With 2023 right around the corner, it’s time to get your marketing ducks in a row
The proverb, “Time waits for no one,” is highly applicable to the annual year-end sprint for businesses. Not only do companies need to close out the year on a high note, but they must also get a jump on next year’s strategic marketing plan. In this blog, we’ll examine how you can start putting a framework together to develop your plan and move your business forward.
A Quick Primer
Putting together a strategic marketing plan can seem overwhelming, but it is not that difficult. That’s because a strategic marketing plan can largely adhere to a simple format, which is:
- Marketing Goals
- Marketing Strategies
- Marketing Tactics
- Evaluation Methods
Now, each element of your plan needs to build organically off one another. For instance, once you have your annual goals in place, the strategies you decide on need to naturally lead to achieving each goal. A similar process will occur for your marketing tactics: Think of them as a step-by-step process for bringing each strategy to fruition.
Also, remember the benefits of making your SMART. Last year, we wrote a blog on what that means, which you can read here. Let’s get a summary:
- Specific: Don’t simply say something like: “I want to increase my customer-base.” Instead, consider the specific number and types of new customers you would like to obtain.
- Measurable: Attach metrics to your goals. This involves benchmarking where your company currently is so you can assess whether your marketing has moved the needle.
- Achievable: It’s important to “dream big,” but your final marketing plan should include goals you can reasonably hit.
- Relevant:Spend time ensuring your goals are relevant to your organization’s priorities. Be honest with yourself. Will that exciting new marketing project or initiative really help you achieve your business goals? If not, perhaps it’s worth thinking about other ways to allocate your time and resources.
- Time-sensitive: Goals are great, but they also need a clear timetable. Without a timeframe, core aspects of your marketing plan will begin to break down.
Leverage Top Trends
For small businesses, there are plenty of new developments in the marketing world to consider implementing in your 2023 plan that can help you achieve better customer relationships and higher profitability. Here are just a few trends we’re seeing:
- Video Content is King: According to research, more than 50 percent of viewers prefer to consume online content in a video format.[i]
- Partnerships: Forming strategic partnerships can help you reach new markets and gain higher levels of engagement. Of course, remember to keep it compliant.
- Interactive Content: As part of your content marketing efforts in 2023, you may want to experiment with interactive material in the form of polls, quizzes, calculators, assessments and more.
- Conversational Marketing: Chat bots, artificial intelligence and machine learning can be lumped under the umbrella term of “conversational marketing.” They offer clear advantages over traditional methods by supporting two-way conversations. If you’d like to get a basic introduction to chat bots, check out our full blog on the subject.
- Corporate Social Responsibility: The way a business conducts itself socially is increasingly a top concern for customers. How big is this trend?
- 87 percent of consumers will purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they care about.
- 92 percent of consumers say they have a more positive image of a company when it supports social or environmental issues.
- 66 percent of consumers are willing to pay extra for products and services that come from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact.[ii]
These figures paint a clear portrait and present an obvious takeaway: Being community responsive and socially responsible pays off in real dollars and cents.
Don’t Leave it to Chance
Your business is too important to leave something like how you promote it to chance. This makes your strategic marketing plan about as important as it gets. While strategic marketing can get complicated quickly, having even a strong framework in place, one marked by SMART goals and aligned with your overall business priorities, can go a long way. Pairing this with the field’s top and emerging trends can optimize your efforts further, positioning you to obtain strong customer connections and lasting profitability in the new year.
Want a deeper dive into creating a strategic marketing plan for 2023. Check out this helpful article.
[i] Content Trends: Global Preferences (hubspot.com)
[ii] How Corporate Social Responsibility Connects Us to Consumers (corporatewellnessmagazine.com)
Few would dispute that there is a mental health crisis in our society. One in five Americans live with a mental health condition, which amounts to nearly 50 million people.[i] But perhaps even more disturbing is that mental health remains heavily stigmatized – despite these statistics. A lack of compassion for mental and emotional health disorders can have serious downstream effects. Sufferers are much less inclined to seek out treatment even if the condition is treatable like depression and anxiety.
In recognition of these societal realities, Alliant National recently conducted a “Mind, Body, Soul” initiative. Led by Stacy Stolen, Alliant National’s HR Manager, the program seeks to address the full spectrum of employee needs, while pushing back on mental health stigmas and promoting inclusive conversations at Alliant National. The results were, and continue to be, quite positive.
Mind, Body, Soul – The Six Dimensions of Health
Stolen says the “Mind, Body, Soul” initiative highlights and addresses six dimensions of employee health:
Now, you may be thinking, “Isn’t this program geared toward mental health?” It’s a fair question, but the truth is all aspects of health are interrelated. Physical, social, economic and career circumstances will impact mental and emotional well-being. By discussing the different pillars that contribute to wellness, it makes it easier to act and begin healing, Stolen says.
Whether that be finding programs to help deal with difficult emotions or making changes around the workplace to promote mental health and wellness, you must first have the right conception of the full spectrum of human needs. Only then can you start making changes to feel more healthy, supportive and whole.
Putting it Into Practice
While taking a granular approach to wellness is important, it must also be paired with action. “Mind, Body, Soul” also promotes different actions employees can take to nurture their well-being:
- Take breaks: The restorative power of a break is not to be underestimated. Whether you decide to walk your dog or do a 10-minute yoga video, a periodic break can reduce stress and improve productivity.
- Take time off: Employees should be encouraged to take their allotted time off. Stolen said it is sometimes hard to remember that the world will not fall apart if you take time off, even if it can be tempting to think so. That’s a common misperception in our society, as statistics show that more than half of all workers do not take the time to which they are entitled.[ii]
- Set boundaries: Setting boundaries between your workday and your personal time can help avoid burnout. It’s a mistake to discount the importance of taking time for yourself, as well as your family and friends.
- Lunch-and-Learns: Stolen noted that “Lunch-and-Learns” are a great way to help teams connect and collaborate.Alliant National hosts lunch and learns featuring guest speakers, and employees have a chance to check in with one another – both as people and professionals.
- Health Resources: Companies looking to promote employee wellbeing may also consider potential vendor resources. Modern Health is Alliant National’s employee welfare platform. Employees can listen to community sessions led by therapists and coaches and ask questions in real time.
How Did the Alliant National Team Respond?
Reflecting on the initiative, Stolen was struck by the amount of positive feedback received from Alliant National team members: “We heard from many employees that they were surprised that we ‘cared’ enough to focus on [‘Mind, Body, Soul’] versus bottom line numbers.”
Similarly, she was taken aback by how quickly Alliant National personnel began reaching out to leverage resources made available to them through their employee status. “I received many phone calls asking for help or advice. The calls included everything from asking where our Employee Assistance (EAP) is located, to inquiring about how to best approach a conversation with a supervisor, to requesting help with navigating health care plans,” Stolen says. “I think it speaks to the fact that we are creating a safe space for people to have inclusive conversations and address their psychological needs. Historically, mental and emotional health is a hard topic for employees to comfortably discuss.”
A Larger Trend and a Personal Mission
Initiatives like “Mind, Body, Soul” did not develop in a vacuum. Instead, they reflect long-running trends in the HR field and the workforce more generally – especially following the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of the remote work era. “The workforce has changed significantly,” Stolen says. “Employees are demanding that their companies take a more holistic approach to wellness, and I agree!”
It’s also important to note that supporting the entirety of every employee’s needs is not only the right thing to do; it also makes good business sense. “If we do not treat the employee as a three-dimensional being whose needs encompass six distinct categories, we will not recruit and retain top talent,” Stolen says. “Employers not only need to create a workplace that offers growth and opportunity, but one that nourishes the employee in mind, body and spirit.”
For Stolen, “Mind, Body, Soul” is also personal. “To me, HR means ‘Human and Resourceful.’ I aspire to serve all employees at all levels of their being,” she said. “Employees need to be able to embody their entire selves at work – which naturally means creating an environment that’s diverse and inclusive. A healthy and happy employee is an engaged and productive one.”
Interested in discussing employee well-being strategies for your organization? Reach out to Stacy – email@example.com
[i] Mental Health Awareness Month – 2022 – District Health Department 10 (dhd10.org)
[ii] 23 Astounding PTO Statistics in 2022 – What To Become
Remember, not all leads are the same.
Anyone who has ever dabbled in marketing knows how complicated it can get. From preparing campaigns to working on branding, sometimes it feels like you need a pair of extra arms to get everything done. Yet seen from another lens, marketing is also relatively simple, as these individual activities often revolve around a singular purpose: generating leads. But as you likely already know, not every lead is a good lead. Let’s look at how to ensure that yours are qualified.
What are qualified leads?
A qualified lead is a lead that has been brought into your ecosystem and evaluated by your sales team as being worth pursuing. Qualifying leads is important for any business but especially for smaller firms with limited time and resources. By applying the right amount of scrutiny, you can decipher whether they truly intend to work with you and where they are in the buyer’s journey. Armed with this knowledge, nurturing your leads and turning them into customers becomes much easier.
Map to buyer personas
One of the first things to do when reviewing leads is to determine whether they map onto your “buyer personas.” Back in 2020, we covered what goes into building effective buyer personas. Not only must you establish your target audience’s demographics, like gender, age, geographical location and language, but you need to also think about psychological factors like motivations, goals and frustrations.
As you can probably guess, a good way to determine if your leads map onto your buyer personas is to include the right information fields on your website’s lead generation form. For instance, if your ideal buyer persona is between ages 35-50 and is a tech-centered real estate agent, you need to request that information from anyone who is filling out your form.
Remember the buyer’s journey
It is not enough to have a lead map onto a buyer persona; it also needs to be in the right stage of the “buyer’s journey.” The different psychological stages a lead moves through include:
- Identifying that they have a pain point or problem (awareness),
- Researching potential solutions (consideration), and
- In the case of a real estate agent, eventually deciding to work with an agent whose services best fit their unique needs (decision).
Using your customer relationship management (CRM) software can help determine where your leads are in this process. For instance, if you have your email marketing software integrated with your CRM, you can easily check and see which contacts are performing which actions in relation to your marketing emails. If a lead has received your emails before but has yet to open them or interact with an element like a hyperlink, then they are likely not ready to enter into a relationship with you.
See, what’s likely happening here with these theoretical leads is that they are interested enough in your business to not unsubscribe from your mailing list, but are not actively absorbing what you are trying to communicate. Therefore, they likely do not have an acute pain point that requires an immediate solution provided by your products or services. When leads are in that state, they may be unlikely to respond to a hard sales pitch and will require further nurturing.
Lead qualification models
Once you ensure that your leads map onto the basic parameters of your buyer personas and are in the right headspace to make a move, you may want to apply additional scrutiny. You can accomplish this by deploying a lead qualification model, such as:
- BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timing)
- CHAMP (Challenges, Authority, Money and Prioritization)
- MEDDIC (Metrics, Economic buyer, Decision criteria, Decision process, Pain point identification, Champion)
- ANNUM (Authority, Need, Urgency and Money)
- FAINT (Funds, Authority, Interest, Need, and Timing)
Each of these models have their own pros and cons, but each can also help someone working on the sales side of things to make an effective and informed decision on which leads merit pursuit.
Your ticket to better leads
Let’s face it; few things are more exciting in business or marketing than the prospect of working with a new customer. A new lead kicks off this process, which makes it tempting to spring into action and do everything in your power to convert the lead.
However, it’s smart to qualify leads before you move forward, or you risk overextending yourself and doing a lot of work that will ultimately fall flat. A steady, strategic approach, where you leverage all available sources of information, is a better way forward. It allows you to better allocate finite resources and expand your client base as a result.
Creating superior experiences for your customers
Service-based industries live or die by the quality of their customer service. While other industries rely on their products or supply chains, service enterprises primarily differentiate themselves through the experiences they offer. Today’s savviest service-related companies are acutely aware of this. They also know retaining customers is much easier and economical than finding and converting new ones.
Recently, Missy Trubatisky, Alliant National’s Underwriting and Escrow Training Manager, called upon her years of title insurance experience to develop and present a training entitled “Customers for Life.” The presentation offered numerous examples of how title agents can build a superior customer service program and ultimately grow their businesses. Read on for some of the major takeaways.
It’s About Mindset
Perhaps the biggest thing to remember about creating “Customers for Life” and delivering superior customer service is that it is a bigger endeavor than any one action or campaign. Instead, it requires a complete shift in mindset. You must treat every deal like it is the most important of your career. Is this asking for a lot? Maybe. But it’s what your customers expect. And if you are in the services game, why would you want to do anything else? Missy says there are a few easy tricks to start shifting your thinking on this matter.
First, make every situation an opportunity to succeed, not an obligation to fulfill. Next, remember to present yourself professionally – every day and during every closing. Lastly, remember the golden rule, and then go one step further. Treat others not only as you want to be treated, but also as you would want your mother or children treated in the same situation, Missy says.
Opportunity vs. Obligation
You might be thinking: “Sure, it’s easy to talk about changing your mindset. Pulling it off is another thing entirely.” However, Missy says that when you start breaking it down, you quickly realize that it is not quite a Herculean lift. Instead of looking at it as a major undertaking, view customer obligations and opportunities as roughly the same thing.
We all know that working with customers entails at least some obligations. What matters, though, is how you choose to look at it. For instance, agents need to deliver the title commitment – typically within 20 days. Your obligation here is to deliver the commitment before the 21st day. Your opportunity is to deliver it in less than a week. In doing so, you demonstrate superior customer service; you provide the WOW factor. Making an obligation an opportunity isn’t as hard as you might think. It just involves a subtle shift in mindset, she says.
That’s Not Quite All
It would be nice if that was all it took to deliver superior customer service. But there is a bit more to it than that. Displaying ethical behavior, maintaining a sterling reputation, and engaging in effective communication also influences whether you can create customers for life.
How can you display ethical behavior in business? That’s a deep question. There are so many layers to ethical behavior, but for simplicity’s sake, Missy says you can boil it roughly down to integrity and character.
Your character is what others believe they know about the kind of person you are. Your integrity directly impacts how people view your character. It speaks to whether people view you as trustworthy. Trust is the basis of obtaining customers for life, Missy notes. When customers trust that you will do what you say, they will come back repeatedly.
Unsurprisingly, whether people consider your business ethical will determine its overall reputation. It will also dictate its longevity. When you are a service-based business, your reputation is all you have; you must protect it at all costs. This is where accountability comes in. It’s okay to make a mistake. We all do it. What’s important is how you address it. Here’s how you can go about making it right:
- First, own the mistake
- Second, figure out how to fix the mistake
- Third, don’t try to hide it or sweep it under the rug
- Lastly, learn from it, and don’t make the same mistake again
The final part of creating customers for life involves prioritizing effective communication with your customers. But before you can do that, you must first listen to their needs, Missy says. That means listening from beginning to end. We’re all guilty of formulating our side of the conversation even while others are formulating theirs. When we do that, we miss out on vital information that we need to know. We fail to understand what is important to our conversation partner.
Conversely, when you understand what is important to another person, you can show that you care about them. This creates the foundations of a trusting and mutually beneficial business relationship.
Alliant National: Committed to Building Customers for Life
Building a reputation for superior customer service takes real work, but when you are caught up in the day-to-day minutiae, it can be difficult to make needed changes. Still, there are numerous steps we all can take to improve our customer service and make our clients feel more appreciated and valued. All that’s required is going back to the basics. Missy emphasizes this when explaining the genesis of her presentation and how Alliant National seeks to help agents create loyal, lifelong customers. “Everyone needs a reminder from time-to-time on good basic customer service skills and the importance of developing those skills,” she said. “It’s critical for Alliant National to present these courses to offer a unique perspective to a vital skill.”
Want to learn more about creating “Customers for Life?” Check out Missy’s full presentation here.
Gather round the social media crystal ball and see what’s coming next.
For the last few years, if you haven’t been on TikTok, you haven’t been on social media. Former heavyweights such as Facebook have been losing their luster, and TikTok has rapidly usurped its role as being on the cutting edge of digital communication. Things can change quickly online, especially within social media.
What are forward-thinking businesses supposed to do? How can one effectively plan a social media strategy when the space is continually in flux? If you are asking yourself those questions, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s explore emerging trends in social media and what they mean for business leaders who want to leverage them for competitive advantage – now and in the future.
As mentioned, while older social media platforms have waned in popularity of late, others have emerged to take their place and a chunk of their market share. Here are a few of the top sites that have left a mark in recent years and are worth keeping an eye on going forward:
- Clubhouse: Clubhouse emerged during the first year of the pandemic, offering users a way to form synchronous, audio-only connections between the audience and the speakers. Businesses can consider leveraging the platform to increase the profile of high-performing content pieces or host a dialogue between an industry thought-leader and their target audience.
- CaffeineandTwitch: Both Caffeine and Twitch have built steady followings since their launches in 2018 and 2021 respectively. Each of these platforms are video-based, giving users and businesses a powerful way to connect with audiences, position their brands and generate engagement. The success of Caffeine and Twitch also highlight that video is the future when it comes to social marketing – particularly if you need to appeal to the Gen. Z market.
- BeReal: BeReal has been adopted with great gusto by Gen. Z. While the full scope of its business applications has yet to be determined, this is a good application to investigate if you’d like to cultivate a highly authentic social presence for your brand.
Paying to Play Will Continue
Last month on this blog, we discussed whether it is now necessary to supplement your organic social media activity with paid promotion. The conclusion we drew is that it has become increasingly difficult to gain the results you may want to see through organic marketing alone. Going forward, this will likely continue to be the case; however, where you spend your marketing dollars is likely to shift. Studies show that consumers prefer ads on sites like TikTok far more than others.[i] Pinterest is another site that has proven itself to be a good bet for advertisers, generating strong ROI for those who choose to deploy its advertising functionality.[ii]
Using Social for Customer Support
While it varies amongst different demographics, customers increasingly expect to interact directly with brands via social media. The gravitation of customers away from the phone and toward online platforms for customer support has been in the works for awhile now, but it truly went into overdrive during the pandemic. To succeed with customer service in this space, businesses must familiarize themselves with how different platforms support one-to-one customer interaction and then make a customer care plan.
The data on this subject robustly backs up these claims. 64 percent of people claim that they would prefer to message a business digitally than hop on the phone.[iii] Despite this, a huge number of businesses have not yet invested in their online customer care, which can be detrimental to their brands, operations, and future profitability.
Embrace the Future
Nothing lasts forever, especially not in the digital sphere. But while that can be intimidating, it doesn’t have to be. New trends are emerging in social media that will allow businesses to accomplish strategic goals far more easily, whether that be hosting authentic online content, advertising more effectively, or improving customer care. Keep your finger on the pulse, and don’t be afraid to experiment with new and emerging technology. That will continue to be key to social success.
[i] Kantar finds ads on TikTok are seen as more inspiring, trendsetting and enjoyable than on other platforms | TikTok For Business Blog
[ii] Advertising on Pinterest: How to Get Started | Pinterest Business
[iii] 5 Reasons Travel Brands Should Focus on Messaging | Facebook IQ | Meta for Business