“I” before “E” except after “C”. Easy as 1-2-3. The horse before the cart. Some things just go in a certain order.

Marketing is no exception. While it might appear as a creative endeavor on the surface, marketing actually requires ordered steps and strategic workflows to be effective. If you find yourself doing a whole lot of work without a lot of results, your marketing might be backwards. This most often occurs when organizations place too much of an emphasis on tactics without thinking through some of the key questions behind them.

The next time you find yourself wondering what comes first, ask yourself these three questions to keep your marketing focused:

1. What goal does this support?

This sounds like a simple question but it’s easy to fall into the trap of doing marketing for marketing’s sake, until you forget where you were going in the first place. Being specific (and realistic) in your goals will help you strategically map out what it takes to get there and prioritize your efforts to achieve the goals that are most attainable and impactful.

You should have a list of short- and long-term goals and be able to list out what goal each tactic in your marketing plan supports. If an idea does not support a goal, toss it – your time and money will be better spent elsewhere.

2. Who is my audience and what do they want?

Before creating tactics, it’s critical to understand who your audiences are and what they want from you. At the core of every marketing plan is an understanding of the different groups your organization serves, how you serve them and what it is they truly want from you. If the message isn’t right, all of the money and impressions in the world won’t get you the results you want.

Make a list of the primary groups you currently reach and the groups you want to reach. Some groups might have traits in common and can be reached with similar messaging, while others will have different needs and desires that warrant different messages, even if they all are promoting the same offering. The key to developing strong, audience-centric messaging is to understand your audience’s pain points and what they really want from you – the promise behind the promise. For example, the promise behind a new Bible study isn’t additional translations or added commentary; it’s a closer relationship with God. The promise behind addiction treatment is not just sobriety; it’s a happy future filled with healthy relationships and stability. You get the picture.

If you’re operating off of blanket messaging or broadcast tactics, or if you can’t define which audience a tactic reaches, your marketing might be backwards.

3. How will we get that message to them?

Here’s where the tactics come in. Things like direct mail, email, social media, advertising and content marketing are simply delivery systems to help you get the right message to the right audience in order to reach your marketing and business goals. Your tactics will be far more strategic when selected based on what audience you want to reach and where they live, work, play and get information.

If you’re letting tactics lead your marketing efforts, take a step back and think through your goals and audiences. Over time the tools may change, but the core principles of knowing your audience, speaking to their pain points and offering real value into their lives does not.

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