The sexiest advice you’ll ever hear about branding and marketing

Every single small business owner knows this, so I’ll spare you the preachy rhetoric. You should have a budget and a plan for your brand and your marketing.

We’ll keep yammering on about it, but we know it’s not sexy.

No one wants to be a Nagging Wife, least of all me. We all know how nagging pans out in the real relationship world, and I’m not looking to get dumped.

What’s the definition of insanity? How about the definition of WTF?

You identify a massive problem or just (kinda) survive a sales slump. You can see the way those things reverberated across not only your staff and your shop, but also YOU. The pressure. The depression. The fear.

The same thing happened last time.

It keeps happening, in fact. In this situation, or at this time of year, this same thing ALWAYS happens.

You’re sick over it. But then why can’t you commit to change?

You’re not doing everything wrong. You’re just doing some things the same—and the same still isn’t working.

Because you want to be free and creative. Teaching. Cooking. Building. Interacting with customers. You want your staff to do what they’re supposed to do—the day-to-day shit you left behind you. You’ve earned this. And at this point, the machine should run seamlessly with or without you.

But machines break.

Systems fail.

Belts and gears wear out and need replacing.

There are no extraneous parts here.

Every single component of that machine matters—especially you, your decisions, and your mental state.

Look inward.

Do you retroactively blame your staff, your customers, the economy, Trumpism (or Obama before him), or one of a dozen other external factors when things go wrong?

Do you feel at a total loss, depleted of energy, upset and/or angry at a certain time of year? Or under a certain set of unending or repeating circumstances?

Recognize the patterns.

How often does this happen? What are the common factors in these problematic situations?

I can identify one constant without even hearing about your struggle: You.

marketing strategy end of year

If it ain’t broke now, that don’t mean it won’t be eventually.

Planning isn’t sexy for you, so you don’t want to talk about it or think about it. You’d rather keep running those same promotions, at the same time of year, year after year. Or tossing random dollar-dollar-bills-y’all at a late-night thought you had.

You get a big influx of cash. You rest for a while.

But man, you ALWAYS freak out later. When the late-night-idea well is dry and the cashflow lags.

When the cycle repeats—that’s when the freakout happens.

Build Brand Culture: Get out of your own way. Trust others. Engage on a higher level.

The consumer world moves VERY fast. It’s next-to-impossible to stay on top of every way your small business should adapt to that evolution. You must stay alert to industry trends and successes, while filtering out outlier ideas and recognizing missed opportunities.

But you’re not alone in this.

Challenge people and let them grow within your organization. When made to feel like active participants, Millennials especially will go above and beyond to help you plan and succeed. (It’s in their best interests—why wouldn’t they?)

Similarly, you can challenge your customers to push you forward, to engage on a higher level, to meet their needs in ways you haven’t even considered yet. Do you know what those needs are or are you guessing?

Scattershot fails. Ignoring the data fails. People know when you’re not listening to them. By sending off this impression, your brand and brand culture suffer exponentially.  

If a person feels shut out, s/he’s likely to transform pretty quickly into the Withholding Wife. And we know how that goes in the real relationship world. Again, dumped.

Adapt and you will grow.

If you want your brand to thrive and your business to grow, you can’t repeat the same patterns and expect a different result.

As David Kilcullen writes in Blood Year:

“Strategy, without resources and sequencing, is fantasy.”

A respected guerrilla war expert, he was discussing counterterrorism. I think it’s just as applicable here:

  • Resources = budget and staff
  • Sequencing = planning and calendaring

It’s no different in an effective counteroffensive than it is in business. You’re fighting a guerrilla war of your own every day, but there are patterns, and once you respond proactively rather than retroactively to those patterns—in your own behavior and attitude and the market around you—you will see greater success.

Take a morning—preferably on paper—and evaluate the past 12 months. BE HONEST.

  • Where did you hit roadblocks?
  • Where did you see shining success?
  • What happened that was unexpectedly good? Bad?
  • How did your attitude, preconceived notions, or expectations limit your growth?
  • How did your staff surprise you? How is morale overall?
  • Where can you personally be more flexible?
  • Where do you need systems to improve efficiency?
  • Which marketing campaigns had the best ROI? (Are you even tracking ROI?)
  • Which months were you doing no marketing at all? How did that affect sales?
  • In months where you did a big marketing push, how did your customers respond, both in-house and online? Were there any signs of customer fatigue?
  • How many different messaging types did you try for the same promotion?
  • How often do you repeat promotions? Do those repeat promotions perform better at certain times of year?
  • What do you know about how your customers shop today that differs from a year ago?
  • How would you like your customers to respond to your brand?
  • What efforts have you made to reward customers who have been with you year after year?
  • What can you learn from those circumstances and your role in them—from a macrocosmic perspective now—to project a better future for yourself and your business going forward?

That’s a fraction of the questions a strategist would help you sort through.

From there, you would then make a plan to figure out how you can apply those lessons and experiences to the coming year. Because you’re personally responsible for every day and every task, every success and every failure. You set the tone. You build or kill momentum.

So talking about moving ahead with confidence—and the planning involved—isn’t sexy. But it’s sexy as hell to actually move ahead with confidence.

Set up yourself and your team to have a better next 12 months: To attack and defeat the negative patterns, to build a strong brand, to kill slumps, to GROW.

Luckily, at your disposal, are me and my ilk. The strategists who live for this crap. Studying these trends. Planning for slow times. Budgeting. Messaging. Outreach. A/B testing makes us sweat—in a good way. Data drives us straight-up insane with ecstasy.

Problem-solving—no, problem anticipating—is sexy for us.

If you need a buddy to set you on the right path, keep you motivated throughout the year, and tell you just how you’re doing—someone who salivates over data, who has new ideas, who sees your business objectively, and who genuinely wants to alleviate the burden of negative patterns—give us a ring.

Management consultant and brand strategist for small teams. Fan of dark tea, thick books, peace, and unity.

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