Marketing is one of those subjects you toss out to a group of business owners or managers much as you would a hand grenade with a three-second fuse. The response is almost identical – a short, sharp explosion followed by what seems to be an aeon of shrapnel dancing off the walls. Everyone is either an ‘expert’ or rubbishes everything said on the subject. And all the while, academics – who you have to take seriously or at least they think you should – write scholarly tomes, while the real marketers and entrepreneurs churn out ‘airport books’ that you can pick up off the seats in business-class at the end of a flight.
But it is vital to the survival and prosperity of any business enterprise that owner/managers, and the entire organisation, are well-versed in the essentials of this seemingly ‘dark art’ and keep abreast of breakthroughs (as opposed to gimmicks) as early as possible.
“Most marketing activity is a costly waste of money,” states Brian Meredith, CEO of The Marketing Bureau, and regular columnist for NZBusiness. “It is worthless in the absence of a true market-orientation. Research throughout the developed world, including New Zealand (for example, the ongoing University of Otago, Marketing Management Research programme), continues to demonstrate, beyond doubt, that market-oriented companies outperform those who are less market-oriented on a number of critical dimensions including: market share; total sales; profitability; ROI; brand awareness; customer satisfaction and customer loyalty.
“And yet, very few organisations in New Zealand can boast a true market orientation.”
Marketing, he says, is the entire business of doing business looked at from the stakeholders’ (employees, customers, shareholders, suppliers, communities, etc) point-of-view.
“They all comprise ‘The Market’. Ignore any one of these groups or get the balance wrong and your business will not achieve its full performance potential. The concepts of either shareholder sovereignty or customer sovereignty are too narrow.
“They must be replaced with Stakeholder Sovereignty.”
Meredith’s company has ‘a core philosophy which revolves around the proven reality’ that marketing is a great deal more than a set of tools, techniques or facilities.
“Marketing is a ‘state of mind’ that must exist in any organisation, if it is to, in any truly meaningful or effective way, identify and serve the needs of its various stakeholder groups,” he says. “That ‘state of mind’ ensures everything that is done, is done with the stakeholders’ wants or needs at the very top of the company’s collective minds.”
Finding the door
My favourite non-resident (Norway) ‘practical marketing’ expert, Pete Carruthers, who is widely available on the webinar circuit, should mess with any preconceptions you might be hanging onto about marketing.
“Marketing is all about getting people to knock at your door. But, there is so much hype surrounding the issue, most of us can’t find the door at all anymore,” he says.
“The marketing effort you put in today almost always gets results some way down the line. Even if you get ‘instant responses’, very often it takes weeks or months before you issue the invoice and even longer to get paid.
“I see marketing as building an infrastructure; a series of roads and bridges between your business and all the people that might one day need the product or service you provide. The secret lies in making it simple for those people to find you at the moment their need arises.
“These are strangers you don’t yet know – strangers who will become clients and friends; who will value your services enough to pay for them for years and years. But you have to ‘meet’ them first. Your marketing is the map of roads and bridges you build to help them find you easily,” Carruthers says.
Nicole Crump, owner and creator of marketing consultancy Tactix, would go along with that thinking.
“The concept of marketing is simple. It is the execution and implementation that must be strategic and well-aligned. Ignoring the many acronyms and theoretical aspects of marketing for a second, we can simply define the process as ‘what an SME does to sell its product’.
“It is everything you do to get customers to know you, like you, trust you, talk to you and ultimately buy from you.”
Crump firmly believes the ‘Four Ps’ of the marketing mix – price, place, promotion and product – are great guidelines at the planning stage, to ensure all activities are well focused.
“You must remember at all times that your customer’s perception of you becomes your reality. Ask yourself, ‘What must our business be in our customers’ minds, so they choose us over our competition?’ Remember – sameness doesn’t sell! The value of your products/services will be determined by their differentiation from your competitors.
“Clearly you can’t be everything to everybody, so focus in on one or two key differentiators. Be very clear on what makes your business unique. In other words, find your hook!
“Do this quick exercise,” Crump suggests. “Write down one thing that is unique to your company; something no one else in your industry can claim. Now raise that point with employees. If they agree, try it on customers whose opinions you value. Then build your marketing plan around it.”
Marketing plan checklist
Rachel Reynolds has “done the lot” when it comes to the marketing mix; both here and overseas. She is currently involved in a prelaunch marketing phase for Crainstorm, as it tests and refines the art of putting businesses and tertiary students together, commercially.
So what is the basis and structure of the marketing plan checklist?
“It goes without saying that a marketing plan sets out clear objectives and lists the actions you will take to achieve them,” says Reynolds. She says it must include:
• Clear guidelines on who your customers are.
• Where and how you will reach them.
• How you will win their custom and keep them happy afterwards.
“Overall, the single most important thing you should indicate in your plan is a clear understanding of your customers and competitors.”
The following are her essential components of a marketing plan:
• Overview or Executive Summary – this should briefly describe your business and the major points of your plan.
• Situation analysis – a detailed assessment of your market, your competitors, and the opportunities and challenges for your business.
• Marketing strategy – a strategy for tackling the opportunities you identified in the situation analysis section.
• Marketing tactics – the actions you will undertake to execute the strategy outlined above.
• Marketing budget – the estimated costs of implementing your marketing tactics.
• Timeline/schedule – your timeline of the marketing tactics; the ‘how and when’ you will execute them.
“Don’t forget to ensure you revisit your marketing plan regularly. Are you on target? What do you need to update or refocus on?” says Reynolds.
That aside, what she finds interesting in marketing right now is the growing trend towards highly personalised interactions between consumers and brands.
“I think that good branding is about creating an emotional connection between consumers and brands. People develop relationships with brands; they become part of people’s identities. Good branding creates an emotional connection, a relationship, a story, a culture.
“Now, that in itself isn’t anything new – it’s been around for hundreds of years – but what’s happening now is that technology and social media have added digital capabilities to the personalised marketing approach,” she says.
That would resonate with Crump. “People rarely sit and commit their attention entirely to one medium these days. We listen to the radio while we drive and take in billboards and a range of other external communications. We check emails while we read online news. We post on social media from our phones while we watch television.
“We now take brands with us to bed, when we’re out in the car, even when we go to the bathroom through mobile news sites, social media pages, in-app advertising, push alerts and emails. Clever businesses and switched-on marketing teams are making the most of these situations, particularly through the use of targeted social media,” says Crump.
Marketing is now able to engage consumers on more personal and familiar terms she says, with increased targeting and knowledge of their individual likes and habits, and in all manner of scenarios that were previously deemed ‘private’.
Sales App Centre’s marketing director, Andrew Fraser, describes this new age of personal marketing as “moving into your client’s pocket”.
“Smartphones have become an indispensable part of our daily lives (see sidebar). We have the opportunity to deal with the new, constantly-connected consumer. Now you can be in your client’s pocket, just an icon tap away.
“This represents a sea-change in how businesses should be defining their marketing strategy. There is going to be a window of opportunity for businesses that are able to take advantage of this shift to leap-frog their competition. In time everyone will be doing it; so this will be a case of the early birds getting the worm,” says Fraser.
So how do you go about it?
“It is all about two elements in particular that you must get right. Your customers have to find you and when they do, you must deliver the content they are looking for. Sounds simple, but it needs commitment.”
These are his key tactics to ‘getting found’:
Get on Google Places. This is a free service and makes it easier to find your business from a mobile phone.
Search engine optimisation (SEO). Make sure your site is optimised for good search-engine rankings. Your web company should be able to help you with this, and there are companies which specialise in this field (just ask Google).
Augment your ranking with search engine marketing. Use Google Adwords, Facebook advertising, etc. Again your web company should be able to help you here, and again there are specialists available.
Have a mobile optimised site. This is critical because if you make it difficult, people will go elsewhere (your competitor’s mobile site).
Next comes ‘content’. “With online search becoming increasingly important, just having a website is no longer good enough,” says Fraser. “So now that your potential customer has found you, what happens next?
“You must view your site through your potential customers’ eyes and answer the following.”
• What questions do they want answered?
• What problems can you really solve for them?
• How easy is it for them to understand what you offer and how they would benefit from dealing with you?
• What can you give them FREE to prove your value proposition?
• Is the conversion path well-defined?
• How well does your site present on a smartphone?
• What content will they be especially interested in – from a smartphone?
“Ultimately, you need to provide the ability for your clients to illustrate how you walk-your-talk – ‘rate me; refer me’ – as this will become an increasingly important factor in your prospects’ decision making,” says Fraser.
More marketing tips
1. Constantly review and evaluate your marketing tactics once completed to see where improvements can be made in the future.
2. Set up Google Alerts to quickly and easily follow what is being said about you in the online space.
3. Avoid ad hoc or knee-jerk marketing.
4. Focus your time, money and effort on activities that are right for your business and drive a return.
5. Ensure you are communicating with the right people by developing the right combination of tactics.
6. Start by improving your understanding of your customers.
7. Marketing never sleeps, it is about your customers and driving your business – it underpins your business success.
Source: Nicole Crump, Tactix.
Connected devices: it’s already happening
Push notifications to smartphones offer a range of opportunities to push brand to customers. Companies sponsoring live sports events, for example, have branding opportunities on the TV screen, branding and exclusive offer opportunities through the event smartphone app, and push notification opportunities to even a dormant smartphone, again through the app.
Pluk technology – connected devices recently became a little more interactive for brands with the creation of the Pluk – a kiwi made smartphone app that listens to Pluk-enabled TV and radio ads and plucks special deals and information from them to your phone.
Smart TV – hybrid devices such as Smart TVs incorporate connectivity to provide brands with unbelievable new access to consumers. Like the shirt that actor is wearing on your favourite TV show? Just hit pause and selected products on screen will show product information, which stores to find and buy; options to buy online and even discounts that push to your connected email account. This is one of many ways in which Smart TV is offering businesses the chance to market in-show as on-demand television means more and more viewers are fast forwarding through adverts.