343. Vision → strategy 🛳
How to build your marketing strategy for 2023 around your company's vision
Hi there 👋
Almost every marketer I talk to is currently doing the dance of planning ahead for next year while ensuring a successful Q4. Such is life this time of year. I’m no exception. We are in the midst of company-wide 2023 planning at Oyster, so I thought I’d spend the next couple newsletters sharing some of the resources and frameworks I’m using to put my strategy together. Today’s newsletter is a throwback to a framework I used going back to my Buffer years. Hope you enjoy!
Wishing you a great week ahead,
Say hi anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you.
Why Your Marketing Strategy Needs an Inside-Out Mental Model
The author Simon Sinek is famous for his Start With Why framework. It’s a mental model that allows you to begin any new pursuit by understanding why you’re doing it, then figuring out the how you’ll do it, then getting into the specific details of what you’ll need to accomplish it.
Typically, when you think about strategic planning for a company, you end up visualizing a model cascading from the top down, like a tree or an org chart. I prefer one that emanates from the inside out. Like this …
The inside-out mental model has proven most beneficial to me when I put together a marketing strategy because it feels more collaborative and holistic than the top-down version. Let me walk you through how I think about it, starting with vision.
Setting the vision
I won’t spend too much time on the vision step since this is a newsletter about marketing strategy, not company vision. That being said, marketing should definitely have a voice in the company vision conversation. Here's an exercise that helps you define vision, values, goals, and such for your company or team.
The Vision of a company is the way that it views its products, its markets, its customers and itself. The Vision answers the simple question "Why are we here?". The Vision is a goal. It is not the same as a strategy; business strategy tells you how a company is going to achieve (or maintain) its Vision. The strategy is a plan, the tactics are how the plan will be executed and the Vision is the end-result.
Important (albeit optional) next step: Setting goals to go with your vision
Once you have a vision in mind, there's a lot of value in finding a way to measure your progress toward that vision. Some people attach BHAGs along with vision -- these are great also, though by nature they are hard to measure. (For instance, Google's BHAG was "organize the world's information.")
One simple way to measure progress is by identifying a metric or two that will serve as a marker for progress and help you stay accountable. It's even better if it's a SMART goal -- specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. But any metric is better than no metric.
Here's what one of mine looked like at Buffer.
1. Average Revenue Per User(ARPU) —
The thinking goes: If we are building a best-in-class social media marketing product, then we will be creating product value that customers want. They’ll want more of this value, they’ll pay us more, and we’ll see ARPU rise. This can happen a number of different ways, which I’ll get to in a moment, but to highlight a couple: people can upgrade onto higher plans (pricing) or they can add on additional Buffer products (cross-sell).
2. Market share —
If we are building a product for DTC (direct-to-consumer) brands, then we should have more and more DTC brands as customers. We had chosen to measure this increase as a market share percentage: We made a list of 1,000+ DTC brands and charted how many from that list became Buffer customers over time.
(Sidenote: We could have measured the DTC thing in a few different ways, like the percentage of our customer base that was DTC or the total number of DTCs we acquired in a given period. After thinking on it, we chose not to do the former (measure the % of customer base) because that would have created a zero-sum game, incentivizing us to grow DTC at the expense of other segments. However, the second measurement, aggregate DTC growth, is a data input that we want to stay aware of. It won’t be our primary DTC scoreboard, but we’ll keep an eye on it.)
How marketing, product, engineering, and everything revolves around vision
Company vision should be at the core of everything that the company does, so it makes sense that vision is at the core of your mental model.
Then, orbiting this central vision are all the areas of the company: product, marketing, engineering, support, finance, people, etc., etc. This is where the mental model starts to really help sort things out. You can see the alignment across areas when everyone's work is pointing back to the same vision.
Next comes the fun part: Strategizing!
Once company vision is set, then the areas of the company can go off and figure out the strategies they want to employ. One of my favorite ways of thinking about strategy is the DIBB framework that Spotify introduced. Here's a quick snapshot:
So what I do for marketing strategy is take the company vision then apply the DIBB framework. I’ll dig into the data, collect insights, form beliefs, then convert those beliefs into strategic initiatives.
While I’m doing this, so are the other areas of the company.
You might notice … some of these strategic circles can be shared by multiple areas. We’re all in this together, so it’s very likely — even encouraged — that our plans will overlap and intermingle. This might be the case with a strategic bet from product, in the way they're building features, and with a bet from marketing, in the way we position and acquire.
Turning a mental model into an action plan
Putting it all together, you can slot the vision, the strategies, and the outcomes into a nice and tidy table. For instance, here is how the table might have looked at Buffer:
Depending on your preference for goal-setting and organization, you might look at this chart and think any number of things … OKRs or DIBBs or Vision / Strategy / Goals. All these things are fine names, especially if it helps you better understand how all the pieces fit together. Apart from a specific name like OKR, here is how I like to think about the three elements:
Destination — Where we’re headed
Directions — The paths we’re choosing to get us there
Mileposts — How we’ll tell if we’re on track
Questions to answer about strategy
Ultimately we want to get to a place where we have an action plan full of “directions” for how we’ll approach marketing and how we’ll support the company. These are the important questions try to answer in my marketing strategy:
What strategic bets will we make in 2023?
What does this mean saying no to?
How do our bets complement the work being done by other teams?
Is anything at odds?
How can we model out these bets so that we can set achievable, ambitious goals and learn from the work that we’re doing?
Specifically for this marketing exercise at Buffer, we thought as a team about:
How can we drive more brand awareness?
What are the ways that we’ll acquire new DTC users?
How will we get new users to convert to customers?
Then how can we help them to expand into other products and plans?
And all along the journey, how can we engage with them and support them and deliver value at every stage?
(While we’re on the topic of question-asking, I also love to ask my teams: If you were in charge, what is one thing you would do differently than we’re doing currently? and What do you see others doing and think, “I sure wish we could try that”?)
At this stage, it can be helpful to list out all your current channels, strategies, and bets that you’re working on right now so that you can decide which you want to keep, start, and stop. Here is a list of channels that I like to choose from:
In future newsletters, I’ll share what the output of this marketing strategy looks like. (Spoiler alert.) But for now, I hope this is a helpful framing of how to think about marketing strategy in the context of overall vision and to consider how your team’s bets might fit into the work from across the company.
Marketing strategy from the authors of Play Bigger (category creation book)
About this newsletter …
Hi, I’m Kevan, a marketing exec based in Boise, Idaho, who specializes in startup marketing and brand-building. I currently lead the marketing team at Oyster (we’re hiring!). I previously built brands at Buffer, Vox, and Polly. Each week, I share playbooks, case studies, stories, and links from inside the startup marketing world. Not yet subscribed? No worries. You can check out the archive, or sign up below:
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