In today's complicated and increasingly cluttered and noisy world it's become mission-critical that marketers understand that how, when, and where you reach your prospects (and existing customers) is at least as important as the content of your message. In fact, the context in which your message is transmitted and received is more important than the construction, creativity, and even the contents of the message.

I call this idea "Smart Reach." Smart Reach is all about the need to deliver engaging, demonstrably relevant, content to your target at exactly the right time(s) and place(s).  

How do you do that? Here's an initial hint: It's not just about "different strokes for different folks"; it's about fashioning radically and consistently different messages to be directed at the same folks depending entirely on the times, places, and contexts in which you're attempting to reach them.

Re-Allocate Your Resources

To do this right you need an entirely new formula: You should be spending no more than 25 to 30 percent of your time and energy creating new content. The rest of your resources should be focused on planning, channel selection, distribution strategies, and real-time measurement of results so you can course correct and better shape your campaign as it rolls out.

It doesn't matter whether your content (or offers, incentives, etc.) is the coolest unless it reaches the right audiences. And, because content (in and of itself) isn't laser-sighted or heat-seeking, it's gonna need serious help. It can't get the job done without planning, positioning, and an aggressive and focused push from you to help break through the channel clutter and reach the customer.

A staggering number of folks who you'd think were otherwise fairly intelligent don't seem to realize that their literal competitors (the sales folks and businesses who are out there competing every day for market share in the same sectors and industries) are only a relatively small part of the problem. You don't get to compete for the sale until you win the constant competition for the consumer's attention.

In competing for the customer's attention the list of distractions, obstructions, barriers, and filters continues to grow longer every day. You're up against family, friends, breaking news, sports, music, medical issues, travel, charities, every kind of media, and even sleep-deprivation. It's hard to sell new shoes to someone who's taking a nap.

How to Develop a Great Plan

That's why you can't afford to get these things almost right. Today, as always, “almost” only counts in horseshoes and love, not in the marketplace. And almost everything is easier to get into than out of, so it's critical to get off on the right foot with the right focus. There's too much money involved, the stakes are far too high, and the consequences if you misfire or waste your ammunition with poorly timed or poorly placed salvos are dire. They don't beat you, they just send you home and give the prize to someone else.

I recognize that there's no simple solution or crystal ball to tell you in every case (or even in any case) what the exact right approach should be; that will be a determination that you'll have to make on the fly and over and over again. All I know for sure is that one size or one approach will never fit every case.

Let me give you one idea and a few questions to think about as you analyze your own programs, because I think they will give you a new perspective on the problem. The idea is very simple and time-tested: You want to be there when the customer wants to buy what you're selling, because that's the only time that matters and it's a short window that opens and shuts in a snap.

But because you can't really read their minds (yet), you need to settle for the next best thing: Smart Reach. To get there, think about (a) where you want to engage your targets, (b) what they will be doing when you do, and (c) why that's the best possible time for you to make your pitch to them. Then figure out how to get your message in front of them: at that time, in that place, and in the context of what they're doing. Reach me at the right time and I'm all yours. Reach me at the wrong time, or interfere with or interrupt something that I'm doing and which I regard as more important at the moment, or get in the way of my friends or family or even my work and you've just wasted my precious time--and your scarce and now wasted money. 

Context is king.