What They Don’t Teach You About Marketing in Business School (But Really Should)

When you sit down to plan your marketing strategy, what do you start with? If you work from the traditional business school model, you’ll start by analyzing your target market and the competition. From there, you’ll choose to either piggyback your marketing on what’s been successful for others, or you’ll try something completely different so you stand out.

Sounds reasonable, no?

It’s also about as dry as burnt toast. Stop making toast.

Through years of studying marketing, and working (successfully) in the field, I’ve built a wealth of experience using both the piggyback and standout models. I can tell you this: all that analysis and strategizing is a lot of work just to hope you attract the right customers.

I would like you to try something new. I want you to erase everything you learned about marketing in business school. That’s right, erase it. Close your eyes and visualize a giant chalkboard eraser just wiping it all away. Done? Great!

Now consider this: instead of starting with that external analysis… why not start with an internal analysis? Why not start with yourself? Or, for a larger business, start with the heart and soul of your company?

How about starting your marketing plan by asking yourself, “How can I best serve?” “What gifts do I have that can help others?” “Why am I doing this?” Or even… “What can I do all day long that won’t feel like work?”

Imagine walking into a boardroom and instead of asking your team “Who are our customers”, you ask “Who are we?” Suddenly, you’re having a very different conversation.

It’s a conversation that puts you on the path to attracting the right kind of clients. The clients you are meant to work with. The ones who will make you excited to start each day. And the ones who will joyfully become ambassadors for your business.

At the heart of that conversation is your core values. Your core values are your starting point for creating your brand and marketing strategy.

Your core values keep you on the path that’s right for you and your business. Aligning your brand and marketing with your core values brings a sense of meaning and purpose to everything you do. It gives you authenticity.

When Honey Maid chose to include same sex couples in its now iconic tv commercial, you saw, clear as day, the values of the company. You didn’t see graham crackers. You saw the passion and purpose of the company. It sparked controversy and, sadly, probably lost them a few customers. But it also sparked the loyalty, support and devotion of a customer base that shared their passion and purpose.

That had to feel a million times better than simply selling more crackers.

How do we do that? How do we infuse ourselves into our marketing? How do we create content that reflects our core values?

Throw away the traditional flow of analyzing your audience and competition. Instead, start with yourself:

  1. 1 – Determine your core values
  2. 2 – Build your brand
  3. 3 – Create your marketing content

By starting with your core values, authentic and successful branding and content with flow much more easily.

Determining Your Core Values

Determine your 3 most important values. Or 2, or 4. Just ensure that they are clear and are the guiding principles that resonate most with your inner passion. These values will serve as the foundation for your branding and content.

My core values are to always be real, brave and fun.

These are the 3 guiding principles I rely on in building my brand and determining my marketing strategies. Whenever I create something or make a decision, I look to these 3 values and ask myself, “Does this align with my true self?”

If you struggle with determining what yours are, here are 6 steps to help you uncover your core values.

Build Your Brand

Once you’ve determined your core values, start building (or rebuilding) your brand with them as your foundation.

Start with your image – your look and feel. Think about the way you dress. If you’re all about poise and professionalism, tailored suits will probably best reflect who you are. If you’re passionate about eccentricity and individualism, wild patterns and unique accessories will show the real you. Get a vision in your mind of a wardrobe that reflects your truth.

Now apply that to your website. Since “fun” and “real” are two of my core values, I chose a vibrant fuschia for my website colour scheme and put a picture of myself, smiling joyfully, right on my homepage. It’s definitely not for everyone (and it took some bravery!), but it reflects who I am, and I’ve received amazingly positive feedback from clients (because they’re the clients who share my passion).

HubSpot provides Sales and Marketing software. Sounds dry, but if you’re familiar with the company, you know they have a lively and high energy culture. When you get to their website or Twitter profile and see the sunny orange colour scheme and dynamic logo, you instantly feel they have more to give than just software.

So instead of scouring the research on what attracts customers, consider what attracts you. Select colours and images that reflect who you are and what you have to give to the world.

Repeat that look and feel across your web properties: Twitter, LinkedIn… any web presence created for your business. This is your brand. When people see it, they will instantly feel who you are.

Create Your Content

The words that you write, the podcasts you record, the videos you post, must all radiate with your voice; your authenticity.

Think about your tagline. Did you write it thinking solely about what would appeal to clients, or if search engines would pick it up? It’s ok to think about those things and take them into account… later.

Remember your starting point: YOU. The rest is secondary.

When you create content, think first and foremost about your inner truth and values. Create from there. Tell your story, your lived experience, the wisdom you’ve gained, your purpose. Honey Maid didn’t tell a story to appeal to everyone. It told an authentic story that reflected their inner truth, and it resonated with the right audience for them.

Make adjustments for search engines, or to strengthen your call to action, but only afterwards, and only if your authentic voice is preserved. A change may get better results for a popular search term, but if that term isn’t a true reflection of you, the attention you get won’t be from the right audience – the clients or customers who believe in your purpose and share your passion.

By branding your values, by sharing your story and purpose, people who resonate with your message will be attracted to you and will come to you and your business with ease. It’s only by being consistent with your values and purpose throughout your marketing – on your website, social media, business cards – that you will attract customers you love working with, and will create a meaningful business that you love and where you truly help other people.

As Tim Cook said in his 2015 George Washington University graduation speech, “It’s about finding your values, and committing to them. It’s about finding your North Star. It’s about making choices. Some are easy. Some are hard. And some will make you question everything.”

Question everything. Question yourself. Stop making toast. Make something great. Make something… you.

Here is to you being the CEO of your life!

p.s. This article was featured in Entrepreneur.com, they just made some adjustments to the title and a bit of content :-)