I saw a good friend over Easter, and he mentioned a recent accident that taught him an important lesson. He had stepped on a tenpenny nail that went deep in his foot. The doctor used a long needle to insert gauze into the wound and told him to come back in a week for the gauze to be removed.
The doctor explained, “I was an Army doc, and your situation is similar to a bullet wound. The gauze is necessary to collect the poison. Without the gauze, the wound would heal on the outside, trapping the poison inside.” The doc then gave my friend the moral to the story: “If you want a great outcome, you have to go from the internal to the external.”
The lesson is applicable to marketing. Awesome results (external) begin with an awesome plan (internal). Privately held companies are most vulnerable. They put their results at risk from external activities like paid ads, website updates, social media, etc., because their marketing plan doesn’t reflect their “one thing” that is essential to stand out from the competition, build an emotional connection and deliver an exceptional customer experience.
Without a solid plan, almost any idea or path could make sense. Worse than that, you lose your identity. The consequence is you sound like everyone else and people searching have no clue what makes you special. If you don’t have “you” figured out, then your company begins “commodity marketing,” i.e. talking about your services and products vs. the benefits and great outcomes from your products and services. There is a difference between information (giving out) vs. communication (getting through).
Here’s an exercise: If you put five competitive website’s home pages side by side, sans the company names, would your customers (or even your employees) be able to identify your company vs. the competitors? Do you stand apart? Do they know it’s your company because you consistently communicate your one thing in a way that people get it? Is your message more relevant, inviting and compelling than your competitors’?
Most CEOs can easily explain their competitive difference and customer care. However, it doesn’t translate to their external messaging because there is poor alignment between the internal and external. The consequence is a missed opportunity to inspire and engage people.
All companies are in the relationship business, and communication is a people strategy to impact mindsets and drive behavior. Here are three strategies for your internal plan:
• Positioning — This is your competitive fit. Your unique differential. I like Seth Godin’s quote, “How dare you settle for less when the world has made it so easy for you to be great.” Every company has distinct attributes. Your positioning is essential because it drives all other messaging. If it isn’t crystal clear to you, then no one else has a chance to get it.
• Branding — Do you remember the line from “Braveheart” when the protagonist William Wallace says: “Every man dies; not every man really lives.” Let me challenge you to risk standing out. If you care for people, dare to show it. Be real. How do you help people solve problems, get answers and enjoy a better life? If you embrace “love your neighbor,” how do you communicate it and make it real? Brands are defined by your customers’ experiences, and those touchpoints occur the second people begin their online search, and they continue throughout the customer life cycle.
• Culture — Your culture and your people are your internal brand, your No. 1 marketing asset. No one can steal your culture. Do your employees reflect your passion and purpose in their daily actions?
If you aren’t getting the results you want from your marketing, then make sure your internal plan is awesome. An awesome plan drives awesome results.
Editor’s note: Steve Hoeft is the founder of marketing agency Raising The Standard in Rogers. The opinions expressed are those of the author.