Category Archives: Strategy First

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Why Your Marketing Must Be Led By Strategy First

Why Your Marketing Must Be Led By Strategy First written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing

Marketing Podcast with John Jantsch on Strategy First Marketing

A lot of people use the term “marketing strategy,” when what they’re really talking about is marketing tactics. Strategy is not just a Facebook post or a paid search campaign or blog posts. Those are the tactics you use to execute your strategy. But if you don’t have a larger strategy to guide you, then you’re just going to be guessing about what tactics you should be using as part of your marketing efforts.

Today, we’re going to look at what you need to do to put strategy first so that you can get intentional about your marketing approach.

Who Is Your Ideal Client?

Chance are that, today, you’re defining your ideal client too broadly. If you’re a tax preparer, your ideal customer is not just anyone who wants to do their taxes.

Sure, some of them are, but what makes a customer ideal for your specific type of work? If you charge a lot more than the national tax preparer, who opens up shop on the corner and charges $49.00 per return, then the people who would want to go with this cheap and easy option are not your ideal client. But maybe you have expertise that’s best suited to people with a specific tax need—like a high net worth individual who has lots of investments and philanthropic write-offs. Plus, they’re the ones who’d be willing to spend more to get the job done correctly.

Don’t guess about who your ideal client is. You are already working with some great people, so turn to your existing client base. Who are your most profitable clients? Who refers the most business to? What are the common characteristics that you find in those clients?

This doesn’t mean that this ideal client will ultimately be the only type of person you’re going to serve. But it does mean that all of your marketing messaging should be demonstrating that this is the type of person you can get the greatest results for.

What Is Your Core Message?

The first step to finding your core message is asking, “What problem does my brand solve? And what promise can my brand make to solve that problem?”

Let’s say you own a lawn care business. Your potential customers will automatically operate under the assumption that you know how to mow a lawn. But that doesn’t really address the problem the potential customer has.

For most homeowners, their biggest problem associated with a home care service is about something beyond the basic service the business provides. Homeowners hate having to wait around for the provider to arrive during their service window (and how often are those people actually on time?). When they hire someone to handle their landscaping, the team leaves behind a big mess of hedge trimmings and lawn clippings. Or it’s difficult to get payment to them because they only accept checks. These are the real problems your clients have.

So your core message is not, “We know how to care for your lawn”—of course you do! Instead, it’s “We show up on time, every time.” Or, “We leave your yard looking cleaner and better than when we arrived.”

This core message should be featured above the fold on the homepage of your website. It’s a key element of strategy because it is how you differentiate your business in a way that your customers care about that goes beyond your products or services.

How Do You Make Content the Voice of Strategy?

Customers don’t need a description of your product or service right up front. Sure, once they get further along in their journey and begin considering their purchasing options, they’ll want to know the nitty gritty details. But for now, they want to know how you’re there for them.

Back to the lawn care example: If the prospect is looking to create a better lawn, they may not have decided they need someone to do that for them. They may initially just be looking for advice and expertise, thinking this is a task they could tackle on their own.

The lawn care business, then, wants to establish themselves as that local source of expert advice. This is where hub pages come in. The lawn care business will publish “The Guide to the Perfect Lawn”—a hub page that consolidates all of their content around lawn care into one place.

This hub page will rank in Google results for someone looking for the perfect lawn in your local area. Now, you become their go-to source for guidance on lawn care. You develop a relationship with them, and they come to trust you. Some of these people will, of course, still opt to go it alone and handle their lawn themselves. But others will say, “It looks like these lawn care people have it all figured out. Why don’t I just hire them to do it?”

The hub pages are a way to draw people in who might not even be looking to make a purchase or become a customer. But then, your expertise is what builds trust and eventually convinces them that they do need the solution you offer.

Guiding People Through the Marketing Hourglass

Customers have buying questions and objectives, and these will change along the various stages of their journey with your business. It’s your job to guide customers through the marketing hourglass, taking them through the logical steps of getting to know, like, trust, try, buy, repeat, and refer your business.

To make sure you’re providing customers with what they need at each stage, start by asking questions. In the know phase, the essential question for a business owner to answer is, “If someone didn’t know about us, where would they go to find a business like ours?” For most businesses, the primary answer to that question is Google. But in the lawn care example, you also might have prospects that ask a neighbor for a referral, or see your truck around town or your signs on people’s lawns.

Once you’ve done that for the know phase, you move on to the other six stages of the hourglass. Once they find your website, what do they see when they get there? Do they see that other people know, like, and trust you?

How does someone try what your business is offering? If you’re the lawn care business, that might be getting a quote. But how exactly do they go about getting that quote? Is it a form on your website, or do they need to call or email you? How quickly do you respond? Is the response personalized, or does it feel like a boilerplate offer? These elements all become a part of the customer’s experience and journey with your business.

The buy, repeat, and refer stages are more internal. How do you onboard a new customer? What are your team’s checks to ensure that customers are getting the results that they want from your business? What makes a great experience that will bring them back for another purchase or encourage them to refer a friend? This is where you want to get into the buyer’s head to determine what they’ll expect out of you.

Once you understand what a customer wants from you at each stage in the journey, you need to make sure that your online assets address those needs.

You’ve now identified the ideal customer, you know the core message and promise, you know how content becomes the voice of strategy, and you know how your customers want to buy. Now, you can fill in the gaps to meet customers wherever they are. That is the heart of marketing strategy.

Now We Turn to Tactics

Tactics are what allow us to fill in those gaps to meet customers where they are. If your ideal customer finds businesses by searching the web, you need to create a hub page so you rank in those SERPs. You need testimonials on your website to build trust. You need to be on social platforms, so that you have information in lots of places that proves your legitimacy as a business. You need reviews on social media and review platforms so that others are vouching for you. These are the tactics that align with the larger strategy.

We have an engagement called Strategy First, where we do this entire process for our clients. As a part of this engagement we interview your existing customers and analyze your competitors. We build ideal client personas and establish a core message and promise that will speak to them. We map out your hub page and determine how to make content the voice of your strategy. And we go through the marketing hourglass exercise and identify the gaps in your current marketing approach. This gives you a firm foundation on which to build your tactics and move your marketing forward based on solid strategy.

Want to learn more? Schedule a consultation with us so we can talk about how to do this for your business.

Like this show? Click on over and give us a review on iTunes, please!

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Tips for Scaling Your Small Business Efficiently and Effectively

Tips for Scaling Your Small Business Efficiently and Effectively written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing

When you started your business, chances are you didn’t do it with the intention of working with high-stress levels and long hours the rest of the life. In an ideal world, many business owners have the idea to create a business and then let it run in the background without a whole lot of their own involvement.

The thing is, scaling your business in itself can be stressful and is often where many businesses fail, but it doesn’t have to be that hard. You just need to learn to let go a little bit.

I know, your business is your baby, but you must understand that there are very few things in your business that it makes sense for you to actually to do.

After owning a business for almost thirty years now, here’s something I firmly believe to be true: Your business is worthless until it can operate without you, and the only way it can operate without you is through delegation and outsourcing.

Take inventory

To begin your scaling process list all of the tasks you currently do in your business, which, if you’re just getting started, could be very long.

While this process could take a bit of time, the point of it is to understand what you can and should delegate. In the past, I’ve thought about this in two ways, so feel free to approach it in whatever way makes the most sense to you. The first approach is to categorize tasks into the following categories: work you hate, work you must do, and work you can’t do.

For each task, ask yourself if you could get somebody else to do it less expensively or with greater output than if you did it on your own. If the answer is yes, then you need to pass that work off to somebody else.

Another approach is to add values to the work you need to do, such as $5, $50, $500, $5,000. The idea here is that some work you do has greater value and is the work you should focus on and some work has little value and is the work you should delegate.

Don’t underestimate the value of outsourcing to somebody who could do the work far better than you. My bookkeeping virtual assistant charges $65/hr, and while that may seem high to some, it would take make so much longer than it takes her and wastes valuable time that I could focus on high-profit tasks related to my business. Plus, I hate doing this kind of work, so overcoming the mental block to actually get the work done takes a significant amount of time on its own.

Develop systems and processes

Let’s be real, much of the success of your business resides in the heads of your staff. So, what happens when they leave? Do they take your processes with them? Ideally, no, because you should have these processes documented.

Now, just to warn you, this part takes a lot of time up front but can save you incredible amounts of time in the long run. In order to delegate and outsource effectively, you must document your systems and processes for others to refer to. Why waste time on training numerous VAs and employees when you can have everything laid out for them to review for themselves?

You’ll need to adjust these documents occasionally, but aside from the initial development, this should really work behind the scenes for you.

Using a project management tool, such as Asana, is a great way to manage your delegated tasks and house your processes.

Focus on what matters

Small business owners often get bogged down with day-to-day tasks (I’m talking tasks as meaningless to your business as taking out the garbage) and easily get distracted with these smaller tasks.

After you come up with your inventory, start creating priorities and managing your days, weeks, months and even quarters based on doing more high payoff activities that you identified in the exercise mentioned above.

It was a great day when I was able to lock myself away and come up with a new product or service innovation, or simply get priority to-dos done without interruption. In fact, even today, I have “John Focus Days” blocked off on my calendar so that my team is aware those are the days where I’m in the zone and would ideally not be disturbed.

This is how scaling a business happens: when daily tasks are outsourced and you can focus on next steps to grow.

What you shouldn’t delegate

Now that you’ve made your list and a commitment to delegate, you also must figure out what you can’t delegate because there are definitely some tasks that should fall within your to-dos.

Even if you put together an awesome internal and outsourced team, there are a few things that small business owners shouldn’t delegate, including:

  • Culture – The core beliefs, operations, and core story are areas you must continue to nurture and teach no matter how large your staff grows.
  • Processes, overall strategy, and company vision – You must own the idea of where you are going and why you are going there, as well as how you plan to get your business there.
  • Client relationships – Sure you can have your staff run day-to-day interactions, but make sure you still show your face and keep open communication with your clients. How your clients feel about your business and how they understand the results they gain by working with you are items of great value to your business and must be guarded and practiced by you.
  • Hiring – As a small business owner, make sure you know who you have working for you. When it comes to outsourcing and delegation, this component is key.
  • Finances – You at least need to track financials and make the ultimate decisions on large expenses or investments. While I have that VA who handles bookkeeping, I insist on staying on top of key performance indicators and managing the money inside the business.

At the end of the day, in order to truly scale your business, you must work to replace yourself in two key areas – the doing of the actual work that makes money and the selling of the work that makes money. Do that, and you’ll be on your way to setting your business up for success.

If you liked this post, check out our Guide to Building a Small Business Marketing Consulting Practice.

Using Content As Your Voice of Strategy

Using Content As Your Voice of Strategy written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing

I’ve said it once (or twice) and I’ll say it again: content is no longer king, it’s air. It not only touches all aspects of your marketing these days but of your business as well.

Your audience expects to find information about any product, service, or challenge they face simply by typing a keyword into Google. If you aren’t showing up, even if someone referred them to you, there’s a good chance they won’t decide to move forward with you because of a lack of trust.

In my opinion (and I’m not along), the most important element when it comes to building a long-term, sustainable marketing system is content. But here’s the thing, it’s not enough to simply produce content for content’s sake. You must use it as your voice of strategy, and the best way to do this is to produce content that focuses on education and building trust.

In order to be effective with this, you must come up with a plan. Waking up in the morning and deciding what you are going to write about on your blog that day isn’t sustainable. You must come up with a plan.

The Total Content System

I came up with this approach a while back and it essentially allows you to plan, delegate, curate, create, collaborate, repurpose and get more out of every piece of content you produce.

Create foundational content themes

Develop a list of core content topics and assign one to each month for the next 12 months. Each theme should be a substantial topic related to your business or industry and represent an important keyword search term. You can also designate terms that you know you would like to rank higher for, but currently, have little or no content that leads people online or off to you.

I find it helpful to think about it like a book, where each month represents a chapter in what will ultimately make up an important body of work by the end of this year.

Develop your content delivery platform

Once you have your themes, you can organize your Content Delivery Platform. Here are a few examples of content that I use and how I use them.

  • Blog posts – I write a weekly blog post that ultimately contributes to a monthly guide with other content of the same theme.
  • Podcast – I publish a podcast episode twice/week and aim to have at least one of them be a solo show that discusses and aspect of my theme for the month.
  • Webinars – Since we are creating all this rich, topic-specific content we host monthly online seminars to deliver the content in a new form.
  • Content package – The final step is to take all of this content from each month and create a package that allows people interested in the monthly topic to access the entire package in one tidy resource.

Integrate content with core business objectives

Once the first two steps are complete, you must map your content plan to your core business objectives. This step allows you to better understand how to get a return on your content investment and how much you should actually invest in creating a certain form or package of content.

One of the most important aspects of a Total Content System plan is that it changes the lens you use to view all the information that comes at you all day long.

When you know what your monthly themes are, all of a sudden tools, articles, and conversations take on new meaning and seem to somehow organize themselves for the benefit of your ongoing, long-term approach.

Now, in order for all of this to be truly effective, I want to reiterate that the content must build trust and must educate your audience.

What types of content build trust?

  • Blogs – A blog should be your starting point for your content strategy because it makes content production, syndication and sharing so easy. Plus, search engines love blog content which can help boost your SEO.
  • Social media – Building rich profiles, and optimizing links, images and videos that point back to your main site is an important part of the content as strategy plan.
  • Reviews – You’ll never have total control over this category, but ignore it and it may be one of the most damaging to your brand. Get proactive and monitor this channel aggressively.
  • Testimonials – This content adds important trust-building endorsements and makes for great brand building assets out there on Google and YouTube.

What types of content work best for educating your audience?

  • Podcasts – Podcasts are becomingly increasingly popular and serve as a fantastic way to engage and educate your audience in an easily digestible format.
  • Seminars – People want information packaged in ways that will help them get what they want. Presentations, workshop, and seminars are tremendous ways to provide education with increased engagement.
  • FAQs – There’s no denying the value of information packaged in this format, but go beyond the questions that routinely get asked and include those that should get asked but don’t.
  • Success stories – Building rich examples of actual clients succeeding through the use of your product or service offerings is a tremendous way to help people learn from other individuals and business just like them.

If you liked this post, check out our Ultimate Guide to Small Business Marketing Strategy.

The Importance of Visual Elements in Your Brand Strategy

The Importance of Visual Elements in Your Brand Strategy written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing

When you’re building your brand, including the development of your story, personality, core message, brand promise and so on, you need to be sure to include a strategy for visual components as well.

No matter how great your business and messaging are, let’s face it, visuals are usually the most effective way to capture your audience’s attention and build brand recognition, provided you’re implementing these visual aspects correctly.

By including visuals in your overall marketing strategy, you’ll help your brand’s long-term success.

There’s no denying that today’s marketing world is becoming increasingly visual, and you must be able to adapt to that strategically.

Let’s take a deeper look.

What is visual brand identity and why is it so important?

Brand identity involves all of the moving pieces that together represent how your brand is perceived, and your visual identity includes the visual components of that.

The way you present yourself visually is more than just colors and design. Brands who are consistent with their visual identity resonate more effectively with their audience than those who are not.

Your visual identity is an exact reflection of your company, so you need to put in the time and research to make sure it’s represented accurately and positively, and that it is in line with your spoken and written messaging.

The importance of knowing your audience

Your visual strategy really begins with understanding who your audience is and who you’re trying to attract. If you don’t know this, nothing about your visual brand, or marketing and operational efforts in general, will matter. Keep in mind, the visual aspects of your brand aren’t for you. They are for your consumers, so be sure to have that in the back of your mind at all times.

Understanding their wants and needs will help you identify how you need to present yourself to them.

How to make your visual brand identity stand out

  • instagramBe unique – It should truly stand apart from the competition. Now, to truly be effective with this, you must have a deep understanding of who the competition is and what their visual brand identity looks like as well.
  • Be memorable – Aim to make your visual brand so strong that your audience can glance briefly at the visual elements and know exactly what they’re looking at, even without any context. For example, the image to the right doesn’t have any copy, but avid social media users would know instantly that that’s the Instagram logo.
  • Make everything match – Each element of your visual brand should be cohesive and tie together effortlessly.

Things to consider for creating a strong visual brand identity

Get your logo right

You will likely go through many iterations of this, but it’s worth it. Your logo will be stamped on almost everything that you do so you want to make sure you do it well. Your personality should shine through it and it should be distinctly you…no pressure.

Create a consistent color palette

If you look at well-known brands, they all use consistent color palettes (who doesn’t think “red” when they think of Coca Cola?). These big-name brands are consistent with their colors throughout their texts, images, and designs because it helps make them more recognizable.

Choose just a handful of colors and apply them to everything you do. The colors you choose should reflect the personality of your brand, so if you run a daycare, for example, you may want to use bright colors. If you run a law firm, you may want to be a bit more conservative with the colors you choose.

If you look at my Duct Tape Marketing site, you’ll see a lot of shades of blue used across the board, including my logo, text, and site design. This wasn’t by accident.

Choose a font that matches your brand personality

Along with your color palette, you need to be mindful of the font you use as it can speak volumes about the type of business you are. For example, if you run a serious business, you may want to stay away from Comic Sans, but if your business is light-hearted and fun and that’s how you want to be portrayed, then that may be the right font for you.

In addition to matching your personality, you must also ensure it matches your audience’s perception of you and sits well with them.

Choose images that address your audience and reflect your brand

At this point, this should go without saying, but I’ve seen many companies use images on their website that quite frankly make what they do more confusing than if they just didn’t use any imagery at all. It’s OK to have fun with images but be sure they tie back to your brand and speak to your ideal customers.

Don’t forget about layout

Many brands believe that if they have their logo, color, and fonts, then they’re good to go, but the reality is they’re not quite finished yet.

How those elements flow together is equally important. How you present them as a unified strategy can truly make or break your brand recognition.

Use the visuals to bring out emotions

The more of an emotional connection you can make with your audience, the more likely they’ll be to trust you and eventually buy from you.

What do you want your audience to think and feel when they come across your brand? Ask yourself these questions, and remember, visuals can more quickly tell customers whether your brand is a good fit for them more than words can.

Test your initial concepts

Like anything with marketing, you should test and optimize your visual elements until you land on one that truly resonates with your ideal customers.

Once you have the visual component solidified, document your style guide within your company’s processes. Should you ever need to bring on new designers, this will be key in ensuring nothing gets missed as you move forward.

With all aspects of marketing, you must remember to put strategy first. It is the backbone of everything that you do. If you can get that in place, creating the visual elements will be much easier because you’ll truly know who your business is, what it represents, and who you want to attract.

That, to me, sounds like a recipe for success.

If you liked this post, check out our Ultimate Guide to Small Business Marketing Strategy.

The Marketing Framework That is a Must For Your Business

The Marketing Framework That is a Must For Your Business written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing

Traditionally, the marketing and sales funnel had the approach of taking a large target group and getting a few clients out of it (i.e. the funnel analogy).

Of course, the funnel concept won’t ever go away, but about ten years ago I defined what I think is still a much better approach – I call it the Marketing Hourglass.

It borrows from the funnel shape but turns it on its head after the purchase to help intentionally account for the idea of creating a remarkable customer experience.

However, the buyer behavior has changed significantly in recent years. In fact, according to a CEB survey, 57% of a typical purchase decision is made before a customer even talks to a supplier. If they decide they have a problem, they’ll go out and proactively try to find a solution.

If you’re not getting found in that state of the customer journey, you’re in real trouble.

In the same survey mentioned above, they found that 53% of those surveyed claimed that the sales experience itself was one of the greatest contributing factors in continued loyalty to the brand.

Knowing this is why I developed the Marketing Hourglass as a tool that can help you create the picture for your client’s overall marketing strategy. In my opinion, it’s a more holistic and increasingly effective approach in the “era of the customer” we live in today.

Instead of creating demand, our job is to really organize behavior, and I believe this behavior falls into the following seven stages:


One of the best ways to become known is through organic search. Keep advertising in mind during this phase as well and use content to spark interest.

Creating a process that makes it easy for current customers to refer the business is also a great way to generate awareness with new prospects.


Once a prospect has been attracted to your site, you must give them reasons to come back and like your business. An eNewsletter is an example of a tremendous content tool for nurturing leads during this phase as it allows you to demonstrate expertise, knowledge, resources, and experience over time.


Reviews, success stories, and client testimonials are your golden tickets in this phase. The ability to tell why your organization does what it does in stories that illustrate purpose in action is perhaps the key trust building content piece of the puzzle.


This is a phase that many people skip, but it can be the easiest way to move people to buy. This stage is basically an audition and it’s where you need to deliver more than anyone could possibly consider doing for a free or low-cost version of what you sell.

In this stage, offer ebooks, webinars, and other information-focused content. Consider offering free evaluations or trials here as well.


In this phase, you must be able to show real results. Keep in mind, the total customer experience is measured by the end result, not the build-up to the sale. Keep the customer experience high. Exceed their expectations and surprise them.

Create content that acts as a new customer kit. Consider creating quick start guides, in-depth user manuals, and customer support communities as well.


Ensure your clients receive and understand the value of doing business with you. Don’t wait for them to call you when they need something, stay top of mind through educational content.

Consider creating a results review process where you help your client measure the results they are actually getting by working with you.


The Marketing Hourglass journey is ultimately about turning happy clients into referral clients by creating a great experience.

Start this phase by documenting your referral process. Create tools that make it easy for you to teach your biggest fans and strategic partners how to refer you.

marketing hourglass

For people who have come to know about your business, you essentially need to walk with them all the way down the path to where they become your biggest fan.

Mapping customer touchpoints

You can use this framework to build an overall strategy and launch a product or campaign. By doing this, you’ll start to find flexibility where anytime somebody comes to you, you can fill in the gaps with the stage above to truly help them out.

Everybody’s business has these stages, they may just not be addressing them all and that’s what you need to point out.

Take a look at the ways that your business comes into contact with your customers and prospects. Some of the touchpoints may be planned and scripted, and some may not. Some happen by accident, while some simply don’t happen at all (i.e. are people successfully make it from marketing to sales). Touchpoints can include:

  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Enrollment
  • Service
  • Education
  • Follow-up
  • Finance

Understanding the journey

Once you map the touchpoints, you need to have a conversation about:

  • Customer goals
  • Customer touchpoints
  • Customer questions
  • Projects

You may only be paying attention when somebody is trying to buy and a lot of times people have to be nurtured and trust your before you can even attempt to help them solve a problem. This element is important, but it’s often hard for people to wrap their minds around because many are used to just focusing on the sale.

In order to effectively build a Marketing Hourglass, you must fully understand the questions your prospects are asking themselves before they are aware that your solution exists.

It’s helpful to just brainstorm around the seven stages.

Constructing the hourglass

With an understanding of the customer’s touchpoints and journey, you can start to fill in the logical stages of your hourglass with the discoveries you found, which will lead to a greater experience.

By taking the marketing hourglass approach and giving equal attention to building trust and delivering a remarkable experience, you set your business up to create the kind of momentum that comes from an end to end customer journey.

Want my advice? Take the time to fully understand this tool, as it is something you will return to over and over again.

If you liked this post, check out our Ultimate Guide to Small Business Marketing Strategy.

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Getting Started with Defining Your Ideal Client

Getting Started with Defining Your Ideal Client written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing

If you loved this podcast and post check out our Ultimate Guide to Small Business Marketing Strategy

Marketing Podcast with John Jantsch About Defining Your Ideal Client

Let me ask you this, if you have clients, and had the chance, right now, to chuck them all, and be able to go out there and say, “I can work with anyone I want to work with,” would you still be working with who you’re working with today?

Experience tells me that you would say, maybe some, but probably not all. That comes from the feeling that anybody who buys what you do, or anybody who needs the products that you make or sell is an ideal client.

What you have to do in order to get your marketing strategy started, is you have to think about how you can narrowly define your ideal client.

  • What do they look like?
  • What are their problems?
  • How do they want to be served?
  • What do they think value is?

I’m going to talk a little more about each of those, but you have to get to the point where you are so sure about how to describe that ideal client, that you are also defining who your ideal client is not.

Let’s say I wanted to refer business to you, whatever your business is. I’ve got friends, neighbors, and colleagues that need what you do, and so I came to you and said, “Hey, I want to send some folks your way, I really love what you’re doing.”

How would I spot your ideal client? Think about that. That is one of the greatest places to start when you’re thinking about how to narrowly define your ideal client is if somebody came to you and said, “Okay, how would I spot that person?”

Could you define and describe all the characteristics of your ideal client in a way that I’m going to say, “Oh, okay, yeah, I know a couple people like that.”

That’s what you’re really after.

Finding your ideal client

It’s really important that you develop the habit of understanding who it is that you’re going after, identifying them, and building your entire business around attracting them.

You may get lucky and be able to define them quickly, but what I’ve experienced is that you start with a hypothesis, and over time, if you pay attention, you’ll learn who you like working with.

Your ideal client will find you, partly because of how your business evolves, because of how your messaging gets tighter, and because of the results you’re getting for people like them.

If you’re just starting you don’t have to have the answer to who your ideal client is.

You have to have an idea, and you have to try to prove that hypothesis, but mainly you have to pay attention, because I know a lot of people that have decided that they love working in certain industries, or in a certain niche, and they had no idea they would, it just found them.

They started working with a couple clients like that, and they discovered what they really enjoyed doing.

So what if you do have clients and still haven’t defined this idea of an ideal client? Take a look at the stratifying of your current client base.

What I mean by that, is rank each client by profitability.

When I do this with people, I often help them discover that there is work that they’re doing, or segment that they’re serving or a product or service that they are still engaged in that maybe they did when they started, but it’s not something they focus on anymore because it’s not really profitable.

What I find happens, is that a lot of businesses don’t realize that there are certain segments of their market or their community or certain demographics that they do most of their business in.

That’s step number one.

Focusing on the customer experience

Step number two is this idea of actually looking at those folks that refer you today.

What I found is your most profitable clients who also refer you, typically do so because they were the right fit, they had the right problem, they went after the right service, they really engaged and they allowed you to do the work that you knew you needed to do.

Consequently, they were profitable. They’re also referring you because they like you, they like doing business with you, and they like your people.

Typically if people have a great experience, they’re going to be more inclined to refer you.

What are the common characteristics of your most profitable clients who also refer you today?

What I want you to do is think about more narrowly defining who makes an ideal client for you based on that discovery, or based on the fact that you did some analysis on your current customers.

This doesn’t mean you’re never going to serve anybody else, but it does need to become the filter where you go out, and you start prospecting and where you change your messaging to attract that ideal client, client niche, or those industries that you specialize in.

Because there is a real practical reason for this, you’ve already decided, or determined that they make an ideal client based on profitability and referral, but there’s also an expectation, that once you start narrowly defining who makes an ideal client for you, you can then go to work on more narrowly defining what their problem is, and your promise to solve that problem.

Solving your ideal client’s problems

People aren’t looking for our products and services, they’re looking to get their problems solved. The person who can define the problem the best quite often is not only the one that gets the business but in many cases is paid a premium as well.

This is a very practical reason to narrowly define your ideal client.

The primary reason people don’t do it, is that they fear that they’re going to turn potential business away, and I get that in the beginning certainly, but over time, you’re going to discover that turning that business away is the most profitable thing that you can do.

Narrowly defining your ideal client

Defining your ideal client starts with things like:

  • Demographics
  • Businesses
  • If you’re working with individuals
  • Age

Those are the kinds of things that a lot of people go towards when it comes down to narrowly defining their audience. Those are important, but I want you to think about three specific categories.

In regards to your clients, you’re going to have must-have, nice-to-have, and ideal. Those are your three categories.

The Must-Have

In my case, my must-have is a client has to be a small business owner. You must have the budget to afford what you sell, or what, in my case, what I sell. You must have the decision-making ability.

From there you can get into breaking down the types of businesses, and other requirements that you put into the must-have category.

The Nice-To-Have

The next one is nice-to-have. Again, in my world, if a business owner has a marketing person internally, they may not be a strategic marketing person, but if they at least have somebody that is doing Facebook for them or doing the newsletter for them, that is a great nice-to-have, because I can actually add even more value by helping them manage that person. Once I get through the must-haves, then I start looking at nice-to-haves.

The Ideal-To-Have

Ideal starts to get into more of behavior. For example, the owner participates in their industry, they are active on their board, and they are very interested in having other outside professionals other than marketing.

If I’m starting to describe my ideal client, those are the things I want to break it up into. Those must-haves are deal breakers. If they don’t fit in the must-haves you don’t talk to them.

The nice-to-haves are the ones that you’re going to put in a little extra effort to try to build a relationship or to try to get in front of, and then if you’ve got some of the ideal-to-have, then that’s somebody you want to go and really prospect, and you want to focus a lot of time and attention on, and give them value over and above any of what you might see as your normal marketing, because that’s somebody that’s going to be an ideal client.

Once you have that ideal client, you could start to move all of your targeting to that. If you’re building Facebook audiences, you could move to that narrowly defined ideal client. All of your ads should be speaking to that ideal client.

It’s okay to have multiple ideal clients, but once you have those, they need to really be the basis for all of your language, all of your website copy, all of the ads, so that you are clearly articulating the problem that that ideal client has, and how you’re uniquely suited to solve that problem.

When you do that and when you make the basis that strategy of defining an ideal client the basis of all of your marketing, guess what?

You get to choose who you want to work with. That will make life a whole lot better.

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Why Your Customers Don’t Care About Your Products and Services

Why Your Customers Don’t Care About Your Products and Services written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing

The title of this post isn’t meant to sound harsh as it likely sounds, hear me out.

Your small business has a product or service, you’ve perfect your pitch, and now you are ready to share your business with the world. There are just so many benefits that you can’t wait to share it with everybody you see. You make sure to put on your site sentences like:

  • We are the best in the business
  • We have years of experience
  • We won’t sleep until the job is done

Because, hey, it shows how great your business is and why people should buy from you.

Unfortunately, when a business focuses only on the “we” aspect of their business, (and pretty much every business does including your competitors) the prospect is left to decide what their real problem is and how to solve it.

Here’s the cold, hard truth – nobody cares about you or what you sell (and nobody will ever care as much about what you’re selling as you do). While your business may be incredible, all your customers and prospects care about is what they want and need and they’ll go with the business that promised them that.

The company that can articulate the problem best – wins! It may not even be the company with the best product or service, but this is marketing and marketing is often initially about perception.

So the question is, how do you show your customers that you are the one without pointing out all of the amazing things about your business?

The answer?

You must spell out their problems. Once you do that, you can begin to connect your solution to their problems.

Solving your customer’s problems to get their business

Before you dive into the research to discover what those problems are, it is imperative that you have a firm understanding of who your ideal client is. This is the person you are trying to reach. Without truly understanding their wants and needs, you won’t be successful in marketing to them. Make this a priority above all else as it will impact all aspects of your business.

Your job as a business owner and marketer is to understand the problems people are trying to solve and match your solutions to those specific problems. That’s it. If you can do that, you’ve won the golden ticket.

As you may know, I sell marketing consulting services, and I highly doubt that my customers wake up in the morning and think, “you know what I wish I had, some marketing consulting.”

Instead, they may end up thinking “why do I keep losing projects to XYZ Consulting and why isn’t my revenue growing?” If you’re a business owner, these types of questions likely creep up all the time.

We are so in tune with the idea of promoting what we do and talking about our solutions, but you need to remember your prospects are not. A prospect just wants to know that you understand their problems that they’re trying to solve.

It’s important to try to solve your customer’s problem early in their journey. Businesses that build their content, web design and SEO practices around problem-solving will reach their ideal client’s buying journey at a much earlier point to do the kind of trust building that makes your solution the obvious choice.

Refocus your message

Matching your message to your ideal client is everything when it comes to marketing these days. You’ve got about five seconds to get and keep someone’s attention and you can’t waste that precious time with a message that doesn’t connect.

Make a list of the problems you solve for the clients you help the most (you can often pick up on this in conversations you have with them). When I work with businesses, I actually ask them to make a list all of their problems and challenges for me. This helps to give me an understanding of their needs from the very beginning without any ambiguity or guessing involved.

Take that information and change your messaging so that it’s no longer about you, and instead make it all about them.

Create trigger phrases

Your customers don’t know how to solve their problems, but they usually know what their problems are. If you can show that what you sell is the answer to their problems they won’t care what you call your solutions, they’ll just buy it to make their pain points go away.

Break down every solution you sell, every benefit you attribute to what you do, and map it back to a handful of what I like to call “trigger phrases.” Creating a list of trigger statements should be very high on your priority list.

For both marketers and business owners, you’ll have to do the work to create this map for your business based on brainstorming with your staff, the questions you find in forums, and through some planned, one-on-one time with your existing customers. A few questions you can ask your customers during that one-on-one time to get the answers you need include:

  1. What is the biggest challenge you are facing in your business?
  2. Why is it important that you find a solution to this challenge now?
  3. How hard have you worked to try to solve this challenge in the past?
  4. What about this challenge makes it so hard to solve or answer?
  5. How hard has it been to find an answer to your challenge?

Using keyword research can also be extremely useful in the quest for finding what your customers are looking for as well. Keyword research has become one of the master skills now for marketers because you have to get good at understanding intent because that’s where all the data is. You just need to know where to find it.

The phrases you generate can be questions or statements or even anecdotes, but they must come from the point of view of the customer.

Create a cheat sheet of trigger phrases that signal that the person saying them needs your service.

At the end of the day, you’ve got to be successful at uncovering ways to solve your customer’s problems that no one else is even talking about solving.

Do that, and you’ll be sure to make an impact.

If you enjoyed this post check out our Ultimate Marketing Strategy Plan for Small Business.

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Why It Is Essential to Put Strategy Before Tactics

Why It Is Essential to Put Strategy Before Tactics written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing

Marketing Podcast with John Jantsch About Strategy

Marketing strategy is one of my favorite topics, and it’s been a distinguishing mark over the years of Duct Tape Marketing because so many marketers want to talk about tactics. When I talk about marketing strategy, the first thing I talk about is what it is not, before what it is.

What marketing strategy is and is not

I think even Google gets confused. If you type, “what is marketing strategy” or “small business marketing strategy” into Google, you’re going to get a bunch of blog posts that list 15 marketing strategies for small businesses. Those 15 marketing strategies will all be nothing but tactics.

I believe that you must develop a strategy before you even think about the tactics. If you’ve read anything I’ve written, if you have listened to anything I talk about, then you know that I mention that this is the key element to make marketing effective.

You must have an approach that is focused on a very specific type of client, with a very specific need or problem, and a promise to solve that problem in a very specific way.

That’s marketing strategy, and that’s the part we have to figure out first before we ever go out there and start listing the things we’re going to do to create awareness and to convert those people that have a need into clients.

Building a strategic foundation

When I talk about marketing strategy, I break it down into a foundation that has several elements. It’s not just one thing. It’s a handful of things that have to go together to work in concert to make your marketing strategy effective.

Understand your ideal client

You have to figure out who your ideal client is and tailor everything you’re doing for that client as though you’re talking to them one to one. You have to have a core message that helps you differentiate and stand out from everybody else who says they do what you do.

Some people might call it a brand promise, but it has to be something that gets somebody’s attention.

Develop a core message

You’ll want to focus on developing a core message. Often when a business talks about their brand they’re talking about logo and identity elements.

Identity elements, colors, fonts, a look and feel that people expect, are the things that you do need to actually build. Once you have that core message, once you know who your ideal client is, you want to build supporting identity elements.

Create content

Content has grown beyond just being a tactic. Content really is air. It’s the thing that powers the entire customer journey. It’s the way for us to actually create the voice of our strategy.

Guide the customer journey

Part of your marketing strategy has to be an understanding of how you are going to guide the customer journey.

The way people buy today has changed so dramatically that we have to understand that it’s our job not to corral or create demand but to be around and organize the behavior that the buyer actually wants to participate in.

Those elements go together to create the foundation of any kind of marketing plan, and that’s what I mean by strategy. All of those elements working effectively, working together.

As you can see, I haven’t mentioned anything that would be considered a tactic. I haven’t talked about direct mail or advertising. Those are tactics that we are going to use to orchestrate or implement our strategy.

That’s how you have to think about it. Let’s break each of those elements down.

Your ideal client

Many business owners have been taught to think about this idea of a target market. So often where that target market or that targeting ends is who we think is likely to buy.

For a lot of people, that’s people who have money. If I’m a dentist, that’s people who have teeth. I mean, that’s where we stop.

What I want to suggest is that if we go much deeper than that, if we decide who has the right problem, meaning the problem we actually are very, very uniquely qualified to solve, who has the money? That’s a great qualifier, right?

We don’t want to be working with people that can’t afford what it is that we do. Who’s motivated to fix that problem?

Just because somebody has teeth, just because somebody has plumbing in their house or has a kitchen and we’re a kitchen remodeler, just because somebody has trees and we’re a tree service, doesn’t mean they’re motivated to take care of, fix, or upgrade those.

You have to understand who’s motivated, who has the problem that you’re suited to solve, and who has the budget.

If you’re wanting to understand the characteristics of your ideal client, the ones that you have attracted, that were very profitable, and that you had a great experience with, know that they’re referring you because they had a great experience.

Take your client list today and map out your most profitable clients, and you’ll find that there’s probably some business you’re working with that you probably shouldn’t be and that you have some clients that aren’t that profitable, (but hey, you took the work because they said they’d pay you). Typically, those don’t end up being very good deals.

If you start looking at the characteristics of your most profitable clients, and then if you can identify a few of those folks who are also referring you, that’s who your ideal client is.

The reason I say that is because they’re profitable because they probably had the right problem. They had a problem you could solve and they had a mentality or behavior that allowed you to do it in the most profitable way, and consequently, you like them and they like you.

They didn’t beat your people up. They paid you on time. They’re out there telling the world what a great experience they had.

You get to choose your clients, but not if you don’t understand who they are. Once you understand who they are, you can start disqualifying people.

Once you’ve been in business for a while you can tell pretty quickly and accurately whether or not it is a business that you want to work with or a business that would be a good fit for you.

You’ll get better at this, but if you don’t start defining it and outlining it now, you’re going to start taking those clients that aren’t good fits for you. All they’re going to do is drag you down and distract you.

In a worst-case scenario, they’re going to become a detractor out there telling people you don’t do a good job, but that’s because you weren’t a good fit.

You get to decide, you get to choose your clients, but only if you define who they are.

What problems are you solving

Nobody wants what you sell. They want their problem solved. Keep that in mind. Very few people want the things we sell, the services, and the solutions.

They have problems they’re trying to solve and they see you and your products and services as the way to solve those problems to get to where they want to go.

You have to understand what problem you are solving. A lot of times it’s not the basic service that you provide. I like to talk about my friends at Jackson Tree all the time. They are a local tree service in the St. Louis area and they feel like their competitive advantage is that they are a locally owned business. They’ve been business for a long time.

There are people coming from the outside, big national chains coming into the city, and so they felt like their advantage is that they are that local business.

Well, when we looked at all of their client reviews and spoke with some of their clients, we kept hearing over and over again that what their clients loved is that they show up when they say they’re going to and they clean up the job site.

I know that sounds kind of simple and basic, but that’s the problem that their clients were having. Nobody else was doing that.

If you understand the problems you’re solving, that needs to be your message. That’s what you need to use to make the competition irrelevant or to at least change the context of how your market sees what you do.

You need to lead with that core message.

Reviews are a great way for you to learn what customers think about you. There is some real gold in the actual words that people are putting into Google reviews if you’re a local business because people are saying what value they get.

You can also pick up the phone and call clients (we do it all the time). We call our clients’ clients.

Quite often, by asking them questions about the experience they are having or have had, we can learn a lot about what should be that client’s core message or certainly the problem that they’re solving.

Your identity elements

I already touched briefly on identity elements, but the color, the fonts, the way your office looks, all of those things go into either supporting the brand promise or taking away from it.

I’m not saying that you have to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on getting designs to make everything look perfect, but it should support what your message is. It should support who you’re trying to talk to.

Hubspot has a great post highlighting some inspiring examples of small business branding and identity elements.

Content as the voice of strategy

Start thinking about content as the voice of strategy, so all the content that you produce, your web pages, blog posts, podcasts, press releases, this is all content. You want to think about the intention that you have for every piece of content, because content today is used to create awareness.

That’s sometimes how people find you. It’s certainly used to educate. It’s used to inform somebody how a product or service that they might acquire from you would work. It’s used quite often to nurture people.

People often tell me, “I started listening to your podcast and finally decided to buy from you or to become a member of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.”

Content has a nurturing component to it. In many cases, whether it’s an email or an ad or a page on your website, many times you need to produce content for when that person is ready to buy, that shows them how to buy.

Once you start producing great, useful content, use it as a referral tool.

Guiding the customer journey

marketing hourglass

Long ago, I developed the term “The Marketing Hourglass.” which involves taking people through seven stages of the customer journey: Know, like, trust, try, buy, repeat, and refer.

The idea behind that is that if somebody doesn’t know who we are, then we want to move them logically through these stages.

Very few people see an ad by a company they’ve never heard of and go, “Oh, okay, I’m going to go buy that product.” But they might go to the website and then see, “Gosh, there’s a checklist that I can download.”

This develops a level of awareness, but also some level of trust.

Over time, we communicate, continue to add value and continue to invite them back for more content or for more opportunities, before we ever really start promoting our products and services.

Once somebody has gone through those stages and they’ve educated themselves on what they do, we’ve developed a level of trust based on the way that we have marketed to them or based on the way that we have shared content and added value.

Now they want to buy.

That’s actually the stage in the customer journey where a lot of businesses drop the ball because a lot of people think marketing ends at somebody saying, “Yes, I want to but” but that is not the case.

That’s actually where some of the fun starts because you have an orientation and onboarding process, and you continue to market to them once they’ve purchased so that they might purchase more or again. You have a very intentional process where you can generate referrals.

All of these parts are linked to the journey that leads you to build campaigns, processes and touch points as part of your marketing strategy.

One of the greatest marketing strategies that any business can really employ is to make sure that they are creating such a great customer experience that people want to refer and talk about their business.

The greatest source of lead generation is a happy customer. This needs to be a part of your overall marketing plan.

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Understanding, Narrowing, and Choosing Your Ideal Client

Understanding, Narrowing, and Choosing Your Ideal Client written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing

In marketing today it’s common to hear that you must know who your target audience is in order to be effective with your marketing. This mostly implies that you determine the makeup of a market that your business is most likely to attract.

What bothers me about this simple approach is that it has a lowest common denominator element to it – who can we attract?

Instead, I like to take the point of view of – whom do we deserve to work with?

This thought process led me to the idea of defining an ideal client which ties together both behavior and demographics. Identifying who this is from the beginning will save you tons of time going in circles trying to be all things to all people.

It really is a game changer and here’s how I recommend getting started.

Choosing your ideal client

Have you ever considered the following question? – What qualities would your ideal clients have? Thinking through this is quite a liberating feeling, no? Don’t you deserve to work with clients who appreciate the value you bring to them?

I know that might sound a bit egotistical, but it really isn’t. At the end of the day, if you want to work with the people you want, then you need to step up your game so that can deserve to do so.

I recommend getting started by exploring the types of clients you don’t want to work with. Until you know who you don’t want to work with, who you must work with, who you choose to work with, it’s easy to take work and clients that drag you away from the work you deserve to be doing (we’ve all been there and know what a headache it can be).

Who can you deliver the greatest value to, who do you enjoy working with, and who needs what you do most? Write a detailed description of your ideal client and include as much about them as possible including the problems they are trying to solve. Give some thought to how you might reach them and appeal to them. Use your best clients today to help you think about what makes them ideal for you. (Hint: they are profitable and perhaps they refer others to you right now.)

Consider following these steps to best identify them:

Step 1: What are the must-haves to be a client – this is stuff that naturally narrows your list – must be 18 years or older, must own a home – that kind of thing.

Step 2: What are the generally looked for attributes – no required, but preferred – perhaps it’s an age range, geographic location, or special interest.

Step 3: What makes them ideal – what are the attributes that make them your best prospects – perhaps they have a certain business model, unique problem, at a certain point in life or business.

Step 4: What behavior do they exhibit that allows you to identify them? Do they belong to industry associations, tend to sponsor charitable events, read certain publications?

I recommend starting with the smallest market possible. You must find a group of clients who think what you have to offer is special and can scale from there.

How to understand and speak to your ideal client

Now that you’ve narrowly defined who your ideal client is, you must spend ample amount of time understanding them in order to properly use them across the various strategic elements of your business. Knowing who makes an ideal client allows you to build your entire business, message, product, services, sales and support around attracting and serving this narrowly defined group.

Once you dig deep and profile the common characteristics you should also start asking yourself some questions about these folks.

  • What brings them joy?
  • What are they worried about?
  • What challenges do they face?
  • What do they hope to gain from us?
  • What goals are they striving to attain?
  • What experience thrills them?
  • Where do they get their information?
  • Who do they trust most?

Having answers to the questions will allow you to more fully address their wants and needs in every interaction and communication. Once you have this understanding, you can start tailoring your efforts to best speak to them.

Refocus your message

Matching your message to your ideal client is a must when it comes to marketing these days. A message that connects is one that clearly talks about what your ideal client wants more than anything else in the world – which is to solve their problems.

You must let them know that you understand what they really want. Let me let you in on a little secret: Nobody really wants what you sell – they want their problems solved – period.

I recommend making a list of the problems you solve for the clients you help the most. If you’re having trouble thinking about your client’s problems, think a bit about the things they tell you.

For example, a lot of our prospective clients might say things like – we just want the phone to ring more, so that’s what we tell them we can do for them (we don’t immediately dive into our SEO and marketing services).

That’s how you refocus your message so that it’s all about your amazing clients and the problems they want to be solved.

Create trigger phrases

Your clients don’t know how to solve their problems, but they usually know what their problems are. If you can get really good at demonstrating that what you sell is the answer to their problem they really don’t care what you call it.

Break down every solution you sell and every benefit you attribute to what you do, and map it back to a handful of “trigger phrases.”

These phrases can be questions or statements or even anecdotes, but they must come from the point of view of the client.

Write website headlines

What we mean by this is write a big, bold statement that might be the first thing anyone who visits your website will see. Now ask yourself – would this statement get your ideal client’s attention more than something like “welcome to our website?”

Want some help creating your new message? Pick out a handful of your ideal clients and go ask them – what problem did we solve for you? Test your headlines with them. Ask them to describe what you do better than anyone else.

Pro tip: If your business receives online reviews study them carefully. While it’s awesome to get 5-star reviews pay close attention to the words and common phrases your happiest clients are using – they will write your promise for you in some cases.

Until you are working towards defining, understanding and speaking to who you truly deserve to be working with, success will elude you. I can tell you that my experience suggests that you’re never really done with this exercise. As your business evolves, as you learn and grow, this model will evolve as well, but perhaps the continual process of discovery is just as important as what you discover.

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