When I was a kid, I would visit my grandparent’s house. Like most kids I was curious and asked a lot of questions, one of those questions was about where their house came from. My grandfather casually said that he had built it with his own hands. As a child I was amazed and impressed, imagining how hard it must have been for him to lift the roof on top all by himself. Now, my grandpa also liked to mess with me, so as I grew older I had a hard time distinguishing the truth from his tall tales. I thought him building his house was just one of those exaggerations. Surely he had hired a contractor or bought the house premade. It wasn’t until after my grandma had died that I realized this wasn’t just a story.

After my grandma passed I was helping my grandpa sort through photographs for her memorial and I came across a faded blue album with the words ‘Building Our Dream Home’ scrolled across the front in my grandma’s handwriting. Flipping through the album I saw my grandparent’s house come to life like a movie montage. One thing I noticed was that my grandfather was alone in almost every picture. He really had built the home we sat in all by himself!

I brought the album to him and explained that I had always thought he was making it all up. Then I asked him how he did it. My grandpa wasn’t a carpenter or craftsman by trade and, although he came from a generation of do-it-yourselfers, building a house seemed like a tall order. In addition to just being good life advice, what he told me perfectly illustrates the need for strategy in marketing.

Preparation Before Perspiration

The first thing he said was, “Always be prepared.” The motto of the Boy Scouts happened to be words my grandpa lived by. He told me, “If you have a solid plan and prepare properly, you can do anything.” It turns out my grandpa had been planning his house for years before construction ever began. He had spent years studying everything from lumber quality to architectural designs; he planned out everything down to the type of nails he would use. All of this was because he wanted to build something that would last for a lifetime and beyond.

Building a marketing strategy is like building a house, and it’s all about the preparation ahead of time. Before you begin making ads or writing a catchy jingle, you need to know everything about whom you’re trying to reach and why they should pay attention. Research your client base. Find out how existing ones found you. Learn everything you can about who they are beyond just being your customer. We live in a world where information is power and yet that information is given out freely if you know how to ask. Much like a house, your marketing strategy needs to be built on a solid foundation. The substance of that foundation is knowledge and you need to make sure yours is robust.

Don’t Fear Failure

After explaining how much work went into planning the house, he then started recalling some of the difficulties he encountered when it came time to build. It turns out my grandpa’s lack of experience was more of an issue than he had anticipated. In building his house my grandpa had proven the validity of Murphy’s Law dozens of times over. He pulled out an especially damning picture of the guest bathroom, and told me that it was one of my grandma’s favorite things to tease him about.

When building the guest bathroom on the ground floor, my grandpa had forgotten to install a door. He had been accessing the bathroom through the unfinished framework and walled off where the door was supposed to go. Grandpa told me, “Don’t be afraid to fail, but always learn from your mistakes,” and I learned why the guest bathroom had two doors in it.

In marketing, you need to know that your first plan won’t always work. Hell, even your second plan may not be quite right but there’s value in the failure. Part of your strategic planning needs to include contingencies for failure. Marketing is all about your business interacting with humans, and human nature can be very fickle. Just because clients respond to a particular campaign this year doesn’t mean that it will work again next year.

Remember the Old Spice ads with Terry Crews? Their target demographic loved the weird, offbeat ads and Old Spice beat out the competition in sales. However, they made a false step with an uncomfortable ad featuring singing moms and their brand never recovered. They didn’t have a plan for their ads failing, didn’t readjust their course, and lost market shares because of it. Failure happens to the best of us, but having a solid strategy and building it from a good foundation is essential to turning a fail into success.

You Can’t Know Everything…

While most of the photos in the album were from recognizable areas of my grandparent’s house, one photo featured a room I didn’t know. In the picture, my grandpa sat in a bed holding up an arm in bandages. It turns out I didn’t recognize the room because that photo was from the town doctor’s house. While installing the electrical wires my grandpa had mistakenly forgot to test if the lines were live and received a nasty electrical burn as a result. This shocking turn of events had opened his eyes to the need for help. Despite wanting to build the entire thing himself, my grandpa recognized that, “you can’t know everything, so ask for help when you need it. There’s no shame in admitting you don’t know something.”

Planning and contingencies are worthless if you build them in a vacuum. Your marketing strategy needs to be built with the input from your team, or at the very least run past people that you trust. This may mean bringing in experts in a particular field or outside consultants. Recognize areas that your strategy is weak in and get help before you get burned.

 

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

The last photo in the album was of my grandpa holding my grandma in his arms in front of their completed house. They were both smiling like it was the greatest day of their lives. My grandpa noted that they looked happier in that picture than they did on their wedding day. Building their dream home had been a long and arduous process almost spanning several years, but my grandpa told me that it had all been worth it. He told me, “Never lose sight of the end result, always keep your goal in mind and work toward it. All the hard work is worth it in the end.”

The final component essential to strategic marketing is time. Most people want immediate results and we live in a world where we can get almost anything instantaneously. Look at what Amazon Prime and two-day shipping have done to the way we shop! But marketing isn’t like that and people often make rash decisions about their marketing efforts without investing the time needed for them to work. Keep the end results in mind and give your marketing strategy the time it needs to come to fruition. Without a strategy, your marketing efforts will fall apart like a house built without nails*.

*Or screws, glue, and/or other binding agents involved in the construction of a house, also excluded are the structures built with joinery techniques that don’t require additional fastenings.