“Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
That quote is so good that it’s often misattributed to Sun Tzu, military philosopher and writer of The Art of War. It tells us two important things.
Thing 1: Tactics and strategy are not the same
Thing 2: Start with strategy
Do you ever feel like you’re running just to stay in the same spot, while other people surge ahead? Somehow they’re outmaneuvering you, out competing you, seeing the big picture while you’re stuck sweating the little stuff.
What if I told you that every little action you take could make a bigger contribution?
That’s the difference strategy makes.
What’s the Difference Between Tactics and Strategy?
Strategy is the overall game plan that involves using tactics to gain specific objectives that will contribute to victory.
Photo © 2011 J. Ronald Lee, CC Attribution 3.0.
There are a lot of great posts out there about Pinterest marketing strategy and Instagram strategy, the problem is that they’re nearly all lists of tactics. A list of tactics does not a strategy make. We’re going to take a different approach here and give you everything you need to succeed – both a roadmap for a robust strategy and a ton of tactics to choose from.
Setting strategy is more essential than ever. There are just too many things that could be done, too many social networks you could be marketing on, too many marketing tactics to try; we need something to cut through the clutter and tell us what to focus on. That thing is strategy.
Part of the confusion around the difference between tactics and strategy comes from their complicated, sometimes interchangeable, relationship. Like Russian nesting dolls, every strategy contains tactics.
It may make sense from your vantage point to think of a Pinterest or Instagram strategy, but from the vantage point of your CEO, Pinterest and Instagram may seem very tactical.
If you blog or run your own business it’s likely social media feels like something you think you should be being more strategic about one day and more tactical about the next. There are no hard boundaries between tactics and strategy. You can take the strategy you’re working on today, pack it inside a bigger nesting doll tomorrow and think about it as a tactic, and that’s okay.
Why Pinterest and Instagram?
Pinterest and Instagram are two core components of a visual marketing strategy. On both social platforms you represent your brand through visuals, through photography and design. Pictures are the emotional mainline, we don’t just look at them and understand them, we feel them. Advertising agencies are crammed with designers because branding is about making customers feel something, and nothing is more effective at that than great creative, especially pictures, video and music.
Caption: This picture of a drunken New Year’s Eve from the Manchester Evening News made international headlines because it was composed like a Renaissance painting.
Pound-for-pound visual marketing packs the biggest branding punch. Social networks also have unprecedented organic reach, as well as incredible paid targeting options.
Caption:REI use their Instagram channel to provide a glimpse into the REI lifestyle.
What’s the Difference Between Pinterest and Instagram?
Instagram and Pinterest are very different from each other. Pinterest challenges us to curate our world by putting pins on boards, while Instagram offers us a glimpse of life through someone else’s eyes. Pinterest is about curating, Instagram is about vicariously experiencing. Pinterest is about sharing what you’ve created, Instagram is about sharing yourself.
They should absolutely be approached differently, yet they both feed on pictures. A visual marketing strategy should embrace each on its own terms. As marketers we need to approach every opportunity to create a visual asset (be it a photo, video, piece of design, or a watercolor painting) with both networks in mind. Combined they give us incredible access to our customers’ hearts and minds.Marketing on Pinterest = How can I make this image collectable Marketing on Instagram = How can I make this image unforgettable
How to Plan a Visual Marketing Strategy
Step 1. Decide how visual marketing will help you achieve your overall goal.
At Tailwind our mission is to empower every business to become a world-class marketer.
We make visual marketing software, so it makes sense that in trying to reach Pinterest and Instagram users we would focus some of our marketing efforts on those platforms. If we’re going to help businesses become better marketers we can start by modeling great visual marketing ourselves.
Do you believe that Pinterest and Instagram can help you achieve your goals? If so, how? Be as specific as you can. This will be the Key Performance Indicator (KPI) that you’ll use to set goals for yourself and see whether your efforts are working.Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) need to be specific and measurable indicators of progress towards your goal.
Example Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for Visual Marketing
Business Type: Influencer
Goal: Grow following
Why: The larger your following the more you can charge to promote products.
KPI: Number of followers
Business Type: Blog
Goal: Generate traffic
Why: Traffic comes to your blog which you are able to monetize through advertising
KPI: Referral traffic
Business Type: Business
Goal: Make sales
Why: Clicks from visual marketing channels convert into sales on your website
KPI: Dollar value of sales from visual marketing referrals.
Business Type: National Brand
Goal: Reach customers and non-customers
Why: Visual marketing content is designed for virality and to deepen your relationship with customers
KPI: Number of times content was seen (impressions)
I recommend you limit the number of KPIs you track for any effort to one or two, because it’s easy to get lost in data otherwise. You should check in with your KPI to see how you’re doing at least every month, and be ready to alter your tactics or your strategy, if you find what you’re doing isn’t working.
Step 2. Understand Your Customers, or Your Audience
The better you know your customers, or your audience if you’re a blogger (from here on in I’ll use customer to stand for both for eases sake), the better able you will be to understand what they need and give it to them. You will also be better able to communicate with them with words and pictures that resonate.
In some instances a social media marketer may know exactly who their customers are. Perhaps they’re on the front desk and they talk to customers all day long. In many instances they know much less about the customers than they should.
Have you ever tried to meet someone for the first time and have a conversation with them through a wall? It’s hard to communicate without any of the contextual clues we get from actually seeing someone.
If you were to talk to someone through a wall you’d find yourself making a mental picture of them because your brain needs it to make the quick judgement calls needed in conversation. Marketers who don’t know their customers build up similar mental pictures. The trouble is that they’re riddled with false assumptions. We can’t communicate impactfully without knowing our audience.
One tool that marketers use to help overcome this is the creation of Personas. A persona is a collection of traits that a group of customers have in common and that a marketer shapes into an imaginary person who works as a shorthand for the group. The marketer can then visualize that person when they communicate; be it through social media, emails, blogs or traditional advertising.
We went in depth to discuss personas with Alisa Meredith in this Tailwind Launchpad video. You’ll likely find it useful in creating your own.
In my first week at Tailwind I mocked up this draft of one of our target personas. I still have to run it by our CEO (sorry Danny!) and validate it against data, but I’ll share it here to illustrate how simple building a persona can be.
Let me know in the comments how you think this persona could be improved.
Speaking to a few imaginary customers is much less daunting than trying to speak to a faceless crowd, and much more effective, since humans instinctively craft their messages for the receiver.
Step 3. Meet Your Customers’ Needs
Now that you understand who your customers are, you need to understand what it is that they need. They’ll need a lot of things at a lot of different moments in your relationship with them, you can chart out all of these exhaustively in a customer journey map. But for now we’re just trying to understand how your customer’s needs and your visual marketing goals best align.
Here are some of the customer needs you might try to meet:
People Need to be Entertained
If your KPI is to grow your follower base then you might try to meet your tribe’s need for great content. You might try to curate your niche on Pinterest, constantly unearthing new and interesting content that you know your tribe will love. On Instagram you might consistently make them laugh, or drool, or inspire them.
People Need to Learn
If your KPI is to drive business-to-business sales through your blog then you might try to meet your customers’ need for information by seeding Pinterest with Search Engine Optimized Pins that promise to teach people something valuable they would like to learn. Once they arrive on your site you might offer a permission asset, like a white paper, to try to capture their email and start a relationship with them.
People Need to Find Products
People Need to Connect
If your KPI is to improve the presence of your brand then you might invest in creating content that will surprise and delight your customers, whilst portraying your brand in a positive light. You know your tribe and what will make them laugh, what will make them say – that brand just gets me. Visual marketing can be at once authentic and emotionally impactful, making it a natural fit for brands that want to sell an aspirational lifestyle. The rise in popularity of video marketing on Instagram is due in large part to people’s desire for a closer connection.Meet your customer's needs to be entertained, to learn, to discover or to connect.
4. Understand Your Audience’s Frame of Mind
One important question to ask before you take the trouble to set a visual marketing strategy is – do my potential customers spend time on Pinterest or Instagram?
If the answer is yes, the next question is – at what stage in the buying funnel are they when they use these networks? Are they at the top of the funnel learning about the space you inhabit? Are they in the middle of the funnel discovering functionality they may need, or developing a preference from their consideration set? Or are they closer to the bottom of the funnel thinking about price and purchase? Are they already your customers and you’re just looking to deepen your relationship?
This will inform the kind of content you use to reach them (original, crowd-sourced, re-shared, targeted, viral), and the kinds of actions you’ll try to get them to take (follow, like, reshare, comment, click).
Are they on the network but in the wrong mind-frame? For instance are you trying to sell to business-to-business, but those business people only Pin or Gram for pleasure at night, while at home on the couch.
5. Be Different
So you’ve got a great idea about the unique value you’re going to bring to your customers through your visual marketing channels. Are you sure it’s unique? Best make sure.
Take a look at your competitors, what are they doing? Has one of them already nailed providing that kind of value? Is there enough space for a late-comer with the same strategy? Are there meaningful ways in which you could differentiate (be different)? If you don’t think that you could do it significantly better, then don’t do it. Do we need another funny fast food chain restaurant when Taco Bell have it sewn up?
One concept popular in the tech industry is 10x. The idea is that in order for something to be worth doing, your version of it should be 10x, or ten times, better than what is already available. You can see this kind of thinking in every new Apple Product launch.
10x content makes sure that people sit up and take notice of what you do because you’ll be providing massive incremental value. It also creates a barrier to entry for competitors who will think twice before trying to emulate you. Improving on anything that is 10x is difficult and time-consuming.
I love Venn Diagrams
Seth Godin believes that we are all weird. One way in which I’m weird is in my passion for Venn Diagrams like the one below. We all have an intersection of interests that make us atypical. The internet allows us to find other weirdos like us and form tribes.
I find Venn diagrams useful when conceptualizing what void my content will fill in my customers’ lives. What niche of intersecting interests exists today with no content to fill it? Would that content really make my tribe happy?
Try creating content for your specific brand of weirdo – for your tribe. It may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but if you understand your audience well enough, they’ll love you for it.
Ian Lurie’s Weird, Useful, Significant conference talk delves deeper into this idea.
6. Leverage Tactics
Now that you understand your goals, your customers, their needs, and how all of these things come together in your visual marketing strategy. It’s time to fill in the tactics. Now that you know what you want to achieve you can focus your time on the tactics that will really get you there.
You’ll find there are no shortage of tactics available to make you more effective on Pinterest and Instagram. Here are some of our favorites at Tailwind.
Epic List of Pinterest Tactics
Increase Engagement, Virality and Reach
- Optimize your Pin descriptions and use keywords (Pinterest SEO)
- Engage with community groups and group boards
- Ride the wave of current visual trends
Increase Website Traffic and Conversions (Sales)
Epic List of Instagram Tactics
- Optimize your Instagram profile
- Follow selected other accounts
- Promote your Instagram presence on other channels
- Reach out to your influential followers
- Consider sponsored posts and Instagram takeovers
Increase Engagement, Virality and Reach
- Develop a winning Instagram hashtag strategy
- Take awesome original photos
- Use the best hashtags, but don’t spam them
- Write a great caption that isn’t too short
- Tag people in your posts, ask users to “tag a friend”
- Create an Instagram style guide
- Use Instagram analytics to see what’s working
- Engage with community groups
- Install a “Gram It” button on your website
- Use a pleasing aspect ratio (doesn’t have to be square anymore)
- Understand current photography trends
- Use filters, Lux and creative tools that your audience respond to
- Monitor hashtags and brand mentions
- Leverage user generated content, embed and like their photos
- Mention influencers
- Tell your brand story, give behind-the-scenes access
- Create a branded hashtag
- Geotag posts (add a photo map)
- Share exclusive content or behind the scenes content
- Use Facebook’s Instagram integration to reach a wider audience
- Partner with other brands
- Ask questions
- Schedule your Instagram posts to maximize engagement
- Use Instagram video
- Get featured on the Instagram Explore Tab
- Use the right emojis at the right time
- Cross-promote your partners
- Use Instagram post notifications
Increase Website Traffic and Conversions (Sales)
- Track your traffic with a customized link shortner
- Use your bio link to send users to a custom landing page
- Capture emails from links on Instagram using custom landing pages
I’d like this list to be exhaustive and I know it’s not there yet.
If you know of other tactics that should be on this list please add them to the comments feed or email me – david at tailwindapp dot com. If they’re good enough I’ll include them. Feel free to send links to resources that explain them too.
7. Planning an Efficient Visual Marketing Editorial Flow
And so we return to those Russian nesting dolls of strategy and tactics. In order for you to optimize your editorial flow, to make the creation of content as time-efficient as possible, you need to take your visual marketing hat off and put on your content marketing hat on. You need the bigger picture.
You need a united editorial calendar. Ideally you have an idea for a killer piece of content and you can support that content with copy, visual assets, social posts, video and even permission assets designed to capture emails. Rather than building hundreds of unrelated pieces of content, you can save time and be more efficient by building packages of content that include all of these assets in a way that they reinforce each other. Each piece contributes to the whole and helps drive traffic from the social network it was designed to be distributed on. That’s good content chunking.
The post you’re reading right now is just such a package. It contains:
- A blog post
- Pinnable images
- Youtube video
- A video permission asset (A Launchpad training video)
- A list (that can be made into Twitter/Instagram cards)
- Click to tweet phrases
I also built, but you can’t see:
- Instagram images
- Facebook posts
And the key here is that I built them together, at the same time, as one package. Meaning I spent less time doing it because there are natural efficiencies to repeating the same task multiple times (resizing/redesigning images for instance), and the resulting output all has a running theme, it’s mutually reinforcing.
8. Establishing an Aesthetic for your Visual Marketing
Establishing an aesthetic is a crucial step in the creation of your visual marketing strategy. What kind of aesthetic, what colors, tones, textures, imagery, fonts and photography match your brand, complement its voice and work on the sensibilities of your target customer personas? This topic absolutely deserves its own blog post, or series of blog posts. There will be more to come on this from the Tailwind blog in the near future.
But here’s an example of a direction we could take – original photography taken in our office with subtle branding, bright colors and a sense of humor.
Publishing can get pretty complicated, especially if you’re doing it across multiple social networks, or if you’re trying to do a lot of it. That’s where Tailwind’s scheduling tool for Pinterest and Instagram come in handy, potentially saving you hours every week whilst making sure you’re publishing at the best possible times.
As with any creative endeavor, you’re not going to get it right first time. At best you’ll get closer to the right strategy. But since the right strategy will make every tactic you leverage, everything you do, more effective, even a small step in right direction has the power to dramatically improve your results.
Tailwind was founded on the principles of the Lean Startup. A foundation of continuous iteration, of doing and learning from doing and then doing better, all in a quick and endless succession. Sounds exhausting. Well, we find it kinda exhilarating, and we recommend it.
Watch your KPIs and keep trying to get better. The worst that can happen is you’ll learn what not to do.
David is Tailwind’s Director of Marketing and Growth. He is a former journalist who wrote for The Times and The Financial Times, a marketing agency co-founder, founder of Confluence digital marketing conference, father of two, and early morning writer. He grew up on The Isle of Wight in England and lives in Oklahoma City.