Strategizing for startups

How to think before you act when it comes to marketing for your company

The concept is simple: Think before you act in marketing. Getty images

If there were a joke about how entrepreneurs treat their marketing — and there totally isn't — it would go something like this.

An entrepreneur walks into a bar. Before the bartender can ask, the entrepreneur says, "I want a drink and I need it ASAP."

"What type of drink?", the bartender asks, motioning to the hundreds of bottles behind him.

"I need a drink that is refreshing, doesn't make me too drunk and makes me feel like I'm getting my money's worth."

The bartender begins listing drink after drink, and the entrepreneur, sometimes sampling the drink, turns each one down.

At long last, the entrepreneur climbs behind the bar, grabs a glass, pours in some ice and soda water, and takes a long sip.

"This is exactly what I wanted," the entrepreneur proclaims, "Why didn't you offer me this in the first place?"

The moral of the story? When it comes to marketing, entrepreneurs tend to know exactly what they want, yet they focus on quenching that immediate thirst, not knowing why they're in a bar in the first place.

The idea of your first step is nothing compared to the reality of your second. You can know something but applying those principles to starting and/or running your own business can be difficult.

When we (yes, I'm an entrepreneur too) look at marketing, we often confuse tactics with strategy. I see a problem and immediately need a tool to fix it. Hanging a picture? Where's the hammer?!

While it's tempting to lead with the tactics (i.e. website, brochure, display ad, video, etc.), they can be misguided. This can drain precious resources. Strategy can inject purpose into everyone's mindset.

Marketing efforts must be considered a sequence of events that, when lined up in the right order, produce results that are repeatable, more effective, and can lead to a predictable type of profitability.

Where careers rise and fall is the accuracy of any particular strategy. Since we're talking about accuracy, let's use an archery metaphor. Sure, you can consistently hit a target from five feet away. The farther away you get, though, the more you have to consider crosswind, the arrow's trajectory, and your own focus in order to hit that bullseye. And that's all part of a process of whittling down the variables you don't know or can't control.

It's the same with marketing. The more time you've spent preparing, studying, testing, and strategizing, the more often you will accurately target that bullseye.

Where a lot of entrepreneurs also miss the mark is not clearly understanding the core business issue. If you're lost in the forest (and it can totally feel like that sometimes), you're supposed to be quiet when hunting for food but you supposed to make a lot of noise when trying to get rescued. That's what mixing up a core business issue can do. As a process where you're whittling down the variables, marketing is a sequence, like this:

Graphic from Jarred King

Seems simple enough, right? But the process itself is dependent on the intangible pieces in between the steps. This is what happens between the "knowing" and the "doing." So, the above graph should really flow like this:

Graphic from Jarred King

Usually, the typical entrepreneur prefers to start with step four and just "get sh*t done." The problem with this approach is that it can either be the wrong solution (you're hunting with a rock instead of an arrow) or the wrong effort (you're staying quiet when you should be hollering).

The difficulty here is that the desired effect doesn't happen overnight. It rarely solves "today's problems" today. Even worse, it might require a larger investment. Without fundamentally understanding your business problem, any solution offered will be less effective, more expensive, and more wasteful of time and resources.

Instead, simply start with the business problem and then follow the above sequence to leverage "the doing" part in order to develop "the knowing" part. This doesn't have to be a drawn-out process, and there are a ton of free resources available online to help conduct your own research, analysis, and planning.

Ultimately, I'm saying "think before you act." It's not difficult to understand. The challenge for entrepreneurs is that they are faced with hundreds of important and, often, business-critical decisions each day. We can't help but to react, then decide, and move on. While our gut and grit got us to this point of success, it's strategy that will take us from surviving to thriving.

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Jarred King is the founder and president of Swagger Agency, a full-service marketing firm as well as the current president of Entrepreneurs' Organization - Houston. King also serves on the board of InnovationMap.

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Building Houston

 
 

A new report finds Houston a top city for business friendliness and connectivity. Photo via Getty Images

Houston, the future looks bright.

A new study from the fDi Intelligence division of the Financial Times places Houston at No. 7 among the top major cities of the future for 2021-22 across North, South, and Central America. Among major cities in the Americas, Houston appears at No. 3 for business friendliness and No. 4 for connectivity.

"Houston is known as one of the youngest, fastest-growing, and most diverse cities anywhere in the world. I am thrilled that we continue to be recognized for our thriving innovation ecosystem," Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner is quoted as saying in the fDi study.

Toronto leads the 2021-22 list of the top major cities in the Americas, followed by San Francisco, Montreal, Chicago, and Boston.

The rankings are based on data in five categories:

  • Economic potential
  • Business friendliness
  • Human capital and lifestyle
  • Cost effectiveness
  • Connectivity

Houston's no stranger to the list. Last year, the city ranked No. 3 on the same study, and in 2019, claimed the No. 5 spot.

"The fact that Houston consistently ranks among the top markets for foreign direct investment speaks to our region's connectivity and business-friendly environment," says Susan Davenport, chief economic development officer at the Greater Houston Partnership. "Many of the industry sectors we target for expansion and relocation in Houston are global in nature — from energy 2.0 and life sciences to aerospace and digital tech. The infrastructure and diverse workforce that make these prime growth sectors for us among domestic players are equally attractive to international companies looking to establish or strengthen ties in the Americas."

International trade is a cornerstone of the Houston area's economy. In 2020, the region recorded $129.5 billion in exports, according to the Greater Houston Partnership. China ranked as the region's top trading partner last year, followed by Mexico, Brazil, Korea, Germany, the Netherlands, India, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Italy.

Houston's role as a hub for foreign trade and international business "is likely to support the region's economic recovery in the months and years ahead," the partnership noted in May.

"We talk often of Houston as a great global city — one that competes with the likes of London, Tokyo, São Paulo, and Beijing. But that's only possible because of our infrastructure — namely our port — and our connections around the world," Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the partnership, said last month. "Houston's ties abroad remain strong."

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