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What It Is & How to Build an Effective One

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What It Is & How to Build an Effective One

In the business world, professionals are obsessed with tactics because they can help them meet their short-term goals. But if all you do is focus on the short-term, you won’t spend enough time or energy figuring out how you can succeed in the long-term.

Fortunately, building a strategy can help you achieve both your short-term and long-term goals. Strategy focuses on principles, which help you think, instead of tactics, which help you execute, so it allows you to concentrate on why your business does certain activities, not just how you do them or what you do. Read on to learn exactly what a business strategy is and how you can build an effective one today.

Your business strategy should be based on your overall vision for the company. For some brands it will be global market expansion. For others it may be more important to double down investing in existing markets they are already successful in. Regardless of your end goals, creating an effective business strategy will require thorough research beforehand.

1. Identify your business’ aspirations and values.

In business, traditional goal setting lets you measure what you do, but it doesn’t lend itself to gauging how you do it or why. And if you only focus on the results, it can sometimes incentivize you to take a course of action that prioritizes your organization’s needs over your customers’ needs.

To help you focus more on your purpose and process instead of just your results, consider setting and anchoring to an aspiration, or your vision for your business in the future when building your business strategy — it’ll inspire you to do work that better serves your customers. Once you set an anchor to an aspiration, you can add your goal to the equation, which will help you simultaneously produce customer-centric work and hit your numbers.

Developing a Business Strategy Infographic

2. Conduct a self-assessment.

Once you’ve figured out your business aspirations and values, it’s time to conduct a self assessment to help you evaluate the best avenues for business growth and success.

You can do this by conducting a SWOT analysis to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to your business. What do you do well and how can you capitalize on that? What can be improved and how?

3. Pinpoint which segments of your market you want to capture.

Your product or service most likely isn’t the best fit for your entire market, so it’s crucial to pinpoint the segment or segments of your market that benefit the most from your product or service.

Customers who genuinely need and want your product or service are also the customers who retain the longest and are least likely to churn, boosting your customer lifetime value and lowering your customer acquisition costs.

4. Determine how you’ll beat your competition.

Ricky Bobby’s legendary saying that “If you ain’t first, you’re last” doesn’t necessarily apply to the business world, but it does have some bearing on it. Your customers won’t buy two of the same products or services, so if you want to capture as much of your segment of the market as possible, you need to place first in the majority of your target customers’ minds.

Some of the best ways to stay top-of-mind are crafting a creatively refreshing brand, differentiating your product or service from the rest of the crowd, and pricing your product relative to its perceived value.

5. Set clear goals.

Now that you’ve completed your research and established a vision for your business, it’s time to set some goals.

Think about what you want to accomplish and work backward to figure out the steps to get there. Setting business goals will help inform your strategy and how each department collaborates to achieve your objective. To start, you can come up with:

  • Business goals: These are high level objectives you’d like the organization as a whole to accomplish.
  • Department or team goals: These are key objectives delegated at the department level to help the organization achieve their overall goals.
  • Employee-specific goals: Using departmental goals, establish goals for individual employees to contribute to reaching business goals.

These cascading goals will make sure that all stakeholders involved in executing your business strategy are on the same page and properly aligned.

6. Make a plan.

With your business goals defined, it’s time to make a plan to accomplish them. This plan should include actionable tasks your team can take and should outline the steps needed to achieve your mission or objective.

This plan can be rolled out as either a short-term or long-term plan or a combination of the two. Additionally you’ll want to check in with your plan often to make sure everything is still on track, and make adjustments as the business requires them.

7. Figure out which competencies are needed to beat your competition and sustain your business’ success.

Unfortunately, passion isn’t enough to beat your competition and rocket to the top of your industry. Talent and skill are just as crucial. Depending on your aspirations, goals, and market, you need to figure out which types of teams and employees you need to develop and recruit to not only beat your competition, but to also sustain your success.

For example you may need to recruit more engineering staff or hire a data science team with experience in your niche to achieve your goals.

8. Decide which management systems are needed to hone these competencies.

If your business is a team, then your managers are the coaches. They’re responsible for developing, supporting, and inspiring your employees to do their best work possible.

Establish check-ins with your team to ensure both employees and managers have what they need to succeed. Invest in technology that enables your team to work together more efficiently and propels your business goals forward. Because no matter how much raw talent your employees have,they’ll never reach their potential and, in turn, help the business reach its potential if they don’t refine the skills and discipline necessary to compete and succeed.

9. Measure your results.

It’s not enough to simply set goals and hope things work out. You’ll need to actively monitor your progress if you want to achieve greatness. As mentioned previously, you should be checking your plan monthly to make sure things are running as they should.

Evaluate your metrics to ensure your team is meeting key performance indicators (KPIs). If they are not meeting them, find out why and come up with a solution to get things back on track.

10. Be flexible and willing to adapt.

Along with measuring your results, it’s also a good to examine where your strategy is falling short and make changes.

Are their changes in the industry or external factors that impact your current strategy? This may be an opportunity for you to adjust your approach. Your plan is your roadmap, but it should also be flexible enough to pivot along with your business.

11. Consider hiring a business strategy consultant.

If all of the steps above seem overwhelming and you have the resources, consider hiring outside help. Business consultants can provide guidance and training to help you achieve your business goals.

Pros

  • Expertise: Consultants often have a narrow area of focus — meaning when you hire one, you’re getting an expert in your selected field. They can help you build a framework or structure that aligns with your goals. They can also add a different perspective to tackling issues your team has tried and failed to resolve on their own.
  • Unbiased: Since a consultant is not an employee of your company, they are not hindered by existing viewpoints or tradition and can look at your company with fresh eyes. This makes it easier for them to hone in on your goals and the best strategy to achieve them.

Cons

  • Expensive: Hiring a consultant is definitely an added expense and will most likely cost more than paying an existing employee.
  • No guarantees: Although consultants are experts, they don’t come with guarantees of success. Their is no guarantee of reaching a certain performance metric or number of sales. However, you can always vet consultants by asking for recommendations, looking at references and examining their work history.

Hiring a business strategy consultant is a great option if your team has been struggling with the steps above without success. A third party may pick up on business insights you may have missed. 

Principles Over Tactics

We live in a day and age where the internet is overloaded with advice. You have access to countless amounts of tips and tricks that could potentially help you build a successful business. But without the ability to think critically about whether these tips and tricks actually apply to your specific situation, you’ll never reach long-term success.

That’s why strategy is so important. It grounds your business in principles that can apply to almost any situation and, in turn, help your business achieve both its short-term and long-term goals.

This article was originally published in May 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

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Marketing Team Reorgs: Why So Many and How To Survive

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Marketing Team Reorgs: Why So Many and How To Survive

How long has it been since your marketing team got restructured? 

Wearing our magic mind-reading hat, we’d guess it was within the last two years. 

Impressed by the guess? Don’t be.  

Research from Marketing Week’s 2024 Career and Salary Survey finds that almost half of marketing teams restructured in the last 12 months. (And the other half probably did it the previous year.) 

Why do marketing teams restructure so often? Is this a new thing? Is it just something that comes with marketing? What does it all mean for now and the future? 

CMI chief strategy advisor Robert Rose offers his take in this video and the summary below. 

Marketing means frequent change 

Marketing Week’s 2024 Career and Salary Survey finds 46.5% of marketing teams restructured in the last year — a 5-percentage point increase over 2023 when 41.4% of teams changed their structure. 

But that’s markedly less than the 56.5% of marketing teams that restructured in 2022, which most likely reflected the impact of remote work, the fallout of the pandemic, and other digital marketing trends. 

Maybe the real story isn’t, “Holy smokes, 46% of businesses restructured their marketing last year.” The real story may be, “Holy smokes, only 46% of businesses restructured their marketing.” 

Put simply, marketing teams are now in the business of changing frequently. 

It raises two questions.  

First, why does marketing experience this change? You don’t see this happening in other parts of the business. Accounting teams rarely get restructured (usually only if something dramatic happens in the organization). The same goes for legal or operations. Does marketing change too frequently? Or do other functions in business not change enough? 

Second, you may ask, “Wait a minute, we haven’t reorganized our marketing teams in some time. Are we behind? Are we missing out? What are they organizing into? Or you may fall at the other end of the spectrum and ask, “Are we changing too fast? Do companies that don’t change so often do better? 

OK, that’s more than one question, but the second question boils down to this: Should you restructure your marketing organization? 

Reorganizing marketing 

Centralization emerged as the theme coming out of the pandemic. Gartner reports (registration required) a distinct move to a fully centralized model for marketing over the last few years: “(R)esponsibilities across the marketing organization have shifted. Marketing’s sole responsibilities for marketing operations, marketing strategy, and marketing-led innovation have increased.”  

According to a Gartner study, marketing assuming sole responsibility for marketing operations, marketing innovation, brand management, and digital rose by double-digit percentage points in 2022 compared to the previous year.  

What does all that mean for today in plainer language? 

Because teams are siloed, it’s increasingly tougher to create a collaborative environment. And marketing and content creation processes are complex (there are lots of people doing more small parts to creative, content, channel management, and measurement). So it’s a lot harder these days to get stuff done if you’re not working as one big, joined-up team. 

Honestly, it comes down to this question: How do you better communicate and coordinate your content? That’s innovation in modern marketing — an idea and content factory operating in a coordinated, consistent, and collaborative way. 

Let me give you an example. All 25 companies we worked with last year experienced restructuring fatigue. They were not eager creative, operations, analytics, media, and digital tech teams champing at the bit for more new roles, responsibilities, and operational changes. They were still trying to settle into the last restructuring.  

What worked was fine-tuning a mostly centralized model into a fully centralized operational model. It wasn’t a full restructuring, just a nudge to keep going. 

In most of those situations, the Gartner data rang true. Marketing has shifted to get a tighter and closer set of disparate teams working together to collaborate, produce, and measure more efficiently and effectively.  

As Gartner said in true Gartner-speak fashion: “Marginal losses of sole responsibility (in favor of shared and collaborative) were also reported across capabilities essential for digitally oriented growth, including digital media, digital commerce, and CX.” 

Companies gave up the idea of marketing owning one part of the customer experience, content type, or channel. Instead, they moved into more collaborative sharing of the customer experience, content type, or channel.  

Rethinking the marketing reorg 

This evolution can be productive. 

Almost 10 years ago, Carla Johnson and I wrote about this in our book Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing. We talked about the idea of building to change: 

“Tomorrow’s marketing and communications teams succeed by learning to adapt — and by deploying systems of engagement that facilitate adaptation. By constantly building to change, the marketing department builds to succeed.” 

We surmised the marketing team of the future wouldn’t be asking what it was changing into but why it was changing. Marketing today is at the tipping point of that. 

The fact that half of all marketing teams restructure and change every two years might not be a reaction to shifting markets. It may just be how you should think of marketingas something fluid that you build and change into whatever it needs to be tomorrow, not something you must tear down and restructure every few years.  

The strength in that view comes not in knowing you need to change or what you will change into. The strength comes from the ability and capacity to do whatever marketing should. 

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:  

Want more content marketing tips, insights, and examples? Subscribe to workday or weekly emails from CMI.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute 

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Boost Your Traffic in Google Discover

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Boost Your Traffic in Google Discover

2. Understand topical authority: Keywords vs. entities

Google has been talking about topical authority for a long time, and in Discover, it is completely relevant. Traditional SEO includes the use of keywords to position your web pages for a specific search, but the content strategy in Discover should be based on entities, i.e., concepts, characters, places, topics… everything that a Knowledge Panel can have. It is necessary to know in which topics Google considers we have more authority and relevance in order to talk about them.

3. Avoid clickbait in titles

“Use page titles that capture the essence of the content, but in a non-clickbait fashion.” This is the opening sentence that describes how headlines should be in Google’s documentation. I always say that it is not about using clickbait but a bit of creativity from the journalist. Generating a good H1 is also part of the job of content creation.

Google also adds:

“Avoid tactics to artificially inflate engagement by using misleading or exaggerated details in preview content (title, snippets, or images) to increase appeal, or by withholding crucial information required to understand what the content is about.”

“Avoid tactics that manipulate appeal by catering to morbid curiosity, titillation, or outrage.

Provide content that’s timely for current interests, tells a story well, or provides unique insights.”

Do you think this information fits with what you see every day on Google Discover? I would reckon there were many sites that did not comply with this and received a lot of traffic from Discover.

With the last core updates in 2023, Google was extremely hard on news sites and some niches with content focused on Discover, directly affecting E-E-A-T. The impact was so severe that many publishers shared drastic drops in Search Console with expert Lily Ray, who wrote an article with data from more than 150 publishers.

4. Images are important

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. If you look at your Discover feed, you’ll see most of the images catch your attention. They are detailed shots of delicious food, close-ups of a person’s face showing emotions, or even images where the character in question does not appear, such as “the new manicure that will be a trend in 2024,” persuading you to click.

Google’s documentation recommends adding “high-quality images in your content, especially large images that are more likely to generate visits from Discover” and notes important technical requirements such as images needing to be “at least 1200 px wide and enabled by the max-image-preview:large setting.” You may also have found that media outlets create their own collages in order to have images that stand out from competitors.

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Everything You Need to Know About Google Search Essentials (formerly Google Webmaster Guidelines)

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Everything You Need to Know About Google Search Essentials (formerly Google Webmaster Guidelines)

One of the most important parts of having a website is making sure your audience can find your site (and find what they’re looking for).

The good news is that Google Search Essentials, formerly called Google Webmaster Guidelines, simplifies the process of optimizing your site for search performance.

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