Posted by MackenzieFogelson
It’s no secret that building and executing integrated marketing strategies is the responsibility of your marketing team. The problem with that is the actions of everyone in your organization affect your marketing.
Marketing isn’t just what your customers see on the outside. It’s what happens when they get your product home. It’s the experience they have with any one person in your company at any given time and through any specific touchpoint. Whether or not you’re aware, all of the individuals on every team in your organization are contributing to your marketing on a daily basis.
That being the case, it would certainly be ideal to get everyone in your company focused on and aligned with:
- Your marketing goals
- The greater good that the company is working to accomplish
- The real reasons you’re different from your competition
- The value you provide your customers and community
- The customers you’re working so hard to earn and keep
- The most important strategic priorities your marketing team is working to accomplish so that your company will continue to thrive
We recently built a simple tool that has been helping our clients and their teams stay focused in their marketing efforts and also hurdle communication and goal alignment challenges. We call it the Focus Canvas and I’m going to show you how to build one of your very own (you’re so lucky).
The elements of your Focus Canvas
There are 8 key elements to your Focus Canvas. In a nutshell, here’s how they break down:
How long you’ll focus on the specific components you will identify in your Focus Canvas.
- Our Meaning Beyond Money
The higher purpose your company is meant to achieve.
- Why We’re Different
A short list that defines the valuable characteristics unique to your company.
- The Value We Provide
A clearly communicated statement that helps your customers understand what you do and gives them reason to choose you over your competition.
- What We’re Trying to Accomplish
The goals your teams (and company) are working to accomplish.
- Who Our Customers Are
The very specific audience groups you’re working to earn and retain.
- How We’re Helping Our Customers
The things you’re doing to remain relevant in your customers’ lives.
- What’s Important Now
The most important things (up to three) that you need to focus on over the next 90 days in order to accomplish goals and move the company forward.
And here’s where each of those pieces are going to fit:
What follows is a breakdown of each piece of the Focus Canvas, why it’s important, some examples, and the resources necessary to develop each component of your very own.
If you wish, at this juncture, you may download your very own Focus Canvas skeleton and work through it as you read this guide.
Okay, kids, let’s get started.
Building your Focus Canvas
Why it’s important
One of the most important characteristics of your Focus Canvas is that it’s meant to be a dynamic, living, and breathing thing. At the top left, you’ll find a spot to place the date range for the duration in which you’re focusing on the things that you’ve identified in your Focus Canvas.
Ideally, you will stay focused on the specific components of your Focus Canvas for 90 days at a time. Keep in mind, however, that not all of the elements will change every quarter. Some — like your meaning beyond money, your goals, and your audience groups may remain the same across many iterations of your Focus Canvas.
After you’ve used your Focus Canvas to drive a few strategy cycles, you can decide on your frequency for updating. Just make sure that you continue to revisit and evolve it as your company, your customers, and your strategy progresses.
Our meaning beyond money
Why it’s important
Your meaning beyond money is the cornerstone of your Focus Canvas. It’s the reason your company exists. It’s the higher purpose your company is serving by being in business and doing what it does every day.
Your meaning beyond money is an extremely important component to all of your marketing efforts because it’s the essence of your entire brand and it’s why people are attracted to your community. If this isn’t something your company has defined, or isn’t leveraging in your marketing, it’s time to start.
Operating from your meaning beyond money provides many benefits to your company and your team. The most important is that employees are more engaged in purpose-driven companies because they know the work they do means something.
When it comes down to it, leading with meaning beyond money is what makes your company human. And the more you have the courage to be real, authentic, and genuine in everything your company does both on- and offline, the bigger the strategic advantage you’ll gain over your competition.
Here are a couple of examples of how meaning beyond money can be communicated effectively through marketing:
Patagonia’s meaning beyond money is working to be a responsible company: both socially and environmentally. They are probably one of the best examples of a company that leads with purpose, and it bleeds through everything they do, especially in their marketing.
In the recent months, Patagonia has been building an experience with their brand through an integrated campaign called “Worn Wear.” With Worn Wear, you can have your Patagonia gear repaired to help it last longer—which means the people who do this are helping Patagonia leave less of a footprint on our world, living up to the higher purpose they have as an environmentally responsible company.
Patagonia lives their meaning beyond money so much so that they have been driving across country in a bio-diesel truck to spread the word. When they came through Fort Collins, I got a taste first-hand. And sure enough, they had people inside their bio-diesel truck repairing gear. Some of it wasn’t even made by Patagonia. That’s how deeply they believe in achieving their higher purpose (and it has helped their company to continue to be profitable).
Serving a very different purpose as a company than Patagonia, Traveling Vineyard is a direct selling organization that sells wine. Their meaning beyond money is to help the people who sell wine for them find more personal and professional satisfaction in their lives.
Before profit comes Traveling Vineyard’s desire to support their Wine Guides in finding their passion and providing them with the resources and training necessary to build their own businesses, no matter what the bottom line looks like.
One of the ways Traveling Vineyard conveys their meaning beyond money is by telling the stories of the real people in their community and how their careers have changed their lives.
The biggest impact of a company’s meaning beyond money is the fact that it doesn’t have to be at scale. You can use your company as an agent for change one person at a time.
Whatever your company determines your higher purpose to be, this part of your Focus Canvas will keep your teams focused on accomplishing that greater meaning. Then it’s clear to them that this needs to guide the decisions they make since they are part of a company that stands for something bigger than simply making money.
As you prepare your meaning beyond money for your Focus Canvas, these resources may help your company define what that is (or compel you to become more purpose-driven):
- Why Your Company Must be Mission-Driven – Gallup
- How to Lead with Meaning in Your Marketing – Mack Web
- Building Your Company’s Vision – Harvard Business Review
- Using Focus to Build Long-Term Momentum in Marketing – Mack Web
- Mission Based Businesses – Business Insider
Why we’re different
All of the elements of your Focus Canvas are interdependent, but the next two will build on each other. The reasons that you’re different will inform the value that you provide your customers.
Why it’s important
It’s rare that companies find themselves in markets that are not saturated by steep competition. As a result, it’s imperative that you identify, and that everyone in your company understands, how to effectively communicate the reasons your company is different from your competition. Why should someone choose to be your customer? Why not just choose the other guy?
When completing this part of your Focus Canvas, list up to five unique characteristics that you know to be true only to your company (and that make you valuable and relevant to your specific customers). Be careful that you’re not just listing all of the stuff that every company in your industry offers vs. what truly makes you stand out. This will also help keep your teams focused on delivering those very important promises of value.
Warby Parker has many unique selling propositions (or USPs and sometimes may even be called a UVP or unique value proposition). The most noteworthy is the fact that they’ve disrupted the entire eyewear industry by using non-traditional methods to make glasses so that their product could be the alternative. They not only compete on price but also by giving back (for every pair you buy, they give to a pair to someone in need).
If you happen to like M&Ms (peanut kind, please), one of the USPs of their product is that it won’t melt in your hands. Lucky for you, they made this sweet commercial about it in 1981 (and you get to re-live the magic now).
One of Moz’s USPs is how they infuse their TAGFEE values into everything they do. It’s become an unmistakable part of their identity which their customers know they can’t get anywhere else. Same with Roger (as a mascot) and Rand (as a thought leader and approachable personality).
This is my favorite example of a USP because it’s not solely functionality or product based. Many companies list technical components of their products as USPs, but that means they’re continually playing the competitor catch-up game; revising their USPs every time their competitors match functionality or features.
Although you definitely want to broadcast key features that your company alone has cornered the market on, look for ways to communicate USPs that won’t go out of style and also tie back into your meaning beyond money.
Here are some additional USP resources for y’all:
- How to Stand Out When You’re Drowning in a Sea of Competition – Help Scout
- The Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Unique Selling Proposition- Fizzle
- Compare a Unique Selling Proposition to a Unique Value Proposition – Business Models for Dummies
The value we provide
Why it’s important
This spot on your Focus Canvas is for the full version of your value proposition (which is inclusive of the unique characteristics you defined in your USPs above). This will help your team properly communicate what you do and how it benefits your customers.
According to ConversionXL, your value proposition is a clear statement that:
- Explains how your product solves customers’ problems or improves their situation (relevancy),
- Delivers specific benefits (quantified value),
- Tells the ideal customer why they should buy from you and not from the competition (unique differentiation).
Try to keep this sucker brief at 2-3 sentences (with possibly a few USP bullet points to support).
Here’s one of the value proposition examples that Peep provides from Campaign Monitor. This example makes it very easy to tell what they do, who they do it for, and how that’s unique to them:
Help Scout also has some great guidance on how to create great value propositions that work well. They provide these two examples of value propositions for Stripe and Synthesis:
The biggest thing about your value proposition is that it needs to be incredibly clear and very easy to understand. Sometimes that can be easier to do on your website because you can take all the time you need to craft the perfect words, place the perfect images, and test how this affects your customers.
Where your value proposition really gets put to the test is how your employees use it in person when people ask them what they do. Your Focus Canvas is a great spot for this. Provide your team with a very brief, value-fueled elevator pitch that helps them to communicate the right things in their daily interactions with customers, colleagues, and friends.
For your convenience, here are the posts I mentioned above, plus some additional resources that will help you to build or revise your existing value proposition (that’s informed by your USPs):
- Useful Value Proposition Examples (and How to Create a Good One) – ConversionXL
- Writing Value Propositions that Work – Help Scout
- How to Craft the Ultimate 60-Second Startup Pitch – Forbes
- Value Proposition Design – Strategyzer
What we’re trying to accomplish
Why it’s important
When you’re aligning teams, getting everyone on the same page, and working toward the visionary goal of the company, things can get messy. This requires a great deal of collaboration across channels and teams of people, all with their own agendas, goals, and expectations of results. All the more reason to use your Focus Canvas as a tool for…wait for it…focus and alignment.
Keep in mind that when you’re identifying what you’re trying to accomplish, your teams can have different goals, but ultimately everyone should be working toward achieving the overarching vision of the company.
Before you place your goals into your Focus Canvas, make sure you’re using your meaning beyond money to inform them. Those goals will then help you build an integrated marketing strategy that determines the tools and tactics you’ll use (like content, SEO, video, social, email marketing, paid channels, etc.). That way, your teams will be working on accomplishing the right things in the short term in order to reach your long-term goals.
Ultimately, everything you’re producing in your marketing strategy is working toward becoming the company you’re meant to be, and at the same time, connecting your community to your higher purpose and more fully to your brand.
When looking at what you’re trying to accomplish, consider three categories of goals: visionary, business, and brand. Place these goals on your Focus Canvas so that you can continue to work towards these goals until you’ve accomplished them. As mentioned, your goals (especially visionary goals) will most likely carry over several cycles as you revise and refresh your Focus Canvas.
Visionary goals are the longer term ones that your entire company is working toward. It’s the bigger, more audacious goals that may take 2-3 years (or longer) to complete. If you’re using this Focus Canvas inside of a large company, you can set a visionary goal for your team or division. Just make sure it’s aligned with the greater visionary goal of the company as a whole.
If it helps, as a company, Mack Web has two visionary goals:
- Change the way companies build their brands
- Change the way marketing is measured
Ultimately we exist to help companies build better businesses, so our visionary goals are part of making this happen.
Business goals are the stuff that’s related to your team and company’s financial goals. When identifying these goals, consider the financial benchmarks that must be accomplished in order to reach your department’s, and ultimately your company’s, revenue goals.
Currently, Mack Web’s business goals are to:
- Diversify revenue streams (we specify actual numbers per stream internally)
- Work with responsive, purpose-driven companies
- Keep Mack Web running smoothly and profitably
Brand goals are the qualitative benchmarks that your team is held accountable for. When identifying these goals, consider questions like:
- What is your meaning beyond money?
- Who does your company really want to become?
- How does the above inform your team’s goals?
- How does all of this fit into the vision of your company’s brand?
Mack Web has many brand goals that we’re working to accomplish:
- Help our clients feel valued
- Ensure clients are reaching their goals
- Earn long-term partnerships and mentorships
- Earn reputable speaking and blogging gigs
- Attract companies who align with our values and approach
Essentially, if Mack Web accomplishes our brand and business goals, we will be well on our way to accomplishing our visionary goals, and most importantly, realizing our higher purpose and the reason we exist as a company.
One of the ways we often get to goals (and also tactics to accomplish those goals) is by working through a visioning exercise we learned from working with the Paterson Process. Here’s how that works:
Where are you today?
In the first part of this exercise, you’re going to paint the picture of where your team or company stands today. Are you having a lot of conflict and roadblocks? Are you finding synergy? Are you short-handed? Do you have everything you need to be great? Are you lacking resources or training? Paint the picture, positive or negative, of your team’s status as it stands today.
Where are you going?
Now you want to think about where you want your team (and company) to be in a year. In two years. In three years. What does that mountain look like that you want your team to stand on? Is everyone certified in Google Analytics? Have you reached a certain level of profitability and brand awareness? Did you develop a tool or resource for your customers? Paint the picture of that mountain that you’d like to summit. These desires will become your goals that you will categorize into visionary, business, and brand as detailed above.
How will you get there?
Lastly comes the action. How the heck are you gonna make that stuff happen? What needs to be put into place? Do you need training? Do you need to hire more people? Do you need better communication with other teams? Write down all of the things that will help your team get up your mountain. As you work to build your integrated strategy, these things will become the tactics that you execute.
Once you’ve worked through these exercises and worked with your team(s) to identify goals, you can place your visionary, business, and brand goals on your Focus Canvas. Next, we’ll focus on your customers.
Who our customers are
Why it’s important
When you’re considering how you’re going to reach your goals, it’s probably a good idea that everyone, not only those on your team but also in your company, knows who they’re talking to. Getting to know your audience is an in-depth, ongoing process of connecting, validating, and refining so that you’re continually giving your audience what they need.
When identifying who your customers are, it’s important to remember that it’s not everyone. Earning and retaining customers requires a great deal of bandwidth and resources from your team. If they know which audience groups are a priority, they can focus their strategy and efforts there, making it more likely that they’ll accomplish goals.
If you haven’t yet done so, take a long look at this slide deck from Mike King. It’s got some really important stuff in it about validating personas (and not just guessing that who you’ve identified as personas are the people you think you’re talking to).
As Mike would put it:
The entire deck is full of instructions on how to build data-driven persona that will help you verify whether these people are actually coming to your website, or other touchpoints in their experience, and whether you’re giving them what they need.
Once you’ve identified your top three customer groups, you can place their details in your Focus Canvas (perhaps with a link to any additional context you may want to provide). Your teams can then build their strategies and focus their efforts around them.
Here are some additional resources for you that will help you identify your top three customer groups (in addition to Mike’s deck):
- Actionable Data-Driven Personas for CRO – Mike King
- The Essential Persona Lifecycle: Your Guide to Building and Using Personas – Tamara Adlin & John Pruitt
- Personas: The Art and Science of Understanding the Person Behind the Visit – Mike King
How we’re helping our customers
This part of your Focus Canvas is going to evolve as you continually work to create the resources that are relevant to your customers’ lives.
What you see on your Focus Canvas skeleton are just some sample phases of a possible customer’s journey. You’ll want to identify what these phases are for your customers before you can decide the resources that will fulfill their needs during each phase and where you will need to provide them (on your website, on social, via email, offline, etc.).
Like personas, how you’re helping your customers requires continuous effort and validation. And, with other parts of this Focus Canvas, how you’re helping your customers must change based on the data you collect and the experiences you have with them.
Why it’s important
When it comes down to it, your company exists to help other people; to improve their lives in some way. In order to do this, you’ve got to continually stay relevant in their lives. Each phase in your customer’s journey is going to require a different level of support in order to earn their trust and business. Being adaptive to their needs ongoing is what will keep them with you long term.
One very simple way to help your customers is to identify each of the stages of their experience with your company, and then determine what questions you may need to answer (or resources you need to develop) during each phase. Joanna Lord has developed a very simple and effective guide that will take you through how to do this. You can then map those phases, questions, and their touchpoints in this spreadsheet, and then place the ones you’re focusing on in your Focus Canvas.
If you haven’t already identified customer touchpoints, then you’ll want to first look at your customer’s behavior phases and then determine the questions they may ask (or wouldn’t have enough knowledge to ask) during those phases. It may take you a few cycles to get through all of the questions, but you can use your Focus Canvas to keep track of the ones you’re focused on answering.
If you’ve already done this, then you can focus your team’s efforts elsewhere, like developing resources your customers can download and use. Whatever the task, place it in the Focus Canvas so that you can easily communicate what the focus is at this time.
In addition to Joanna’s guide, these resources will help you map your customer’s journey and identify some important things that you can be doing to better serve them:
- A Quick Guide to Customer Journey Mapping – Joanna Lord
- How to Measure the User Journey with Content Groupings, WordPress & GTM – Mike King
- The 4 Types of Customer Journey Maps – Kerry Bodine
What’s important now
Why it’s important
Knowing what to focus on in order to accomplish your company’s goals is probably one of the toughest parts of strategy. Within every company, no matter how big or small, there are always many things that are broken, stuff that has to get done to earn customers, and an ever-changing world to contend with.
The difficulty this presents is the temptation to do too many things at once, which will only dilute your efforts, keep you focused on nothing, and ultimately get you nowhere.
At the bottom of your Focus Canvas you’ll find three spots to identify the most important things to focus on now, over the next 90 days. These are your strategic priorities; the things you need to cross off your list so that your team and company can get closer to getting up that mountain and achieving its goals.
Notice that there are only three spots on your canvas. If one of your strategic priorities is really big, you can even choose to focus on just one of them. The point is to focus. And, as you’re executing your integrated strategy and shiny things start to surface, come back to your Focus Canvas, all of the elements, and especially your strategic priorities, to determine whether it’s more important to take that detour or exercise some self-control and stay focused right where you are.
Right now, Mack Web has two pretty big strategic priorities that we’re working through: a rebrand and the improvement of our company operating system (we’re testing and implementing some holacracy components). These two things alone are plenty for us to chew on, so we’re capping our strategic priorities, or what’s important now, for the next 90 days on only these two things.
These things are communicated on our Focus Canvas so that when unexpected challenges arise or shiny things present themselves, we can weigh them against what we’ve identified as priorities and either say “no” or “not now.” And, because what we’re focusing on is recorded on the Focus Canvas, it helps to take the emotion out of decisions and keep us on track.
If you need a little assistance figuring out where your focus should be for the next 90 days, we’ve adapted an exercise we learned from the Paterson Center called Four Helpful Lists.
In a nutshell, here’s how it works (if you’d like some additional guidance, this post will help you better understand how we’ve worked through this exercise and applied it with our team):
Start with a question
Before we break down what’s most important to focus on, we start with a strategic question so that we can get to the underlying issues that need to surface (and then we can work on them). So, for example, if your team is challenged with available resources, instead of asking, “who are we going to hire next?” we would ask, “how is the team functioning?” That way, we can then go right into each of the prompts in the lists: what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s missing, and what’s confused.
Complete the four lists
Each of the four lists will help you uncover a variety of things that your team or company needs to focus on in order to accomplish your goals. The columns work this way:
- What’s right
Always start with what’s going right. Exhaust all of the positive aspects of your current situation.
- What’s wrong
This is anything that is typically putting up roadblocks. Or it’s the stuff that is taking you way off track that you probably need to consider putting on pause.
- What’s missing
These are the opportunities you can explore, and also the things you wish you had. A lot of times we find what’s missing are things like processes, systems, and resources.
- What’s confused
This is what you’ll need to get figured out in order to move forward. It’s what requires additional info in certain places in order to proceed.
Once you’ve gone through each list, you can then map out the items that are the most important to handle in order to move the company forward. You then choose three that will become your strategic priorities for the next 90 days. Make sure the priorities you’ve selected match your goals and align with the other elements of your Focus Canvas.
As you work through building your Focus Canvas, you may have unearthed some things that have been holding your team or company back. You may have noticed some gaps in many of these simple elements. That’s okay. One of your strategic priorities could be working on resolving the holes so that you know you’re focusing on the right things. Just know that it could take a few months to fully develop your first Focus Canvas.
Once you’ve got your Focus Canvas in place, you can meet with the other teams in your company to help them understand all of these important elements. Even better, maybe those teams will be inspired to be part of building the next one, or even build one that’s specific to their team but that also aligns with the focus of the marketing department.
With the awareness of what your company is here to do, who they’re doing it for, and what’s important to do now, you’re ready to develop a strategy that aligns with all of these components. We typically build strategies that recycle and reset every 90 days (this post will help you better understand how that works). You’ll want to test whatever works best for your team and company.
Not many companies work on focus because it’s hard. It means you probably have to face some conflict and work through challenges with the people on your team and in your company. It can be tough at first, but putting in the effort to get your teams focused and aligned will make a huge impact on your company.
As you work on developing and integrating your Focus Canvas within your company, I’m happy to answer any additional questions you have. Please ping me in the comments below.
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