Over the last week, I’ve been supporting a number of clients with their business growth plans. And no matter how good or unique their product or service, a fundamental success factor is how to get to market and engage effectively with prospective customers over the long term.
So, before you go ahead and spend a lot of time and money developing that new website, new marketing material, a campaign launch or planning which events and Expo’s to attend, make sure you spend time to create a plan. Be sure to do your homework to gain value and a return on investment as a result of your efforts.
How to navigate the roadmap
1. Stand in your customer’s shoes!
Why do your customers (or potential customers) want to buy your product or service? Why will they choose your business to buy from rather than your competitors? What value do our customers obtain? What solution are you providing to their needs? What exactly are you selling?
The last question sounds obvious, but have you really thought about what you’re selling? For example, accountants and professional services obviously provide advice; but what they’re really selling is compliance, sharing knowledge, experience and giving “peace of mind”. Cafés offer cake and coffee, but value may be offered to their customers by means of a great place to meet friends in a comfortable and relaxing environment, perhaps an environment that inspires. Sally Fielding has often been heard to say that her Cumbrian company, Sally’s Cottages, aren’t just selling self-catering accommodation; they’re actually selling dreams and creating memories for their customers. Black & Decker, famously understood that’s it’s “the ability to put a hole in the wall” easily, not the drill itself that they are selling. Harley Davidson really sell a sense of belonging, freedom and ‘image’ to customers who buy their motorbikes or branded merchandise.
2. Who is your target market?
The chances are 80% of your customers will have some things in common in terms of demographics, lifestyle, behaviours, age profile, gender, business sector, business challenges or requirements. Do you know what these common key attributes are for your customers? Sketch out some information about each customer and you will probably start to find common denominators. Then figure out which of those customers are most profitable and who else is similar that you want to do business with. These are your key target prospects.
Taking it a step further – and something I would thoroughly recommend doing – is to turn each of your customers into a semi-fictious persona (known as a buyer persona). Think about a persona that might embody all the key characteristics of your target market and give him/her a name. When you next plan any marketing activity, ask yourself and your team how your buyer personas would react to any marketing messages or decisions. This is a great way to focus minds of the fact that your customers should be at the centre of everything you do. I have known companies with cardboard cut outs and having a seat a their board table for their buyer persona!
3. How best can your target market engage with you?
In case you hadn’t noticed, marketing and communications have shifted significantly with the introduction of digital technologies such as social media. Rather than attempting to sledgehammer customers into buying from us, brands are now using inbound marketing, which can be more likened to a magnet (pull) than a sledgehammer (push).
What this means is that businesses need to be far more sophisticated and transparent in their approach to communicating with customers. Your business needs to want to actively engage with customers in a two-way conversation. This is where your understanding of your customers comes to the fore, as you need to understand what will encourage them to engage. Perhaps you need to deliver your milennial customers with an app to buy your products? Your customer who spends hours on end browsing the internet might be interested in understanding the processes used to create your products by means of a blog or a video? Digital technology has created a significant opportunity to engage with your customers that you need to take advantage of.
To demonstrate that point, Facebook posted their quarterly business results on 26 July: $3.89bn profit in the last 3 months, up 79% on the same period in 2016. There are 2bn worldwide Facebook users and 89% of revenue is generated through mobile video news feed advertising. Facebook combined with google now take 99% of all online advertising spent in $’s. There’s a good reason why advertisers are flocking to these companies.
4. Establish an annual marketing budget
A good rule of thumb is to allocate between 9 and 13% of your forecast annual turnover to your marketing budget. If you’re launching a new product range or you require a big marketing push, then go for the higher 13%. If you’re just planning to tick over with ‘business as usual’, then consider the 9 to 10% range.
5. Develop a strategy
Points 1 to 4 were the easy part… Now you’ve reached the point where you need to have an effective marketing, communications and sales strategy. How will your target market find about your business and/or products? What does their customer journey look like? Which communication channels do you need to utilise at eachs stage of your customer’s journey? What do you want your marketing efforts to achieve? Set yourself some realistic and timebound objectives.
This is where I would recommend bringing in specialist external support; no matter your own experience or success in the past, investing in someone external will add value to your business in the long term.
Invest in the long term too, and drip feed regularly rather than being erratic in marketing. It can take as many as 15 to 20 touch points before you can generate an enquiry from a cold lead.
6. Measure and analyse to gain insights
An initial part of your strategy will be to decide how and what you’re going to measure. e.g. How long have you had that magazine advert running? What’s been the cost to date? What has that advert returned (ROI)? How many enquiries and actual sales can be attributed to this marketing activity? If it’s not effective, then cancel it! Measure response rates, use analytics, constantly review and adjust your campaigns according to where the highest engagement comes from.
Don’t try to measure everything or you’ll create a job for yourself as a data analyst instead of focussing on developing your business. Single out the key metrics that you need to measure the effectiveness of your marketing communications, such as ROI, click-thru rates, conversion rates, new vs returning website visitors, etc. Most social media comes with free analytics (or ‘insight’) functionality and always make sure that you install analytics software to your website (Google Analytics is free and is used by most marketers).
Once you have defined how to gather your key metrics, there are plenty of digital apps that will turn your data into meaningful and attractive dashboards and charts that you can then share with the board, your staff and even your clients.
7. Involve your employees and stakeholders
There are multiple benefits in involving your staff, suppliers and even customers on the success (or otherwise) of your marketing efforts. Everyone will have a different perspective and alternative points of view to bring to the discussion. Share your research data and get insights to why you getting these buying habits and behaviours. This is where your marketing really comes alive!
8. Keep an eye on your competition
Establish a marketing information system (MKIS) to regularly review and react to your competitors’ activities. Think of marketing like a game of chess: you have a goal that requires a mixture of static and emerging strategies incorporating a range of tactics to prevail and beat your opponent.
9. Regularly review and adapt
If your marketing efforts are successful, there’s a good chance that your competitors (both existing and new to your market) will copy your methods. This means that you can’t stand still; in fact, complacency in having achieved your goals is often the biggest danger in business.
“A rolling stone gathers no moss”
So – Step out of your comfort zone and don’t be afraid to try something new. You will learn, develop and improve your business not just from successes but also from your failures.
“Times and conditions change so rapidly that we must keep our aim constantly focused on the future”. Walt Disney