategy – “Fanatical Support isn’t just what we do. It’s really what makes us, well, us. It’s our need to make a difference in the lives our customers—no matter how big or small. Really, it’s our way of life.”

Let us entertain you

People will give their last dollar to be entertained. I believe this has never been truer than it is today. Since so many of the products, services and ideas we sell can be acquired for free these days, the money’s in the package and the experience.

Fun, joyful, theater and stage aren’t words that are always connected with business, but bring them in and a new world opens up. I had reason to spend a day at Google recently and they get this one very well. Work is often long, hard and boring, but when do we ever tire of play? Make that fact that yours is a business that’s fun to go to work in and fun to do business with central to your strategy and people will be drawn to the game.

Step inside the offices of t-shirt maker Threadless and you’ll be greeted by giant stuffed creatures, two Airstream “think pods,” offices decorated by staff to show off departmental personality, and a basketball court in the warehouse. The place is definitely fun.

The role of convenience

This one goes hand in hand with simplicity and surprise, but it’s something different entirely. Some businesses are actually hard to do business with. We may love what they do, but scratch our heads at how they do it. This one is all about non-friction, speed of change and a mentality of yes.

Take down the barriers to communication, give people the tools to do what they want, rethink meetings, eliminate the policies of control, trust your customers and staff and, above all, use technology to enhance personal relationships rather than wall them off.

Being easy to do business with is a marketing strategy that can become a culture and mantra that spreads word of mouth and drives customer adoption faster than any promotion or campaign ever could.

Evernote is easy to do business with. Their products sync across all of my various tools and just work, without the need to consult an owner’s manual.

Simplicity is harder than it looks

Life’s too complicated, instruction manuals and return policies and messages and mission statements and features and design are all too complicated. One of the most attractive features of organizations that enjoy high levels of commitment is a lack of features.

Simplicity is the most appreciated attribute of the products and services we love to love. And yet, it can be one of the hardest to actually achieve. This can’t really be achieved by simply stripping out features. If this is to be a marketing strategy it must become a way of life that informs every decision.

37 Signals is a great example of a business that has embraced simplicity as a marketing strategy. They make great software that does just a handful of things very, very well. According the CEO Jason Fried they spend more time considering what features to leave out of a release then what to add.

The element of surprise

Few things enamor like exceeding someone’s expectations. This might end up sounding more like a personality trait, but companies that turn customers into volunteer sales forces fully understand and use the power of giving more than was promised and surprisingly beating expectations as a marketing strategy.

Who doesn’t like to get little unexpected gifts, free overnight shipping, and hand written notes? And yet, when was the last time you got any of those?

Again I return to Zappos. Zappos has an unstated policy of surprise. If you order shoes on a Monday, the order confirmation will suggest that you allow 3-5 days for shipping, but don’t be surprised if they show up the next morning.

8 By-products Offer Some Seriously Overlooked Opportunities

According to this entry in Wikipedia – A by-product is a secondary or incidental product deriving from a manufacturing process, a chemical reaction or a biochemical pathway, and is not the primary product or service being produced. A by-product can be useful and marketable, or it can be considered waste.

by-product marketingWhile the practice of creating products from a primary product’s waste (lanolin – from the cleaning of wool) is commonplace in manufacturing environments, I think there are some great opportunities for innovation through by-products lounging around in every business.

The key is to simply start leveraging everything you’re good at doing – even if it’s seemingly unrelated to your core business.

For example, if you’ve gotten very good at online marketing and social media use, why not set-up a series of workshops and teach your clients how to do the same? There are countless examples of businesses creating successful marketing or management systems and then turning them into products for their industry.

If you’re good at hiring super stars, good at lead conversion, good at technology, good at creating buzz, you probably have an opportunity to turn that skill into a by-product.

Some may think, “sure, I could create all these by-products, but wouldn’t that just divert my focus from our core products and services?” Maybe, but you may also find something that should be your core product. Jason Fried, co-founder of 37 Signals, tells a story about how his web design firm needed a project management tool so they created one for their own use. Clients liked it so much they started offering the tool to others and before they knew what hit them, they had created Basecamp and altered the direction of their business forever.

Another great reason to start mining your business for by-products is that it’s a great way to up your expert status. Even if your by-product doesn’t ever offer long-term revenue and profit possibilities, there’s a good chance you can leverage it to get more exposure. By taking a leadership role in teaching your clients or an entire industry how to do something well, you’ll open up opportunities for media exposure, industry event speaking, access to suppliers, and in all likelihood, the ability to charge more than your competitors for your core offerings.

This notion is so powerful it should be part of your marketing plan and Marketing HourglassTM

4 REWORK Podcast with Jason Fried

Marketing podcast with Jason Fried (Click to play or right click and “Save As” to download – Subscribe now via iTunes

Jason Fried37 Signals is a company that most online service providers would love to be like. From day one the creators of Basecamp, Backpack, Highrise and Campfire, made money, built a rabid word of mouth fan base, and perhaps more importantly, built the business they wanted to work in without taking outside funding. Along the way they became media darlings and a frequently cited use case for how to do it right.

But just how did Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson do it? The often unconventional approach taken by 37Signals is on display in the Fried and Hannson’s book REWORK. REWORK is a collection of essays that I think could best be described as a combination of business, self-help and wellness, and technical mentoring advice, but the collective impact is very powerful.

This is one of those books that you can pick up and read from any point and find yourself immediately engrossed . The tone of the book is such that you feel as though you are having a conversation with the authors in a style that matches the laid back, this is how we do it here, vibe that is 37Signals.

I spent a few minutes discussing REWORK with Jason Fried for this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast and I can tell you that this book is going to show up on a lot of “best books of 2010” lists.

A few nuggets from REWORK

  • Ignore the Real World – The real world is telling too many small businesses that their idea won’t work.
  • Why Grow? – Everyone seems enamored with the idea of rapid growth. Maybe that’s not the right approach for you.
  • Outside Money Is Plan Z – Hang on and build it organically or it won’t be your company.

Image credit: Randy Stewart

12 Your Backpack just got a lot bigger

BackpackI’m a big fan of most of what comes out of 37signals. (I’ve posted about many of their offerings over the years.)

One of their tools, Backpack, just got a whole lot more useful for the small business.

Backpack is a tool that allows you to keep track of what you’re doing online, calendars, to-do lists, reminders, files, even pages organized around something you are working on. The problem was that until recently this was a single user tool. Great for keeping your stuff together, but not so easy to share.

Backpack now comes in a multi-user version that really makes this tool more like an on-demand Intranet for small business. You can create as many users as you like and each user can have their own calendars, effectively creating an online sharable calendaring system. The newsroom feature is a like an activity dashboard that also keeps group messaging tidy.

There is a lot of crossover from Basecamp in terms of functionality, writeboards, lists and the such, but while Basecamp is more about project management and shared collaboration from outside, permission based, resources, I think Backpack is really more company focused. I can see small companies organizing it much like a knowledge base to house company documents, processes and manuals.

I really think it’s killer when combined with Basecamp. If you use multiple offerings from 37signals, one tip I would suggest is to get an OpenID and use it to log in to your accounts and then you will have the ability to jump back and forth to all of your accounts from a simple dashboard interface.

Here’s a nice side by side comparison of the 37signals offerings.