Category Archives: Marketing Planning

3 signs your marketing isn’t working, and how to fix it

out-of-orderSo you’ve re-branded, have a fabulous website and blog, write a monthly newsletter and are active on social media. But your business seems to have plateaued and customer numbers simply refuse to show any signs of growth. Should you keep the faith and carry on, or does your marketing plan need a bit of an overhaul?

It can be hard to determine just how long it might take for your marketing campaigns to bear fruit, so keep an eye out for the signs that your plan isn’t doing its job:

You are generating leads, but none are converting to customers

First, you should congratulate yourself. You are doing something right if the leads are coming in. Chances are though, that they are the wrong leads. It sounds like you may not be in front of the right audience – if you are selling a corporate level product there’s little point networking with micro business owners for example.

Take a cold, hard look at your ‘ideal’ customer profile and make sure your marketing is aimed squarely at them. Alternatively, if you have discovered a talent for attracting an altogether different group of potential clients, can you modify your products or services to cater for that market?

You are getting new clients, but losing existing ones at the same rate

The good news is that your sales process seems to be working; if new business is flowing, that’s  a good sign. But existing customer are important too, so you need to examine why you are losing them. Do you have a retention strategy in place or are you putting all your marketing effort into new business generation?

Look carefully into the reasons you are not keeping customers – are there any customer service issues or is your product simply not meeting customer expectations – and try to fix whatever is going wrong.

You simply aren’t attracting enough new business

There could be any number of reasons why your marketing plan doesn’t seem to be doing anything much for you. Lack of budget, unclear or inconsistent marketing messages, mismatched media, incompatible pricing structure  or a combination of these problems. There’s no doubt that you have to give your campaigns time to work, but if you’ve been flogging the same strategy for sometime to no avail, isn’t it time to take a serious look inside your business?

It all comes down to knowing your customers, so go back to basics and clearly define who they are. Then match up your customer profile with the products or services you are offering; do they really solve your customers’ problems? Assuming they do, now’s the time to work out where your prospective customers  hang out and how you can get in front of them.

Once you have taken the time to work out which part of your marketing process is going wrong and tried to fix it, you are ready to develop a focused marketing plan that will really serve your business you well.





Do you need a business plan?

ID-100141327December, normally a quieter month for me, has started with a  flurry of activity from both existing clients and new contacts. It seems that everyone wants a strategic marketing plan in place for  before January.

In the past it has been a bit of a struggle persuading small business owners of the benefits of planning so this small shift is a bit of a break through. The question I am  more likely to be asked now is not; ‘do I need a plan?’ but; ‘what form should my plan take?’

It seems that many entrepreneurs are frighted that a plan will restrict them and stifle creativity. It’s an understandable concern; especially if they have been involved in the often bureaucratic and rigid planning processes undertaken in the corporate world.

I found this short video from Cranfield School of Management which I think makes several good points about business planning. In particular it advocates a mix of structured planning and actually getting out there and testing your business idea. It’s an approach that I tend to take with my clients; encouraging them to write down what they already know about their businesses, their market and competitors, their customers and so on and to think about what the information is telling them.

If you don’t have a plan and are still wondering if it is worth spending the time to produce one, I will leave you with this thought… according to research undertaken by Cranfield, writing the right business plan can improve your growth potential by 30%.

Need I say more?

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The marketing mix: why it is important to your business

If you treat marketing as being synonymous with advertising, promotions and other forms of communication then you are, almost certainly, missing a trick. This week I came across a great example of how, by taking this narrow view of marketing and ignoring some of the elements of the marketing mix, you can seriously damage your revenue.

I’m currently in the market for a coffee table. I’m looking for something quite specific; a square, light oak coffee table. Having searched online I have a rough idea of the price I’m happy to pay and what I can expect to get for my money. Armed with this information I visited a local, independently run, furniture show room to see how they matched up to the internet.

It all started quite well as I was left to browse for a while before being approached by the sales guy who asked if I was looking for something specific. Having explained my requirements to him he proceeded to show me a number of distinctly rectangular looking coffee tables, and tutting, he said: ‘ how come everyone wants square coffee tables when I only have rectangular ones’. Good question. Perhaps he should check his product range?

After this rather awkward moment, he told me that some of the ranges included a square coffee table, and we were back on track again! I chose a style I liked and he scurried off to get a brochure. We then discussed price and, whilst his first offer was more than I wanted to pay, I could see that he was up for a negotiation. I asked about delivery and he agreed to deliver free of charge, so that was another tick in the box.

Finally I asked when the coffee table could be delivered…and it all started to fall apart (again). ‘Before Christmas’, was the response I got. ‘Before Christmas’ I repeated, ‘Yes, before Christmas as opposed to after Christmas’ he said. A little dumbfounded I asked if he could be more specific. Apparently not. The result, a lost sale.

For your marketing to be successful you need to consider all the elements of the marketing mix. It’s less important which definition of the marketing mix you prefer (the 4Ps, 7Ps , 4Cs…the list goes on), just that you have a joined up approach to marketing that puts the customer at the centre.


How to keep your marketing campaigns relevant

I received a number of totally irrelevant email shots this week which got me wondering why ‘common sense’ seems to be lacking in many marketing campaigns.

The first was a fantastic buy-one-get-one-free offer on dog biscuits – great…if you own a dog that is! I am (slightly) sympathetic to this campaign as I do currently buy pet supplies from the company in question and, statistically speaking, there is a 30% chance I have a dog. Although, looking at it another way, there is a 70% chance I don’t have a dog, so why bother trying to sell me dog food without finding out first?

The second was another discount offer, this time on nursery furniture – brilliant, but 12 years too late. The third was announcing a new range of clothes for toddlers which again, was totally mis-timed. Getting the timing of a marketing campaign right can be tricky, but surely anyone can work out that whilst baby products would have been relevant to me some years ago, they aren’t now.

Companies like Tesco are masters of using transactional data to match up the right offers with the right customers, but many smaller companies simply don’t have access to mountains of data or the ability to act on it. So what can they do?

Here are a couple of common sense ideas that may help make your marketing campaigns more relevant:

  • Map your customers buying process – including the time period over which your products are likely to be relevant to your customers
  • Know your customers – a research programme or engagement through social media may help you get closer to their needs
  • Keep your data clean – it’s worth taking the time and effort to keep your customer data up to date
  • Take calculated risks – use the data that you have to make an educated guess about what additional products your customers might buy (in the pet suppliers example I’m sure the company could have narrowed my pet ownership down to a rabbit, guinea pig or other small pet).

If your marketing campaigns are relevant they are likely to be more successful and produce a better return for you. Better to spend the time planning the right campaign than irritating customers with irrelevant marketing.


Refreshing ideas

I’ve just bought a new marketing book which I am ridiculously excited about reading. It’s a weighty tome and has the feel of a text-book about it with plenty of diagrams & charts and an extremely practical sounding title: ‘Marketing Plans: how to prepare then, how to use them’.

Most of the marketing text I read these days concerns ‘new’ concepts – social media, inbound marketing, content marketing, engagement, and is often in bite-sized chunks. It is, of course, important to keep up to date with new ideas as marketing methods change so rapidly; and blogs & white papers are a  great way to gain a quick overview. What I’m looking forward to though, is an in-depth and thoroughly researched approach to marketing planning.  Marketing planning is, in my view, one of the most important aspects of any business. After all, what is the point of having a barrel full of ‘new’ marketing tactics without a proper marketing plan in place?

It’s been a while since I read such an academic looking book and now, with twenty something years of real-life marketing experience behind me, I expect it will take on a new light. The challenge for me will be to adapt the concepts in the book, which are broadly aimed at big businesses,  and make them relevant for small and medium businesses.

I’ll let you know how I get on!

Why customer experience is an important concept for your business

I normally leave marketing ‘buzz’ words at the door when I’m talking to owner managers and generally stick to jargon-free explanations. I have, however, recently found myself using the term ‘customer experience’ more and more. Why? Because, for me, it is the very essence of good marketing and a really useful concept for small business owners to embrace.

In simple terms customer experience is the sum of all the ways that customers come in contact with your product or service. It includes the moment when a potential customer first becomes aware of your product, through to buying it, using it and, hopefully recommending it to others. The benefit of looking at  customer experience as a whole – as opposed to looking at marketing, sales and customer service etc as separate entities – is that you are less likely to miss some vital part of the process.

Let me give you an example of where failing to look at the whole process turned a good customer experience bad in a matter of minutes. Here is how the story goes. I won a prize in a charity raffle a few weeks ago; it was a voucher for a new clothes shop in my high street. Having walked  passed the shop many times since it opened I decided to finally venture in. Once inside the shop I was impressed by the variety of items they stocked, the staff were friendly but not pushy and the prices represented good value. So far my customer experience was all positive. I tried a couple of things on and decided so buy one of them. I handed over my credit card and the voucher…and then the crunch came. The staff member looked suspiciously at the voucher and didn’t hide the fact she was unsure what to do with it; she called another staff member and they loudly discussed the fact that they hadn’t  seen such a voucher before. Another staff member soon joined them. Now faced with three staff members looking bemused, a queue forming behind me and feeling distinctly embarrassed, my instinct was to flee the shop never to return. Luckily common sense took over and I finally managed to make the purchase. I won’t be rushing back though and I certainly wouldn’t buy a gift voucher there!

It seems such a basic mistake to make – not communicating a promotional offer to front line staff – and unforgivable for a small company where lines of communication are short. It could have easily been avoided by simply mapping out the process and (hopefully) spotting the flaw in the plan in advance.

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Don’t waste your money on advertising

I saw an, almost perfect, advert in a local magazine the other day. So, almost perfect in fact, that I contacted the advertiser  immediately and almost purchased!

This is why I think the advert worked:

  • It had a great headline which promised to solve a problem for me
  • The text was backed up by simple and relevant images which told me, at a glance, what the service was
  • It had a strong call to action
  • It was perfectly targeted; the adverts was appropriate for the publication and was extremely relevant for the target readership
  • Not only was it relevant but it was also well timed.

So why did I only almost purchase off the back of a seemingly well thought through piece of marketing? You guessed it… lack of follow through.

I googled the company in question, sent them an email enquiry littered with buying signals …and then…heard nothing. A couple of days later I phoned the number in the advert and got the response ‘ what advert is that then love?’

Will I buy from this company? Unlikely. Don’t waste your money on advertsing, however good, if you can’t get the rest of the sales process right.

What are your business objectives?

Anyone following the current Corrie storyline? Wealthy American businessman, Milton, is trying to persuade  local businessman, Roy, to turn his humble cafe into a chain of themed restaurants. Local businessman Roy  is not keen to say the least and is happy with his business the way it is. Shortsighted or focused?

The first question I always ask a new client is: ‘why are you in business?’  And, whilst some are out to build an empire, many more have a complex mix of personal as well as financial objectives to satisfy. Only when you understand the true motivation behind the business (and this generally means the business owners or senior partners) can you give the right advice.

It is all too easy to assume that a client will be happy if you present them with a plan to grow their business when actually they are simply looking to maintain sales in a difficult market. Perhaps they are looking to spend less time in the business and need to systematise their marketing approach to help free up a few hours.

It is vitally important to be crystal clear (and honest) about your objectives to help design the most appropriate plan to meet them.

PS. I say bravo! to Roy for knowing what he wants from his business and sticking to his guns!

Market research or trial?

I have found that some small businesses are reluctant to spend time and money on market research in favour of  ‘gut feel’ and a bit of ‘trial & error’. Is there anything wrong with this approach?

Being a strategist I love market research in all its forms and feel most comfortable basing decisions on sound evidence with just a sprinkling of assumptions. Saying that, I deal in the real world of small businesses and will frequently argue the case for taking a more pragmatic approach to gaining market insight. Why spend £x on  market research when you can spend the money on a marketing campaign that could bring in business as well as providing valuable insight? In my view there is nothing wrong in undertaking a marketing campaign when you aren’t in possession of all the facts just as long as you have thought through the risks involved.

It is important to go into such campaigns with a very clear set of objectives and to evaluate the response carefully and with an open mind. I recently undertook a promotional campaign for a client with the dual objectives of winning new business and testing a number of assumptions about customer behaviour. Worst case would have been that we tested our assumptions for a fraction of the cost of a market research project; in fact the campaign  paid for itself by bringing in new business as well as providing us with much-needed market research.

I certainly would not advocate this approach when the stakes are high but, by keeping the risks to a minimum, a trial campaign can make more sense that a full-blown research project.

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Why spend time writing a marketing plan?

I’ve already read lots of ‘top tips’ for businesses in 2012  and most advocate the usual array of cost cutting, invoice chasing and ‘free’ marketing ideas. I have  also noticed a greater emphasis on planning and even the odd mention of upstream marketing (which is essentially all the research and background work that comes before the creative bits).

As a marketer who specialises in the planning phase and loves all the strategic stuff this is music to my ears.

But is it really worth spending time and effort on writing a marketing plan when you know your own business inside out? Here are just three of the key reasons why I write a marketing plan each year:

  • If it’s important, write it down – I find that simply going through the process and discipline of putting pen to paper (or more likely fingers to keyboard) really helps to clarify my thoughts
  • Gives focus –  actively thinking about what you want to achieve and how you are going to reach your targets helps give focus to your marketing activity. Having a comprehensive plan of activities saves you time and money throughout the year
  • Business review – having a clear plan to refer to makes it easier to review your progress, celebrate your successes and learn from your mistakes.

It’s tempting not to write a formal marketing plan especially if, like me, you work largely independently or marketing is just one of your many responsibilities. It is well worth investing the time though and is one of the best pieces of advice I have read for a happier and healthier business in 2012.