You see the mountain you need to climb, now how do you get there?
Let’s get the whole goal-strategy-tactics definition out of the way first. Lots of people mess this up and it’s essential to get this right out of the gate. I’m going to use climbing a mountain as the metaphor here, because it works and people can relate to it.
The goal is reaching the top of the mountain. Strategy is picking the trail that will help you get there. Tactics is walking the trail and overcoming obstacles along the way to get there on that trail. Tactics include the gear you need to make the trek and all the steps along the way.
Picking the right goal is the first step
And it doesn’t have to be a single goal, you can connect goals together to build whatever level of awesome you’re shooting for. Can you work towards two goals at once? Of course, as long as the goals aren’t mutually exclusive, which they really shouldn’t be. Let’s say you’re a SaaS startup that wants to increase new client sign ups and more app downloads. These aren’t mutually exclusive, a little off track from each other, but doing one doesn’t block the other. New clients can drive app downloads and app downloads can bring new clients.
When I say “work towards two goals at once” I mean as you work to achieve one goal, you’re laying the groundwork for the next one. Getting more people to download, install, and use your app should lead to more clients. If it doesn’t…well there might be a bigger problem at hand.
You pick the mountain/goal to strive for, now you find the right trail.
Blazing a trail isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, pick a strategy that is proven to work
I’ve bushwhacked overland when hikes went sideways. It’s not fun. I don’t like to do it. I can; don’t like to. When I’m hiking I like to pick a nice, well-marked trail. I know if I stick to the trail I’ll get to the top. Saying “we’re going to reach the goal with our content strategy” isn’t enough. Content for content’s sake doesn’t work. Sure it’s a great way to burn through writers and budget, but it won’t help you reach your goal.
For a content strategy to work, you have to decide what kind of content you’re going to create and how it will influence your target customers (or whomever is the key to unlocking your goal). Are you trying to establish your new consulting firm as thought leaders in the space? Then you need to work on thought leader posts on LinkedIn, your website, and (maybe) something like Medium. These posts are written to show perspective clients that you’ve got something in your head between your ears. You’re showing off savvy and smarts.
For a SaaS app, you need to help people see and understand the pain you’re solving, why it matters, and how you solve it. Did anyone think they needed an integrated content calendar app before CoSchedule? No way, we all thought Excel was just fine. Only when we had the (obvious) flaws in the Excel model pointed out and shown a better way to do it did we rush to CoSchedule.
“Hold on,” you say, “what about trying new strategies that haven’t been tried before? What about out of the box thinking?”
Yes, that’s true, but I think what people think of as “an out of the box strategy” is really a new tactic to made a strategy we know work better.
Tactics are where the rubber hits the road and face the enemy
Or something like that.
Is the strategy is the path, what’s a tactic? Tactics are how you walk down the path. Tactics are how you figure ways around fallen trees or over boulders. Tactics are saying, we know great content connects with people, what if we gave away copies of all our best templates and tools to show how we get things done (like Hubspot did)? Tactics are building thought leadership with podcasts, guest posts, and webinars with clients. The things Hubspot and CoSchedule did to change how content marketing is done had nothing to do with blogging. Or social media. Or even writing. They changed the game by saying, we’re going to get more customers (goal) by creating great content (strategy) that gives away all our best stuff (tactic). The templates, ebooks, and spreadsheets those companies produced showed that a content marketing strategy could be extremely successful if you created content that was really freakin’ useful to their target customers.
That’s what was revolutionary. People were blogging long before and it worked to attract attention, for a while, but once content was everywhere, something needed to change (the tactic) to make the (content) strategy work. Suddenly instead of writing opinion pieces or about your company, we started writing about how we did our jobs. How the tools we used made our jobs easier. Suddenly content strategies had a tactical focus on the customer and not on the company. Same strategy, improved tactic.
This is not a quick win, content is playing the long game
Even if you crank out a post a day, couple posts a day, and every post makes the reader go “wow, that was awesome, I can’t believe I wasn’t doing that before”, it will take time to get traction and see results. Could you write something that goes viral? Sure. It happens. Happened to me early on at an IT services company I worked for. Everyone thought it was awesome. Wow, a viral post. Look at the traffic.
Guess what, that viral post accounted for exactly zero sales or new clients. Zero. Why? Because while I wrote a great post, a post that connected with people, it didn’t connect with potential customers. It didn’t help use reach the goal. I kept on posting and trying to find the right content to activate people. I hit the mark more than I missed it, but content probably never would have worked well. Writing and posting new content, wasn’t the right way to go.
It took months of hard work and experimenting with tactics and topics and distribution before I realized this just wasn’t the right strategy. On the other hand, after a year or so at another place, so content was starting to take off and work. I had found a mix of thought-leader posts and posts that spoke to our core buyer. It took a while to find that right balance. In between we had enough indications that success was coming to keep it up, if we hadn’t, a new strategy would have been needed.
Choose a path, keep at it, but don’t walk off a cliff
I’ll leave you with a final thought. You have to balance giving a strategy time to work and knowing when a strategy is heading for disaster. A trail that looks great when you start off, might lead you off a cliff. Don’t stick to something that is becoming clearly wrong. Backtrack a bit, find a new path, learn from the mistake, and keep going.