Beyond January: Flex Your Marketing Muscles in 2015

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New-Year_Resolutions_listHow is it that the simple act of turning a calendar page from December to January makes us believe we can do things not possible any other time of year?

And this brief period of infallibility, is it delusion? Delirium? It happens every year, this ritual of resolution, and occasionally it works.

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In vowing to start a new fitness routine, cut back on frivolous spending or be a better person, there’s no harm in trying.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

While serious self-reflection and personal goal-setting are smart exercises at any time, desire somehow seems keener in early winter. Now too can be a good time to consider goals for advancing a business — or an art form: to get serious about marketing.

Why now? If we didn’t do it in June or October, what makes us think we’ll succeed in January? Because the slate is clean and the year is young?

Why not? What’s the excuse? No time? No money? No know-how? Too busy? Too small? Big enough? Where to begin?

Negativity will get you nowhere fast.

That said (and please don’t repeat this), I believe in setting expectations low. It’s not about pessimism or a lack of confidence. Just a little trick I play on myself. To exceed expectations is a powerful thing — motivating and inspiring. It usually fosters more of the same, whereas falling short can ruin the day, or the year. This is the essence of resolution making. Are we setting up for success or for failure? I say dream big but know what’s doable. Like the college admission game, have goals in three buckets: safety, match and reach.

Nearly two out of three New Year’s resolutions fail. Most of the time, lack of success stems from setting unrealistic goals from the get-go. Sometimes we try to do too much too fast. We leapfrog the basics. Good intentions, but not so much on the follow-through.

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Small and measurable steps, we hear, are key in goal-setting and attainment. Accountability, conviction and the proper resources are necessary to succeed.

Whether a new commitment to healthy living or a focus on growing a business, most importantly, let’s be real:

Do sweat the small stuff.

“Decree” seems lofty. “Promises” can be broken. But these both relate to resolution. In “resolve,” we decide or solve. We take steps in the right direction. I prefer “resolve” to “resolution”: verbs are better than nouns when it comes to marketing.

Actions speak louder than words.

Marketing a craft, business or art form should be a year-round endeavor. Not the month of January, not starts, not stops, not back-burners. Now is as good a time as any to resolve to grow, improve or advance, regardless of the size and shape a business is in. More important: only in setting realistic goals, having a daily activity plan and being willing to bend, stretch and reach can we be successful. Just like a trip to the gym. One step at a time beginning with these:

road-sign_futureI. Set Goals
Stop for a moment and think. Dare to even ponder — and this may require serious effort for some of us. Does anyone ponder any more? Pondering takes time. And slow, steady breathing. Meditation is more trendy. So meditate or ponder. But know where you are and where you want to be a year from now in your business. Not what someone else is doing. What makes meaningful sense for you? List five goals. Big business, small business, or solo, this is an important first step.

Think what, not how. Things like enhance reputation, expand into new markets, improve retention, reach new audiences, stretch geographically, launch a new product or service, all with the goal of increased revenues and an improved business model.

Also, review and question: Is the “where you want to be” list realistic? Remember expectations. Better to set them low and exceed them than to fall short of lofty.

II. Make a Game Plan
Now comes how. Tempting here to go straight to tools and programs like social media, advertising, e-communication, promotions and the like. But once again, take a breath. Like strengthening your core, smart marketing begins with shoring things up institutionally. Well-established or fledgling, arts organizations might benefit from an honest look at these five:

  • Position: Where do you stand in the marketplace and more importantly what do you stand for? This is the where and why.
  • Story: Amidst all the chatter, the importance of good story can’t be underestimated. And by good, I mean honest, compelling, audience-centered, and differentiating. This is the who and the what.
  • Brand: An honest grade will determine whether to refine, retain or rebrand.
  • Message: Different from story. Here it’s cohesion, consistency, clarity, punch.
  • Approach: Integration, commitment, endurance. Important words that shape success. This is the big if.

These are all big picture, strategic steps, weighty in ways but critical in creating a lean and agile marketing organization. Until these are under your belt, marketing tools and programs will mostly fall short of the mark.

III. Exercise Daily
Here’s where those marketing tools and programs come in. In a workout, we’re told to listen to our body. Flexibility, compatibility and consistency are vital, though tactics and routine can vary. Think of it as cross-training. Daily exercise is key. The same is true with marketing.

IV. Get a Good Coach
Personal trainers may not be for everyone. But when you resolve to get in shape, some guidance can’t hurt.

V. Use a Fitbit
Or whatever business equivalent tracking tool works for you in order to easily monitor and check on progress, opportunities and challenges throughout the year.

VI. Keep moving

All bodies are different — so are businesses. We may be inspired by the remarkable physical condition of a professional athlete or the story of a startup from rags to riches. Any time is a good time to get started but remember we must walk before we run. In resolving to get our bodies or our businesses in shape, let’s be real.

Marketing means movement. Resolve not to resolve but to stay active. Twelve months a year.

When it comes time to weigh in next December, how fit will your business be?

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Leslie Cargill

Leslie Cargill is a “smarketer” and communicator, privileged to work with leading brands like Boston Ballet, United Way, the Museum of Science and the Boston Red Sox. From baseball to ballet, she advances experience-based programs in the arts, tourism, education, entertainment, healthcare, fitness and sports. While the goal is to retain and grow an existing base of business, the trick is in developing new or “non-traditional” audiences. She was Director of Marketing and Communications with Boston Ballet before returning to her consulting practice where she serves as advisor, project manager and interim CMO for her clients. She believes in a good mix of marketing basics, a campaign approach, and both program and institutional strategies in branding, positioning, messaging and communicating. A dyed-in-the wool New Englander, she splits her time between Boston and her family home on the coast of Maine. She can be reached at [email protected]. Or call Leslie at 617.913.9000.