Today’s guest post is written by Mana Ionescu

During the holidays I prepared two days of meals, made three grocery trips, and cooked for about 12 hours straight.

In the end, we ate for 45 minutes each day, and the mashed potatoes were the most popular food item.

This reminded me of the lesser-known, and rarely-discussed side of marketing.

Behind the public side of marketing there are fundamental mechanisms that take place. And, just like cooking, marketing is a process that culminates in a quickly-consumed output.

Much too much conversation happens around the output so I decided to put together a list of the “secret sauce” ingredients that will help you improve your marketing efforts, starting with the foundation.

1.  Make a commitment to invest in promoting your business.

This investment can take many forms – it can be time, money, meeting new people, or stepping outside of your comfort zone. You don’t have to decide today how much you’ll spend or how much time you’ll dedicate to any activity. Just make a commitment to shed skepticism and cynicism and accept the value of promotional work.

Here’s an example: In early 2011, a business owner asked me, “Do we really need a website? I don’t know if we’re getting anything from it.” It turns out the website was getting a high volume of visitors and thousands of new email subscribers each month. Not knowing and not “getting” are two different things. The site was “getting,” but the business owner didn’t know it.

Every business needs a website, marketing (old and new), SEO, and PR. No excuses. Your business won’t magically promote itself.  Remember Groupon? Their sales and marketing investment was just as big as they grew to be.

Decide today you will grab every opportunity you can to promote your business. The longer you delay starting your efforts in any of the essential areas the longer you will delay seeing results. I’m not proposing overspending. I’m proposing you accept the fact that “becoming famous” doesn’t come for free. So decide today you will not sweat every penny and every hour that needs to be spent on promoting your business. Just focus on investing on what will get you results.

2.  Start a (collaborative) simple marketing calendar. 

About 80 percent of the businesses we worked with in the past year did not have a useable marketing calendar. Some had a marketing calendar that only one person could see and no one used. We saw whiteboard calendars and paper organizers. We’ve heard every reason you can imagine for why that is so – “we have too many calendars already,” “who will update the calendar?” “I like paper.”

Isn’t it much harder to navigate to a destination with hand-written directions only, and much easier with a map or a GPS? A marketing calendar is your map. You may choose to take a different path, but you still have the guide there.

A useful marketing calendar should be:

  • Accessible
  • Current
  • Simple
  • Clear

Here’s how to accomplish that:

  1. Set up a Google calendar.
  2. Give access to all those who help you with promotional work.
  3. Email your contributors (your PR people, marketing and social media, SEO and customer service) and ask them to add the main promotional milestones of the year (in your industry). From holidays to major national conferences; list them all in there. Don’t allow this calendar to become a brainstorm document. It’s just a calendar.  Keep it simple!

3. Think three months ahead.

Generally in December we think of the holidays but in fact, in December we need to start planning our Valentine’s Day campaigns. Now that you have the major marketing milestones plotted on you calendar, subtract 3 months and plot your kick-offs. If your project life-cycle is 6 months then subtract 6 months.

Don’t over-think this. This is not your marketing plan. Just pencil in a few milestones that will act as a guide, or as a compass for you throughout the year. You’ll keep adjusting directions but the ship feels much more in control if you have a compass.

It will never be too early to start, but it can get too late. In marketing, just like in life, it’s best to get there early.

4. Ask “why” five times.

For every marketing idea you or your team will come up with ask “why” should we do this. If you really want to select through ideas fast, put them through the obnoxious test of the five whys. It is the most effective annoyance exercise you will ever do.

Idea: We should be on Twitter.

Q: Why?

A: So we can have more of a presence online.

Q: Why?

A: So we can reach more people.

Q: Why?

A: So more people know of us.

And so on…

You can see how you get more clarity the more you ask. The reason we want to be on Twitter is to get more people to become aware of us. And there are many ways to do that, not just Twitter. So now we can look into all the ways to get there. We also just killed an assumption that may have limited our marketing.

5. Have a champion? Keep her a champion!

What is the one thing that worked really well last year? Consider a repeat. You may have to re-tool it but don’t be afraid to re-do. Think of Coca-Cola and their Santa commercials. Coca-Cola started the Santa campaign in 1931. The illustrations were so popular Coca-Cola continued to work with Michigan-born illustrator Haddon Sundblom until 1964 and the concept remained until today.

As a marketer I’m used to being asked for “new ideas” frequently. New ideas are great, but they’re not champions until they defeat a champion. So I prefer to focus on winning ideas rather than “new ideas.”

In conclusion, commit to making no excuses, get organized, watch the compass, simplify and stick to your winner.  Now you can start your marketing planning. Ready? Go!

What are your “behind-the-scenes” marketing tips?

Mana Ionescu is the president and founder of Lighspan Digital, where digital marketing is done with purpose. Follow her blog here