Strategy Before Tactics

Whether you own a business, play a sport, or are investing in the stock market, having a strategy before choosing any tactics is the simplest and best roadmap to success. John Jantsch, the author of Duct Tape Marketing, quotes Sun Tzu on the subject – “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” A “strategy first” mindset will help you choose the right tactics for your unique context. The Inbound Guide teaches travel, tourism, outdoor and lifestyle brands how to take this “strategy-first” approach to transform and grow, through data-driven customer insight.

“Strategy before tactics” clarifies your value and core message

Becoming a “strategy first” business will help you to discover and communicate your real value proposition. Long before you decide what to put on your website, or whether a social media campaign is worth a try, you’ll first need to get the basics right. What defines an ideal customer? What problem do they have that our business can uniquely solve? How can we distil what we know into a compelling value proposition and a coherent core message about that value?

There are dozens of ways a potential customer can discover your business, both online and offline, and your website may not the first place they will interact with your brand.

The answers to these critically important questions begin with the “customer journey”, not the “About Us” page on your website. Think of the process as more of an “About You” exercise, characterised by a deep empathy for your customer and an innovative approach to what a great experience looks like.

A good marketing strategy helps you guide the customer journey

Potential customers may discover your company anywhere, but your primary goal should be to attract them to your website, where you have ultimate control over the user experience. Think of your website as the hub and every other platform (social media, paid advertising, blog content, etc.) as a pathway leading to it. Of course, there’s no point in attracting visitors that then leave your site without eventually converting into customers.

Think of your visitor stats as more of a vanity metric. Unless your site concisely, and compellingly, spells out what you are offering and why it uniquely solves a problem for your market – you have nothing better than an electronic billboard. The famous movie quote “If you build it, they will come” just isn’t a strategic approach to getting the word out about your brand.

Once you can decide on a clear core message, the next logical step is to map out the typical journey of your audience. I use the word “audience” deliberately here. Yes, your website is a kind of storefront for your business, but the goal should be to build an audience of potential customers who can come to see your business as an authority – a brand that really “gets” them and their needs. That requires that your site educates visitors about a problem need to have solved, a way to buy, and everything in between.

Your online content, on and off your website, also needs to be designed to methodically build trust. Blogs, podcasts, videos, infographics, and other creative content that educates and informs potential customers, and empowers them to make well-informed decisions about trying your product or services. Your website should be a wealth of helpful, creative content that establishes you as an authority on your subject.

One of the most common mistakes I see, besides the aforementioned billboard problem, is site content and marketing that attempts to bludgeon the visitor with opportunities to buy, without bothering to address where they are in their buying journey. We use the following structure to evaluate this process: Know, Like, Trust, Try, Buy, Repeat and Refer.

Each point in that process needs to have content and business processes that move someone logically along the path. Just knowing of a business isn’t the same thing as liking or trusting it. Just because someone buys, doesn’t guarantee that they’ll buy again or actively refer you. All too often marketing content, online and offline, appears to be designed to drive a prospect straight from “know” to “buy.” Try making friends that way and you’ll soon be very, very lonely.

Methodically mapping things out is much more effective and efficient and your website should be the heavy lifting component of your marketing. Only then is it a good idea to bother attracting lots of visitors.

Becoming a strategy-first business

Here are three questions to help you make the shift to the “strategy before tactics” business model.

What do you want to do?
This question is really asking what the mission and purpose of your business is. What is the “why” behind your business? What in your business brings you the most satisfaction? (Hint: your answer should not be “making money.”)

For lifestyle and travel brands, perhaps your answer to the question is, “We are satisfied when we know our client had the trip they dreamed of and no detail went overlooked.”

You can’t fake or “strategise” your purpose or mission. This is the core of who you are and what your business is. Spend as much time as necessary to figure out your business’s core purpose and mission.

What’s more compelling – a list of your services and products or a core message that coveys why you care about your customers?

Whom do we serve?
Put another way, “who is your ideal client?” If you answered the first question well, then you’ll understand that not everyone is your ideal client, and the answer to this question should be as narrow as possible. It is essential to be as specific as possible so you can truly understand your target audience and who gets the most value from your product or service. You cannot be all things to all people, no matter what you try.

Why not choose your customers instead of hoping that some subset of the general public will choose you?

One way to explore this question is to identify your most profitable customers. Who among them actively refers business because they just love the way you do things?   What do they all have in common? Be as specific as possible when answering these questions, to the point of excluding good customers in favour of great customers. Some number of prospects will end up buying from you anyway but it’s much better to allocate your limited resources to an ideal customer.

What makes your business unique, and what are your customers attracted to?
What do your ideal clients find the most attractive or remarkable about your business? It’s essential to understand what your customers love about you because that is probably the core difference that sets you apart from the competition.

Don’t be afraid to ask your best customers to help you answer this question! Most businesses don’t take enough time to understand what their customers truly value. Even better to use a process like Design Thinking to uncover insights into your customers.

All of your decisions about marketing tactics should flow out of the answers to these three questions. The answers should help you form a strategy for attracting and working with your ideal customers, and choosing the right tactics that will accomplish that goal.