Why Effective Marketing is the Basis for a Successful Business -In Any Climate
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”.
Seneca, Roman dramatist, philosopher, & politician (5 BC - 65 AD)
Companies that are frantic to not only hold onto existing customers but to carve out more market share and lift revenues all share a common problem; how to achieve more with less time, fewer resources and tighter budgets. It can be done if you’re willing to understand and embrace the changes that have occurred in the marketplace.
For many sectors the last few years has seen the customer tide recede. For some companies that tide has come in, however, what it has brought with it is a new breed of customer. This customer is highly savvy, will negotiate harder and are willing to take their time shopping around and looking at their options. Like you, they’ve learnt to ask themselves harder questions. Don’t blame them for this, get on their wavelength.
The constant barrage of negative press about the GFC has seen a shift in psychology across the board. Even though many major economies are experiencing growth and companies have cash, the purse strings are tightly wound. Even with a robust relationship, your customer will increasingly view you as merely an ‘option’ if you’re not careful.
So if you’re down on your luck, stop what you’re doing, appreciate the situation and environment and start making positive changes to your thinking and approach to your branding and marketing. Marketing can be fine tuned and be forced to work as hard as possible, there’s no doubting that.
However, to start accelerating positive growth when customers are getting tougher to deal with and budgets are getting tighter, you need to start getting back to basics about how you manage your brand and the subsequent perceptions you’re building.
Opportunities exist, the question is are you properly equipped to meet them when they emerge?
Vignette: Prior to the downturn if you weren’t seen to be “marketing”, clients could perceive this to mean that you’re busy and successful as a result. The problem now is that for the companies that were actually busy and made a habit of not communicating , the perception now is that you must be struggling and a greater risk to the customer as you may not be around for the long term. Perception management is crucial regardless of market conditions.
When faced with an increasingly demanding business environment, we can exacerbate problems by trying to leverage existing platforms. Here are some examples:
Ramp up Social Media output
Triple a Google Adwords budget
Make twice as many daily cold calls
Pump out twice as much printed advertising
Making something bigger, better or brighter or devoting more time and money into a particular activity won’t necessarily yield greater results. You may find that the return on investment (ROI) simply declines.
Instead of shouting louder, the trick instead is to speak more clearly.
A fundamental shift in thinking is required if you’re going to excel in a difficult market. Every business must be in the business of marketing if it's going to thrive, which means every team member must have a responsibility and accountability in the sales process and building the brand.
There’s never been a more pertinent time to strengthen your message and determine its delivery. And by message this doesn’t simply mean a quirky tagline and new social media campaign. Your message is also derived from the quality of your products, geographic location, method of delivery, how you follow up, the language your team uses, and most importantly their behaviour.
Here’s a sobering piece of news; research from marketing group LifeLounge found that only 15% of Australians aged between 16 and 30 could recall any type of brand from a variety of advertising*.
*(Sourced from SmartCompany article What We Learned This Week: Gen Y can’t recall brands)
You can’t differentiate if you’re always on the move.
Many companies have lost sight of how to build and sustain meaningful and differentiating value. Does it mean that those companies have no unique value? Of course not, but it’s a symptom of using a shotgun approach to communications in the hope that people understand their intrinsic and valuable difference.
If you want to thrive you must decide to put a stake in the ground and become widely understood for a few key things that are seen as valuable to your client.
The same principles apply to non-profit and membership-based organisations. If there isn’t sufficient value in exchange for fees and dues, then numbers will fall. And remember that when you’re marketing a membership-based organisation, if you want to maintain and build your numbers, you have to market to your member’s customer. There’s no prestige in being a member of an unknown club.
You Need Room To Fail
Woody Allen said ‘If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative’. The fatal flaw in reducing marketing spend to save on costs is that it discourages growth. Marketing must create excitement, get attention, get people talking, get people to make the next step to engage in your sales process.
You can’t cut your way to growth. A skydiver can’t justify saving weight by not packing a reserve chute.
To grow you need to introduce new services, repackage existing services, push into new markets and expose yourself to new customer segments. You need to regularly innovate to do this. There’s always an element of risk, but if you have a sufficient budget to maintain your usual initiatives, you will have a comfortable margin for failure, but more importantly it will allow you to explore new ideas.
Brand Led Marketing: What Business Are You In?
Marketing is only as effective as the brand it represents. In the same way that you need to have room in your budget to explore new initiatives and approaches, any marketing or promotion you do must be judged carefully against your brand values and your key differentiating factors.
Don’t rush into any sort of communications initiatives unless you can articulate your brand. Part of the process of defining your brand is to specify what sort of business you’re in. The psychological effect from properly defining your business is profound.
Here are some examples;
Both operational and marketing activities (including staff actions and behaviour) can be focused to achieve the latter, for greater impact and success. Defining a business appropriately will ensure that the product or service is of value and not a price-driven commodity.
Don’t Do One Thing & Say Another
Customer service, reliability, delivering on time, returning phone calls and emails, admitting and correcting faults - none of these are revolutionary. However, I’ve seen many great companies suffer from marketing that didn’t sell the truth simply because it wasn’t deemed to be ‘sexy’. If you can’t even sell the cake, the icing is of little consequence.
Smart operators know that the people that work at the coalface have just as much power and influence in retaining business and building relationships as a dedicated marketing and sales team. Marketing teams are tasked with managing the value proposition yet are mostly unseen by customers. Sales teams are dedicated to pounding the pavement and bringing orders in, which leads everyone else to think ‘oh well, that’s not my job’. It must be everyone's job, otherwise, the reality might be that no one has a job. Teams must work together, speak the same language and be driven to identify and nurture opportunity, whenever and wherever it presents itself.
Diagnostic Selling is Key: Adjust the Psychology
Don’t ask your team to hard sell. Pushing them on sales targets with little coaching on how to achieve those targets is hard sell. Diagnostic selling required you to ask more questions than to bombard people with what you do and how you do it. One simple and powerful question to ask in any sales process is “what is the ideal outcome you’d like to experience?”
Lost Opportunity: An Example of Internal Resource Underutilisation
I’ve been very happy with the courier firm I’ve been using for a couple of years. When a driver picked up my last package I told them I needed to send a couple of packages, one interstate, the other overseas. I knew that the division I have an account with specialised in local delivery, so I asked him who I should contact about this. Not only could he not refer me to any contact within the company, he wasn’t sure which division I should call.
Many people would argue that it’s not his job, but the reality is he was wearing the company logo, so it is. The funny thing is, all this information is available from that companies website, but as I’ve stated earlier, a cause of slow growth and missed opportunity is the under utilisation of internal resources. This driver could simply be made aware of how to quickly access this information when required, instead of leaving me with ‘try the main switch and ask them’.
At the very least your team needs to be able to respond with “I don’t know, but I’ll get someone to give you a call within 90 minutes in relation to that”....
Price Wars - An Unsustainable Strategy
One of the more interesting dynamics of the downturn has been the strategy of market leaders who ‘buy’ customers and market share by dramatically reducing prices in order to break even and keep their doors open.
The perception of value will last only as long as these firms stop innovating or stop investing in attracting top talent, and subsequently hammer their team to hit revenue targets based on volume - not quality. Once this happens their brand will start to diminish, so you need to start investing in positive activities, R&D, and start making changes to ensure your brand grows to build your reputation and position.
This is where small firms can have substantial success, by sticking it where it hurts with the bigger players through quality, attention to detail and delivery. To combat this thoroughly, you need to go back to your strategy and work out why you’re in business. This differentiation is needed to determine not only where you fit in the market, but the reason customers will turn to you. Stop expecting ‘loyalty’ and work hard to ensure there’s a reason to come back.
Utilising Hidden Intellectual Capital
I can guarantee you that you have valuable hidden intellectual capital (IC) in your business. This hidden capital resides in many forms such as ideas, relationships, past successes, unique methodologies, knowledge and technology. When you work ‘in’ a business a lot of this stuff can seem negligible.
However, if you did nothing else but to audit and collate all your ‘IC’ and then promote it with clear outcomes and benefits for your clients, you’d be in the top 5% of smart marketers. What you do might not be revolutionary, but how you do it could be worth a lot of money - it’s all in the messaging.
Take Care In What You Do & What You Say
What we broadcast is what we get back in return. If nothing goes out, nothing comes in. Check the quality of your message and what it’s saying. Branding is as much about repelling as it is about attracting.
Great Website Functionality = Zero Loyalty
You must strive to ensure customers needs are catered for on your website. However what you need to remember is that good website functionality is not seen as a competitive advantage anymore by your customers - it is simply an expectation. Boasting about how well your site performs these days is akin to an air conditioner manufacturer stating that their products will function properly during warm weather - it’s considered a no-brainer.
What this means is that it's difficult to build loyalty on the web. It can certainly assist in maintaining relationships, just don’t rely on it to build them. I mention this as I witness quite a few companies wanting to focus all their energies on their online strategies and reduce their sales teams. Consider this; people forgive other people more readily than they’ll forgive a malfunctioning website.
9 Things To Do Immediately:
1. Shift your team's mindset immediately;
“We are now in the business of marketing”. Products and services are secondary to this. This means putting marketing and brand at the top of the agenda and making it clear that it’s not all about brochures, websites or branded stubby coolers, but about how to develop relationships.
2. Review and articulate your value proposition.
If you operate several divisions that have different key audiences, then you need to complete this exercise for each. Understand your firm's comparative value and the messages your marketing is sending.
3. Un-compartmentalise your sales and marketing departments.
These teams should ‘support’, but not be expected to shoulder the entire weight of brand building and sales. If it’s seen as ‘their job’ you’ll be missing opportunities.
4. Build an intelligence database.
Essentially this is your current customer database of names and contact details, with scope to add in knowledge of each customer that may lead to future a sale
5. People build brands:
Acknowledge that everyone in your business is responsible for the brand. Branding and messaging is only as effective as the people who deliver its message and most importantly, on its promise. How are they talking about your business? The larger the company the fewer people tend to know about what everyone else is doing, so manage this risk to ensure your value proposition is not confused.
6. Teach everyone how to sell using ‘diagnostic marketing’.
Simply by asking questions and being able to respond to incoming enquiries properly and efficiently
7. Reward everyone for success and appeal to self-interest.
If someone helps land a big project or order, reward everyone in your team on behalf of that team member.
8. Expectations are the backbone of building a positive company culture.
You need to devise a set of preferred actions and behaviours that are expected of everyone, regardless of role or seniority, then lead by example.
9. Training & guidance
how to obtain referrals, how to identify opportunities, learning how to sell the company (understanding the brand!), understanding how relationships are built , understanding that the company’s success at the very least means job security, moving team members from being ‘task focused’ to being more entrepreneurial (feeling at ease to suggest and talk openly with clients about improving the client's situation) ... this is a relatively simple yet highly underutilised technique.
You could say the major fast food chains perfected this a long time ago ‘would you like fries with that’. This is a highly simplistic upsell technique, but you can instill this approach in your operation. This is why your team needs to be up to speed with all products and services that you offer so they can quickly recognise how else the company can help.
Is It Easy? The short answer is no. However the upside is that if you have confidence in your competitive difference and value proposition, and your messaging and brand supports that - coupled with the right systems and knowledge you can start making waves again.
© Hamish Chadwick