Find Your Core

hansons_lumber_millBack when I was in graduate school, I read a ton of case studies. For almost two years, a lot of my time was spend reading case studies and then writing and discussing those case studies. At the time it felt like torture, but those case studies helped form a knowledge base about key marketing issues that can easily be overlooked. Here’s a case in point:

Spotted Owls, A Lumber Company, And A Democratic State Legislator

Recently, a specific case study came to mind as I was working on a project. It was about a small Oregon lumber company that was faced with legislation that would ultimately put them out of business. It seemed that a Democratic state legislator was trying to enact new laws that would prevent the lumber company from certain types of logging practices. The logging company would have to shut down if the laws passed.

As any of us would do in similar circumstances, the management team quickly went to work trying to figure out what to do. Some of the team wanted to hire an expensive lobby firm out of D.C. Others were interested in hiring an expensive marketing agency. Luckily, someone spoke up and asked a very important question – what audience should they really be talking to?

This question caused them to step back and as a series of other important questions:

  • What was their strategy?
  • What goals did they have?
  • What audience would help them get the best results?
  • Which tactics would help them connect best with their intended audience?
  • How would they know when they had won?

Asking these questions caused their team to dig in deep and do the hard work that great marketing is all about. In stead of spending a ton of money or outsourcing their efforts, they focused and came up with an ingenious plan.

Instead of focusing on the senator or the public, they turned their efforts inward and decided to engage their team. But what tactic did they choose? This is the cool part. They knew they had limited resources and some brilliant person mentioned a potential tool they had been using for years, but never in a strategic manner. They had a company newsletter that had always been used to share the basics – birthdays, events, team member info, etc.

So they took the newsletter and transformed it into an amazing storytelling device. They educated their team about the issues they faced and explained what the consequences would be if the legislation passed. More importantly, they provided their team with specific calls to action.

Lessons Learned

There is a lot that can be learned from this story, but what is the most important take-aways for your small business?

  1. Have a process in place for marketing and stay true to it. When the pressure is on, it is tempting to jump straight to tactics. Don’t fall for this. Having a process in place forces you to think through all the elements of a marketing campaign or program and helps you keep strategy at the forefront. A good marketing process should cover the following (stick to this order as much as possible): strategy, business objectives, audience, tactics, metrics.
  2. Dig in deep when you get to audience. The thing this case study really helps you understand is that the obvious audience is not always the right audience to help you spread your story. In the case of the lumber company, they only had one person whose mind needed to be changed – the Democratic state senator. They could have tried talking directly to him; however, what they understood was that by engaging their team, who then engaged their friends and neighbors, they were unleashing a powerful force that the company could not have created by itself.
  3. Holding yourself accountable is a big deal. When times are tough, measuring your success is more important than ever. It is incredibly easy to skip over this last step in marketing, but if you truly want to create value and ensure that you get the most from your marketing dollars you have to hold yourself accountable.

There is another lesson here. Case studies are a great way to learn about business, but you do not need to go to school to find case studies. The truth is that there are real-world case studies around us every day. Watch what your fellow small business owners are up to, take notes and learn from what they are doing. Network with them and share your successes and failures. The key is to always continue learning and innovating.

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2 thoughts on “Find Your Core

  1. Jason

    Excellent points here with a great example of how to get things done by looking deep into it and not always choosing what seems to be the obvious. When we are looking to change someone’s mind we have to get to the core of it and see where best we can make that switch for them. It is not always easy and the best laid plans often are the wrong way to go about it.

    Marketing plans are essential these days. You cannot go into this blindly as you are faced with different aspects and people at a different point int he buying cycle. Focusing on current customers is key. Awareness and new is secondary as keeping your current customers is what fuels the awareness and new ones. This compares nicely to the example above of inward. Look inward at the customer base that you have and see how you can empower them and also learn from them. People talk and when they have a great experience, they tell people (zappos) and when they have a horrible experience they talk. Mediocre or meeting expectations is hardly ever talked about. Exceeding gets the ball rolling on the spreading the word.

    Every business wants to make money. Every business needs money to stay in business. Every business needs customers to make money. Current customers are spending money, potential are not yet. Putting the resources into the proper area is about learning how to grow.

    Great post here Jason.

    @SuzanneVara

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