On our travels, we have worked with a variety of businesses – but it’s the same mistakes that keep coming up, time and time and again. These mistakes can cost a company dearly, either by causing missed opportunities or directly damaging the success of the business – so we thought we would list them for you, and learn to stop making them.
We all do it. We know that planning is sensible, but we sometimes can’t stop ourselves. We jump straight in and, before we know it, we find that we’re over-extended, over-budget and not achieving what we set out to do. But why do we do it? In our experience the reason to leap before you look is typically one of the following:
A sudden loss
When you suddenly realise that a competitor is making inroads into your marketshare, you have to do something. But the answer should of course be a considered one. This realisation usually comes in the form of a single, significant customer defection. That big regular order that you’ve come to rely on, or that big retained customer who emails you to explain that, after years of loyal custom, they have no choice but to switch to your deadliest rival. It is easy to take this out of context and believe it to be part of a general downward trend (equally, it may be part of a genuine downward trend), but it is often followed by a knee-jerk reaction. Typically the business owner assumes that the lost customer has to be replaced by new customers – and to do that we need to “get out there and show them what we can do”. Marketing gets some extra budget and there is a headlong rush to spend it. Often hastily and unwisely.
A shiny new bauble
Every year the industry media talks about the latest ‘thing’. It might be a piece of technology, a new marketing ‘technique’ or (more often than not) something that has been happening for a while but has recently been given a new name. Either way, the danger with the shiny new bauble syndrome is that it is always portrayed (by industry commentators, magazines and bloggers) as a MUST-HAVE. Do it or die. Their reason for this standpoint is not because it’s true, but because it serves their purposes to sensationalise. The magazine cover that says: “Social media: why businesses need to get online or die” is going to get attention. The one that says that “Social media is quite useful for business in the long run” is not going to fly off the shelves. Of course, we are used to this, and we trust ourselves to filter the news and make our own decisions. But every so often, there is a temptation to rush in to adopt the latest, greatest marketing fad. The sound advice is to carefully weigh up the options, think about it, and even to let other people make the first move (and the first mistakes). As we know, the tortoise always wins out over the hare.
Creating a market is the most basic part of business. For a market to exist, you need someone selling a product or service, and someone else willing to buy it at a given price. And marketing, broadly speaking, is the management process responsible for making that happen. As the Chartered Institute of Marketing puts it, marketing is about “profitably identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer needs”. Of course there are other disciplines involved, but marketing should be the organising function that helps other departments (product development, sales etc) work in the right direction.
Marketers control the four Ps: Product, Price, Place, Promotion. This neat model was created by Jerome McCarthy in the 1960s, and they have since become the seven Ps, as companies realized that it was worthwhile also considering People, Process and Physical Environment. But the key point – as you can see from the diagram below – is that these variables are all contingent on knowledge of the customer. Marketing is therefore concerned with finding out what the customer wants and helping to make other parts of the business effective in delivering it.
But the mistake that companies often make is to believe that marketing is something else, for example:
Marketing is NOT marketing communications
Note that promotion is only one of the original 4 Ps. But the close association of marketing with creativity and design has led to the widespread belief that it is mainly about advertising, posters, coupons and anything else fluffy and predominantly visual. Unkind observers (or sales departments) sometimes refer to marketing as “the colouring in department”. The way in which companies communicate with customers (aka promotion or marketing communications) does of course fall under the marketing umbrella. But it is only part of it, and marketing communications can only be effective as part of a marketing function that equally understands the other elements.
Marketing is NOT sales
The two need to work together, but to say they do the same thing is doing an injustice to both parties. However, the overlap in responsibility can cause problems. Many salespeople see marketing as unaccountable (especially when compared to sales). If we don’t sell, the company goes bust. What happens if we don’t get the posters done in time? This is missing the point. Marketing should be working to direct the company’s customer-facing activities, which includes sales. Marketing should be:
Identifying the most suitable markets
Analysing customer needs within that market
Mapping the strengths of the company’s brand/product onto those needs
Articulating how best to convince those customers that the brand/product is for them.
Marketing is not usually responsible for going out and meeting the customer. But if marketing does its job properly, it helps the salespeople sell. The most successful salespeople in the world work alongside the top-performing marketers.
Of course, different businesses use different terms, and in some companies the term ‘marketing’ will be used to denote different things. If your labels work within your business, that isn’t a problem. But if your ‘marketing’ department doesn’t actually help you with the true sense of marketing – and there’s no one else to pick up that role – you’ll be missing out. And that would be a mistake…
Anyone who has ever tried to lose weight or kick an undesirable habit (which means all of us), will know how easy it is to set out with good intentions only to lapse back to old habits after a few weeks.
Companies that are successful through being marketing-led achieve this by believing it is the right way to work and sticking with it. But why do so many companies fail to stick to the plan? It’s usually down to one of the following reasons:
We sometimes work with companies that have no, or very few, marketing specialists on board. Which means that we can bring new and exciting ideas and disciplines that can make a huge difference to a company’s success. But it also means that the people at the company will be inclined to slip back into their old ways (of doing their own thing, not the marketing thing) once our work is done. This is one of the reasons why the majority of our clients are via a committed long-term partnership and we always have regular face-to-face status/planning/evaluation meetings.
If you can’t measure it, you’ll never know if you’ve achieved it or not – and the failure of many marketing initiatives can be traced back to the fact that clear parameters were not set at the start. For something to succeed you need to know not only what it aims to achieve but also to quantify from the outset what resources (eg time and budget) will be made available to get it done.While this is obvious, the process of measuring is as much a reminder to the company of why they are doing it, as it is a way to prove its effectiveness. The ability to draw data from virtually every part of the business, and to compare this with changing data from the market means we can actually see the benefits of SMART marketing in action. Whether we are simply taking financial measurements of sales, or comparing customer attitudes to different marketing messages, we can see what’s going on. To use the popular expression, we can actually see the needle moving. This data helps guide us in our decision making, but it is also crucial to use it as encouragement to the people involved. If they can see that it’s working, there will be enthusiasm to continue doing it. People will only work blind for so long…
The patience threshold is different for each company, for each boss, for each group of shareholders. But instilling sound marketing practice in a business is a bit like going to the gym. You’ve got to stick with it, and there is no quick fix. Over time (provided you are working against clear objectives, and have measurements in place) you will be able to see for yourself that improvements are happening. The big mistake would be to give up too soon.The gym analogy also explains why short-term marketing shows such poor return on investment. Sensible, effective marketing is a long game, and up-front investment is required, much like the yearly gym membership commitment you may sign up to in early January. If businesses carefully follow a marketing-led strategy, they will reap the benefits in time; sales will increase, market share will grow, profits will follow. In the same way the regular gym member will have the beach body they always wanted by August. However, if either party quits in February, the up-front cost is still payable, and there will be virtually nothing to show for it by the end of the year.
As we have discussed, one of the main reasons for investment in marketing, is a reaction to bad news or a downturn in business performance. Marketing is seen as a possible saviour, something that will inject new energy into a company’s standing in the market, and bring about a corresponding upturn in the company’s sales figures.
However, one of the fundamental mistakes is allowing this to happen in the first place. Marketing is not just there to sort out the problems. In fact, good marketers don’t focus on problems at all. Their priority is to spot opportunities, to identify customer needs, and find ways to exploit them. And so they do not spend their time sitting in the office waiting for bad news to spur them into action. Instead, they are constantly looking outwards into the market. Their job is to know what the customer is thinking, wanting and doing, and they won’t do that by sticking their heads in the sand.
Watch a decent marketer in action and you will notice that they do the following:
Start with the customer
Every company in the world claims to be customer-focused. It is certainly not true of all of them. The principle is that businesses can control what they do themselves, but they cannot control their customers. So the only logical option is to start with the customers’ needs and then work out how the company’s brands, products and services can best be mapped onto those needs. It does not work the other way round. The R&D team may want to develop a new feature, but does the customer want it? To be truly customer-led, you have to start with their requirements and build your proposition around them.
Understand the wider environment
The markets can be fickle, and attitudes towards your product can change for many reasons. This is why marketers will always keep an eye on the broader factors. How are regulations, laws and taxes changing? What’s happening with international competition? What lifestyle trends are affecting customers? What new technologies are being developed? Even if they don’t affect your industry now, will they have an indirect impact in the future?
How many mini cab firms, for example, saw the growth of social media and the availability of smartphones as a threat to their business? Surely the fact that their customers were able to more easily call for a cab would make for better business? The more far-sighted might have realised the opposite might happen – ie that it might enable a new business model where mobile apps connected customers directly with independent drivers, without needing to phone anyone. The Uber app didn’t help the mini cab firm, it replaced it. Not all examples are this extreme – but failing to observe the environment in which your customers operate could leave you dangerously out of touch.
They know where to look
In today’s data-rich environment, marketers know where to find the information they need. Data from campaign performance, from research surveys, from web analytics, from social media and direct from the sales team all combine to give marketers a comprehensive view of what’s going on. Through disciplined analysis of this information against agreed objectives (see earlier point on measurement) the marketer can make smart decisions that will benefit the business. It’s not about having a hunch; good marketers act on data.
All of these mistakes are made every year, in every industry, in every type of company. We’ve certainly seen them. We even admit to having made them ourselves (just once, and we were very young at the time…). But most of the time they are avoidable – especially if we succeed in learning from the mistakes of others. So we hope we have reminded you of what you shouldn’t be doing – and at the same time suggested a few things that you might do instead. Not that you didn’t know…
Wall To Wall Sunshine provides marketing advice that is totally focused on business objectives. Quite simply, that means we put our clients first and focus entirely on achieving their objectives. So when we help our clients with their marketing strategy, it’s not about high-level theory and jargon; it’s about helping them to do better business.
If you’d like to know more about what we could do for you, please call us on 01392 877855 or email Matt Cotton.