While many people know me as the managing partner of a professional services marketing firm, I was trained as a behavioral psychologist. Normally, making people nervous is not my goal. When it comes to strategic marketing, though, I like to make an exception.
"Studies show that firms that conduct regular research on their target audience grow faster and are more profitable"
Why? Because if you want to develop and execute an effective marketing plan, you need to leave your comfort zone and take an unfamiliar path. Any plan that’s going to distinguish your firm and attract notice has to be different.
Now, humans are fundamentally social animals. We are most comfortable sticking with the tried and true. If everyone is doing it, there must be a good reason—or at least we’d like to think so.
But following the herd has consequences of its own. And it can work against the success of your company. Weird as it sounds, basing your marketing plan on an “industry best practice” can be a dangerous and counterproductive thing.
Here are five reasons why taking the well-worn road should make you nervous:
1. A “me too” strategy will never differentiate you from competitors.
Differentiation has to be part of any successful marketing strategy. It’s tough to be competitive without something that sets you apart from your competitors. So if your grand strategy makes you sound a lot like other firms, you’re not likely to attract attention—or connect with your target audience. That’s a recipe for disaster.
2. You can easily miss changes in your prospects’ behavior and marketplace dynamics.
The marketplace is always in flux, and most firms don’t see the changes until late in the process. Conducting systematic research will pick up market shifts early—and give you a tremendous advantage. Armed with this knowledge, you can make course adjustments on the fly. Now, firms that make early adjustments don’t always know they are right, so keep those antacids close at hand. But take heart. Studies show that firms that conduct regular research on their target audience grow faster and are more profitable. In short, they are better positioned to meet the changing needs of their prospects.
3. A disruptive strategy is never comfortable.
If you are shaking up your industry with a new technology or new thinking, it will make folks nervous. It may even leave “you” feeling a little restless. That’s okay. If you haven’t noticed, disruptors are often leaders in their industries.
Now let’s look at the flip side. What if you “aren’t” trying to challenge the status quo in any way? What kind of strategy is that? If your marketing strategy contains no disruptive elements, how effective will it be? Staying the same in a changing world is an exceptionally risky strategy, itself.
4. You will be pressured to conform.
Ah, the joy of well-meaning colleagues. They will look at your carefully thought-out marketing strategy and be concerned that it is a little too different. It’s not what they’re used to. After all, it’s nothing like what your most successful competitor does. Alas, their anxiety may become your problem. But don’t give up! Following your own distinctive marketing strategy is a lot smarter than trying to beat an entrenched competitor at their own game.
5. You must turn off some potential clients to attract others.
We all know that trying to be everything to everyone is not a winning strategy. You’ll end up being nothing special to anyone. A truly great strategy embraces a narrow focus, which may mean turning away large swaths of potential clients. And that’s definitely going to raise concerns among your colleagues. They may want to dilute the positioning so that it speaks to a wide range of possible clients. But that could wind up harming your organization in the long run.
The way forward
Does strategic marketing have to be a one-way trip to the medicine cabinet? Yes and no.
On the one hand, basing your strategy on solid research into your target market and competitors can go a long way toward removing uncertainty from the equation. Research can provide an objective platform to allay the fears and concerns of your well-meaning colleagues.
On the other hand, taking a bold step forward comes with an element of risk. It’s the price of innovation—and a strong signal that you are doing the right thing. So if your marketing strategy feels safe and comfortable, start glancing over your shoulder. That should make you even “more” nervous.