I never drive anywhere without my trusty satnav these days – mainly because my sense of direction is non-existent. Last week, however, it took me 20 miles out of my way just to make a 3 minute time-saving. Technically it made the right decision of course, I had after all programmed it to take the quickest route rather than the shortest route. But the decision could obviously have benefited from a little intuition or, as some would say, I should have looked at a map!
Whilst some small business owners take rather too many decisions based purely on their ‘gut feel’, instinct in business should rarely be ignored. The chances are that if you have been in business for any length of time you will know a lot about your customers, your competitors and obviously, your products and services.
The key is to test your instincts and make decisions based on hard evidence with a healthy measure of ‘gut feel’ thrown in. It’s important to write down the results of your tests too so that you can develop and build on what has worked and modify what hasn’t.
Don’t allow your knowledge and experience in your business sector to close off opportunities though. Remain open-minded to new ideas and ways of working. At all costs avoid uttering that well-worn phrase ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ or ‘we’ve tried that and it didn’t work for us’ as this can simply stifle creativity.
There is no doubt that with the ever-increasing pace of change, particularly in the field of technology, it can be tempting to jump on every marketing band wagon going. Or to simply stick your head in the sand and think that change won’t affect your business. Somehow though you need to navigate a path between the two positions.In marketing terms that sometimes means going back to basics; simply mapping out your business objectives, target audiences and key messages. By paring down your business to the simple ideas you started with you will probably find that things become a whole lot clearer. Suddenly you can see why your social media campaign isn’t working and understand why a mobile app really is going to make a difference to your business.
There’s no shortage of people happy to tell you what you should be doing; listen by all means but add your own good measure of instinct when you are deciding what’s right for your business.
December, 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?
Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
I’m lucky in that, despite working mainly with SMEs, I am able to keep in touch with new marketing concepts and big ideas in the corporate world through my connections with Cranfield School of Management. The challenge is to translate the theory and new thinking into practical actions that smaller businesses can really benefit from.
I’ve noticed that those business’s that really embrace new ideas and are keen to try different approaches tend to progress more quickly towards their goals. By contrast, those that use lack of time or money as an excuse for not breaking the mould tend to move more slowly.
Granted, it’s not always easy to decide to throw your marketing budget, however limited, at new marketing techniques and it often feels safer to stick to tried and tested methods even when they don’t work particularly well. Far from being defeated though, some businesses simply thrive on finding creative solutions to stretch their budgets. What seems to set these companies apart is their willingness to think, and act, like big businesses. They are by no means reckless, more they are prepared to make tough choices and decisions to get to where they want to be.
The others? Well, they may be happy to plod along doing OK whilst never quite reaching their potential, but they will never be the big businesses of the future.
I heard on the news this week that a staggering amount of gas, equivalent to one-third of the consumption of the EU each year, is simply being burnt off as a waste product of oil drilling. Clearly there isn’t a straight forward solution to this monumental waste or someone would have thought of it already, but it did make me think about the marketing resources that are potentially being squandered by businesses.
In an age where we are all looking to generate free and low-cost marketing, how many of us have looked to the underutilised marketing assets we already own?
Here are just a few examples of marketing assets that may exist in your business and that you could be using more effectively:
- Awards and memberships – if you have won an award or are a member of a professional body are you telling your customer and potential customers about it? By simply placing an award logo on your email sign off, website, LinkedIn profile, letterhead, business cards, online brochures etc you are demonstrating your credibility
- Client testimonials – if, like me, you have a collection of testimonials and case studies gathering dust, you should be using them wherever possible to woo potential clients
- Blog posts, white papers and top tips – you will be surprised what content most companies have that can be re-purposed. You will have to do a little work here as it’s important that you don’t simply regurgitate the same content across different platforms. Can you turn a blog post into several Facebook posts or enhanced it to form a white paper, an e-book or an infographic?
- Your existing clients and employees – these guys should be your biggest advocates so how can you encourage them to recommend you? Again, this won’t happen on its own, a little effort is needed; but happy customers can be a huge untapped asset
- Your marketing strategy – are you spending your marketing budget on the right activities? No amount of tweaking around the edges is substitute for thorough research, rigorous planning, measurement and evaluation.
What marketing assets do you have lying around that you could use?
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!
I was with a client last week brainstorming low-cost marketing ideas when I stumbled across the fact that they had a long-standing sponsorship arrangement with a local golf club. I use the term ‘sponsorship’ loosely; it actually consisted of a rather faded board with a logo on it somewhere around the course. Clearly there was potential to make much more of the arrangement and, by the end of the discussion, we had come up with an exciting plan to really leverage the deal.
Like any other tactical marketing activity, the use of sponsorship must fit into, and work with, your overall strategy. It must, of course, be relevant; there is probably no point sponsoring a basketball team if your target market is mum’s with pre-school aged children for example.
Another key element to a good sponsorship arrangement is the opportunity for ‘activation’. Simply put, activation refers to how you use the elements of your sponsorship deal beyond simply slapping a logo on a sports kit or putting up a billboard at a venue. It is imperative that you put time and money into developing an activation plan to get the best out of your sponsorship opportunity.
There are no end of creative ways to activate your sponsorship deal; here are just a few to think about:
- PR – make sure that you take advantage of every opportunity to create a positive association between your brand and the team/individual or event that you are sponsoring. Include online media such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs as well as the more traditional methods.
- Sales promotions – can you offer free samples or special offers to supporters and participants via a database, e-newsletter or fanzine?
- Hospitality – reward loyal customers, staff or potential new customers with VIP tickets to events.
- Signage/logo placement – create positive awareness and reinforcement of your brand among your target market.
- Marketing campaigns – develop marketing campaigns around your sponsorship to gain maximum value.
When most people think about sponsorship they imagine big brands and even bigger bucks. I believe that, with a great deal of focus and a good measure of creativity and commitment, small businesses can implement sponsorship arrangements that can be highly effective in building awareness.
On a recent trip to Paris I was staggered to discover the huge variation in the price of a humble cup of tea. Who would have thought that a pot of boiling water and a handful of tea leaves could command a price of almost 5 Euros?
What pricing strategy are Parisienne restauranteurs and bar owners subscribing to? Is it simply the obvious ‘rip off the tourist’ strategy or something altogether more sophisticated?
I was particularly taken by one establishment that displayed no less than three separate prices for a cup of tea. The price got progressively higher the closer you sat to the main road. To enjoy your beverage taking in the full ‘Parisienne pavement experience’ you could pay almost twice as much as sipping your tea at the bar. I have to admit to being impressed by the use of micro location as a price differentiator; clearly Parisienne restauranteurs know their customer base well and are cleverly commanding a premium price for a commodity product.
Secretly though I was pleased that it was a cold day; I was more than happy to sit at the bar and take advantage of the minimum price of a cup of tea. Now, perhaps if they really thought it through they would take their pricing strategy to a whole new level by reversing the structure on a cold rainy day. Or perhaps there aren’t that many sad British tourists who can’t survive more than an hour without a cup of Rosy Lee, to make using the weather as a pricing factor worth while!
You’ll find more in-depth information on pricing strategy at thepricingjournal.com or get in touch if you’d like to discuss your pricing strategy over a cup of tea!
Recently I have had a number of conversations with business owners who are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain a reasonable rate for the service they offer. They report that more and more contracts are being won or lost on price. Yet others seem to have no problem earning what they are worth.
Sure, we are in pretty tough economic times and price will always play its part in business decisions. In my experience though, price is rarely the most important factor when it comes to a clients list of requirements. If you find yourself having to discount heavily to win business here are some of the questions you should be asking yourself:
- Are you attracting the right target market? Can your particular market segment afford the service you offer or do you need to look at new segments?
- Are you providing value for money? How much value can you add to your client and what is the net benefit of using your services?
- Are you communicating the value of the service that you offer? Are you focussing too heavily on the price you charge at the expense of the benefits you are offering?
- Is price the real reason you are not winning business or is there something more fundamental, like your service level, holding you back?
- Do you discount as a matter or policy? Discounting can give a client the impression and you don’t think your services are worth the full price.
It may be worth taking a closer look at your business model before blaming the fact that you can’t charge what you would like on the economic climate.
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!