When carpenters build an addition to a house, they create a plan, get the materials, and gather their tools – from saws and sandpaper to hammers and screwdrivers. The carpenters carefully sequence their activities. First they lay the foundation, then the frame. They then install drywall, and finish with paint, carpet, and appliances.

It’s the same with your marketing program. You have to understand how each marketing tool fits into a larger marketing mix.

Most marketers are specialists so when it’s time to think about strategy, we tend to gravitate to the tool we know best – even if they’re not the best for the job.

Never has that been truer than it is with social media. Talk about the shiny object syndrome! A new tool comes out (cough, Google+ or Pinterest, cough) and you’d think the silver bullet of marketing had been invented.

Tools of the trade

There are four things you should consider when selecting which tools to use for your marketing program:

  • Key performance indicators. We also know these as business goals. Is the goal of the brand to improve revenues? Shorten the sales cycle? Improve margins? Increase grant funding? Gain more volunteers? Whatever the goals are, understand them as best you can so you know how your efforts will provide the best return.
  • Corresponding marketing objectives. What is it you’re trying to achieve? Is it your job to generate leads? Increase brand awareness? Both? Figure out what success looks like so you know which tools to incorporate.
  • Stakeholders. Every organization has more than one audience – customers, employees, the community, a board, etc. Think about the most effective ways to communicate with them before you begin to decide on the tools you’re going to use.
  • Capacity. One of the mistakes we make, especially with social media, is thinking that because most of the tools are free, the cost is minimal. But you also have to consider how much time it takes to keep up with those tools. Capacity is always budget plus human resources.

These components form the foundation of your strategy and dictate the tools you decide to use.

Marketing for victory

Marketing strategy can be compared to military strategy. Unlike a military strategist, you do not want to attack people or treat any stakeholders like enemies…even if they’re saying negative things about you online.

But you do want to realize objectives in your campaign. You do want people to buy your product or service, and to advocate for your brand. That allows a company to “win a market” and defeat its competitors. In that sense, there is much to learn from military strategists.

One of the greatest books on military strategy is The Book of Five Rings by 17th-century Japanese samurai Miyamoto Musashi. Several of his battle tenets are relevant to your fight to communicate your brand’s message and achieve victory.

In the book, Musashi discusses four primary approaches to strategic engagement:

  • The middle (or direct)
  • Above (or top-down)
  • Below (or the groundswell)
  • The left and right sides (flanking)

Independently or sequenced, these approaches form a baseline to approaching marketing strategies. All four of the approaches work best when they are integrated into a holistic campaign, but invariably one technique is primary. The more sophisticated a program, the more likely it is to deploy multiple approaches.

Determining which approaches you use depends on your budget, the resources you have internally, the strengths of each person in your marketing round, and customer preferences.

Sometimes the choice is obvious while, at other times, it’s more difficult. If you use the four approaches described above in “Tools of the trade,” and understand where your team has strengths among the four, your decision will be a whole lot easier.