Saturday, 17 October 2020

Strategic storytelling as a way to differentiate


Marketing is about storytelling. 

This is a well-understood concept, but surprisingly few companies use it to their benefit. Especially smaller businesses are rich with stories, yet owners hide these in an attempt to "look big". No photo of the owner(s) and why they started the business; no business philosophy; no pictures of the manufacturing process or people and testimonials from satisfied customers. These are all essential parts of the business story and are often absent. 

Telling the story of your business should be the focus of your early marketing efforts as it allows you to attract those valuable customers that believe in what you do instead of just fighting for the lowest price. 

The story of your business is nothing other than your value proposition - your core point of difference. Most businesses harp on about the products or service they sell but don't give any sneak peek into the behind the scenes stuff - the interesting stuff, even if it is a pure service being delivered. The passion, blood, sweat and tears that go into making it all happen. This is where the real essence of a business lies and should be a key focus of the marketing efforts. 

"This is who we are".

I'm currently working with a manufacturer of some of the largest aluminium window frames and doors in Africa. In my engagement with them, it has become a key focus to encourage them to show the manufacturing and installation process and not merely the beautiful buildings that use their fenestration.

Most businesses claim they do something special, but don't tell the story that really makes them special. The outcome is marketing that looks like everyone else's. 

Don't make the mistake of not infusing your marketing with your story. The "end result" is only a small part of what you should be talking about. Tell people who you are. Your brand.


Saturday, 3 October 2020

Your marketing problem, is a management problem



The trick is to have a plan and a process in place—the boring stuff.

  • A plan - What is it that we want to do and by when?
  • A process - How will we do it, and whom?

I say it is the boring stuff because in itself it is not "doing the marketing", yet it is mostly why marketing fails.

Most businesses don't see ROI on marketing because they don't have a plan and a process. In short, they don't manage their marketing. 

To add fuel to the fire, "management" is often not an operational issue, but a culture issue. Things end up not getting done, not because there is no intention to do it, but because there is no organisational discipline to do it.

My work is to help companies of all sizes do better marketing, but I hardly get involved in doing any of the marketing itself. I spend my time fiddling in the background doing the boring stuff: helping you put a plan in place and helping you implement it through a process that almost always involves a change in attitude.

The basics of doing marketing right are straightforward: define your audience, then define your value proposition and then communicate it clearly using a basic set of tools aimed at each stage of the purchase funnel. The hard part is implementing it, and keeping it up, month after month.

Can I help you with your marketing?
Yes.

Do I do the marketing?
No.

So what do I do?
The boring stuff.


Saturday, 12 September 2020

Quick thought on targeting



I've spent a lot of time thinking about how I market the services of Firejuice. We've been clear about who we want to help, namely business owners, entrepreneurs and CEO's of medium-sized companies, but not which service we want them to take note of!

It's made me realise, for marketing to be effective, it does require not only a target market but also a target product. That single offering that gives you the highest chance of becoming part of the customer's life.

  • Target market = that group of customers within the broader market where you have the greatest chance of success.
  • Target product = that one offering amongst everything you sell that gives you the greatest chance of an initial sale.
Once you've made the initial sale, you are in bed with the customer and the game changes. To achieve this initial sale requires focus, not only on who you want to sell to, but also what you want to sell. 

Reading marketing theory, one is always reminded of the 4P's of marketing: Product. Place. Price. Promotion. But somehow we all get stuck on the promotion "P". What I've been reminded of lately is the importance of choosing the right product to accompany the promotion.

Just think about how McDonald's do it - they promote an "R40 burger meal" in the hope that you spend R150 upgrading on size and adding to your order. What they promote, and what they hope to sell, is not the same thing. Intentionally!

Think carefully about what product you want to do marketing for. It's part of the marketing mix!

Sunday, 23 August 2020

How efficient is your revenue engine?

Every piece of equipment has a weak link, and in the case of small/medium companies, that link is the contact point between marketing and sales. It is right here where most breakdowns happen, and it hurts business performance. 

But why is this? 

It is underpinned by the fact that both sales and marketing are after the same thing - the actual sale. The two are supposedly in partnership, but more often in competition to win the ultimate prize. This one goal, split between two business functions, makes it easy for the finger-pointing to happen. Marketing takes a big picture, right-brain approach to sales, and the sales function takes a microscopic, left-brain approach. To ensure an efficient sale, both functions must work together, yet infighting often spoils the party. Together, these two functions form the revenue engine of the business.

An inefficient revenue engine is particularly common within medium-sized companies since separate marketing and sales departments have now been established but they have not yet found a happy equilibrium. A period of infighting is inevitable, however, this should be cut short since the business suffers in the process. A medium-sized business can't afford to slack since there is still plenty of growth to be had. Market share has not yet matured but the competition is warming up. The revenue engine needs to quickly find its purr.


To ensure an efficient sale, both marketing and sales must work together, yet infighting often spoils the party. 


Moving a prospect quickly and profitably through the purchase funnel, from awareness to interest to trial and finally, a sale requires teamwork between marketing and sales teams. Using both these approaches is a recipe proven over decades to be the most effective at unlocking profitable growth. You need both mass-market communication, and individual negotiation skills, to get the best deal. The one broadcasts a compelling value proposition; the other tailors it to individual customer needs. It is this one-two punch that beats the competition and wins the game.

An efficient sale is one where the effort to make a sale is as little as possible whilst the long-term value of the sale is maximized. I see this as different to a pure profit calculation but rather an indication of overall effort versus financial return, discounted over the lifetime of the customer relationship. The overall effort includes monetary cost but also time invested and even emotional energy. In short, the goal must be to maximise the overall ROI of a sale. 


The efficient sale


Making a sale is like fighting a battle. Whilst you can win the fight by merely pushing troops into the field, the body count will be high. This is the "sales only" approach most small businesses take. But then marketing joins once the business achieves mid-size status and acts like an airforce that weakens the enemy from above before the sales-troops get sent in for hand to hand combat. In combination, the two will win the battle, as long as their efforts are coordinated.

To achieve such coordination requires three critical steps. Firstly, it requires a business leader with an appreciation for both marketing and sales as the answer to revenue growth. Too many are still sceptical of the role that marketing can play and settle for a half baked effort that depends on a junior marketer to vigorously post to social media and hope for results. This type of marketing won't work.


A medium-sized business can't afford to slack since there is still growth to be had. Market share has not yet matured but the competition is warming up. The revenue engine needs to quickly find its purr.

 

Furthermore, the sales department, which is almost always established before the marketing department, must have seen the writing on the wall at achieving increasingly steeper targets as the competition creeps up and low-hanging sales fruits are already picked. When this happens a natural response will be "we need marketing!"

Finally, the rules of engagement between sales and marketing must be developed by a senior manager who understands the role both functions should play and who has authority over both. Admittedly, getting the initial structure arranged may sometimes require help from an outside consultant. Ultimately, the only way that marketing and sales will work together effectively is if they are attached at the hip, and know it. If the one stops swimming the other must also sink. Making this connection tangible inside the company is crucial. 

There's no doubt that marketing and sales are needed to optimise business performance, and yet the interaction between the two siblings are often fraught with tension. Yet, as companies navigate the turbulent waters of medium-size status they must strengthen the bond between marketing and sales to reach the promised land of full-blown corporate status, a listing on the stock market or a favourable merger/acquisition. 

At some level, a business is undeniably a money motor, and like any engine, it needs careful tuning to reach a steady purr and ensure a smooth ride. The rattle that is often the result of poor marketing/sales interaction must be sorted out quickly!

Is your business running as an efficient revenue engine?

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Achieving customer reach through marketing strategy

The biggest challenge for small/medium companies is reaching their intended audience. This problem becomes even more pronounced in business markets where key decision-makers are often hiding behind an email firewall and a receptionist. "Reach", is the crucial reason SMEs do marketing, as in: "help me announce myself to my target market". 

Interestingly, with established brands and larger companies, the reason for doing marketing is different. Awareness has already been achieved, and it becomes a case of encouraging existing customers to remain loyal. It is this reason why a company like Coca Cola continues to advertise. Small brands advertise to become known; large brands to stay relevant. Same activity; different objectives.

The problem smaller companies have is how to achieve reach with limited resources. Small budgets mean that certain heavy-hitting, mass-marketing tools are unavailable, and so too highly targeted ones that require a substantial investment in upfront research. Even the old favourite, social media, becomes costly considering that organic reach is heavily throttled requiring you to spend money on paid campaigns.  Before you know it, you sit with a big awareness issue and almost no tools to make the problem go away. 

Enter the world of strategy.

Ironically, small businesses are notorious for not taking a strategic approach to marketing despite it being the right tool that can help them break through to their intended audience. Marketing within these businesses is typically random exercises obsessed with social media and website tricks that end up being a mish-mash of ineffective, time-consuming activities, as shown by the below word cloud from research conducted by Firejuice


Firejuice market research wordcloud
What is your biggest frustration with marketing?


A clear marketing strategy provides smaller businesses with a way to penetrate the market given a set of (often hefty) constraints. You simply don't have the option of bulldozing your way through to the customer like a large company can. The problem is that an effective strategy requires sacrifice, which entrepreneurs notoriously hate to make given their nature to hunt opportunity. The result is that few entrepreneurs enjoy doing marketing, preferring to rather stay in sales mode, which inevitably limits the growth of the company. 

Despite being a painful exercise due to those sacrifices, a solid marketing strategy does not have to be complicated. It requires you to decide what you want to say (and not say); whom you want to say it to (and whom you'll skip) and what tools you'll use (and not use).  By channelling your marketing investment, through a strategy, you give yourself a fighting chance to reach your market. 

Marketing within these businesses is typically random exercises obsessed with social media and website tricks that end up being a mish-mash of ineffective, time-consuming activities...

Many SMEs hit a growth plateau prematurely because they are unable to scale the mountain that is proper marketing. This is a pity, especially since the slowdown in growth is entirely self-inflicted. There is plenty of unreached customers, and the competition is still a distant thought, but because the business is unable to incorporate strategic marketing into its sales funnel, it suffers a chronic shortage of awareness and interest. 

When done correctly, the introduction of a strategic marketing plan allows a business to make an upwards turn towards continued growth. This turn hinges on the fundamental ingredient that strategic marketing brings to a company - a primary focus on the customer, instead of the internal operations. By bringing the customer to the decision-making table through a disciplined approach on customer research, user experience, product innovation, value propositions, graphic design and robust points of difference, the business gets to burn the second stage of its growth rocket.

Reaching (new) customers is indeed a good reason for investing in marketing, especially for a business that has not yet achieved its mature phase. However, success does not happen easily. Merely appointing someone junior to post a few things to social media and "make some noise" will likely result in the very frustrations highlighted by the above word cloud. You need to be strategic, which means you need to be deliberate and focused and disciplined.

In short, you need to do strategic marketing to see marketing results. 

Strategic marketing is the solution to marketing reach. Try it. 

Sunday, 5 July 2020

Marketing as a contact sport

You only win in rugby if you're willing to make the tackles. Sure, the attractive part of the sport is the slick backline moves that result in a clean break and a trie, but although this is how you put points on the board, it's not how you win. You win, by making contact with the opponent and stopping their momentum. I remember from my school playing days we lost the games where we were afraid to make the tackles.

The same is true in marketing. There is a scary side to marketing that turns it into a contact sport that most businesses neglect, or actively avoid, hence losing the battle for sales. This part is called customer research.

In short:
  • The contact sport part of rugby = a tackle
  • The contact sport part of marketing = customer research

Customer research is where you engage with your target market, and it is almost always ugly, dirty, tiring work. Sending out a clean Google Forms questionnaire over email to your 20 most loyal existing customers and politely asking them to rank your service from 1 - 10 is not proper research. It's an exercise in mutual bullshitting. Everyone is doing, and saying, what they think they should "to make this go away quickly". Proper research, on the other hand, gets down to the real answers. It's a determined hunt for the hidden information that will deliver actionable insights which stimulates growth. 

What makes customer research scary, is that it's a journey into the unknown. Picking up the phone and asking ten non-active customers why they are not buying from you is daunting. The answers will be ugly. "We don't buy from you because your service is shit; your product is old; your sales rep is rude; after-sales is poor, out of stocks is unacceptably high...the competition gives me better terms and a wider variety." 

Ugly stuff.

No wonder businesses avoid this kind of interaction. We would much rather sit and over-intellectualise our marketing on a whiteboard than get our hands dirty. Much more fun to sit in the boardroom listening to digital agencies showing us fancy audits, than picking up the phone and talking to those with the real answers - the customer. We have long debates on "the role of marketing in our business", but no market research?

Making contact is, by definition, an impactful exercise, meaning a measure of bruising is almost guaranteed. It takes bravery to pick up the phone and call someone with straight questions. For starters, they may tell you to F-off (although, politely asking if you can ask some honest questions hardly ever results in such aggression). Other ways to make contact could involve organising focus group discussions with a selection of prospects in your boardroom, or ethnographic research where you shadow your customer for some hours to see how they operate. In very few cases does it involve only the (painless) exercise of sending out a questionnaire via email.

"But we already know our market", I hear you say. "We've been in this game for 12 years - the only thing that matters is product and price. No fancy answers to be found; nothing new". But such a view assumes you are selling a pure commodity, where the customer, product, and competition is the same, all the time. It may be the case with cement, or cooking oil, or diesel - and if this is indeed your case, good luck, because, ultimately, a commoditised market only has room for one player - the monopoly. 

Making contact is, by definition, an impactful exercise, meaning a measure of bruising is almost guaranteed.

Indeed, the answers are rarely as simple as merely "product and price". Almost certainly, there are more layers to it, but you have not discovered them yet. Remember, the market is dynamic, it does not stand still, and people only reveal their real needs once you engage with them. It is a bit like the difference between the cashier asking you "how are you", as you rush to pay, and your best friend asking you the same question over a beer. The one answer is short and sharp (and never the whole truth) "I am well", and the other is far more nuanced and opens up an entire conversation. 

Fact is that most businesses are so obsessed with sales that they talk to their customers like the cashier does. How are you? "I am well". Until a good marketing consultant asks to see the customer research and finds it is either non-existent, or thin with insight.

Few businesses know their customers well, and even those that do, never rest on their laurels, because the market never stands still. Competitors offer new and different things; your customers' customer suddenly has unique requirements; your customers’ business itself has grown, or evolved. No-one merely wants "product and price" - don't believe this, when you hear it. It's just their way of saying "I am well...now, can I continue with my day?". But your job is to push for more; insist on the truth!

Marketing starts with customer research. Not a website; a post to social media, an attractive logo or expensive ad budget. The reason most businesses struggle to see marketing results and almost inevitably take a sales heavy approach is that they never genuinely engage with their customers. It is simply too much hard word digging out such a foundation fr your marketing, and too scary what you may find.

Running a successful marketing campaign is like a smooth backline move in rugby resulting in a try, but it all starts with a messy scrum (and the hard tackles). 

At its core, marketing is a contact sport. 

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

No-one can do your marketing for you

What type of marketing help do you need?

Most that contact me want someone to "come and do it for me".
"Will you write my website for me?"
"Will you be doing the posts to social media for me?"
"Will you find me new business...get me sales?"

In short: 
"Will you do my marketing for me?"

The answer is simply "no, I won't."

Which then brings us to the interesting question: what will I do for you?

I re-discovered the below framework from my class notes when I did an MBA some years ago, and it gives an excellent overview of the types of outsider roles a consultant can play.


Kiel & Mclendon's Consulting Roles
Kiel & Mclendon's consulting roles

The "will you do it for me" type sits in the bottom right-hand block: the "hands-on expert". I will do it for you...I will tell you (exactly) what to do. The "come and do it for me expert" is what most business owners dream of after years of marketing frustration driven by a lack of time and costly activities with little sales to show for it.

But from my experience, the bottom right-hand block hardly ever is a true solution for the small/medium-sized business, and here's why:

Firstly, the right answer is that no-one has done exactly what you are doing, before. As a business owner, you are on a lonely, unique journey. As a small / startup business, there is no "exact replica" of your business somewhere else. Your business, your customers, your market environment...your type of people, your style of doing it...your brand. It is all unique. There is no perfect "let me show you how" kind of help out there for young businesses. We are all creating something new; not learning to drive an old car.

Secondly, because your business is your creation - your baby - everything is personal. There is almost no chance that you are going to let someone else tell you how you should do marketing for your business. You will not merely sit back and let another person build your company, the way they want to. You are going to want to be part of it, at least up to the point where the business is large enough that it is starting to operate independently from you (when a company goes from "medium" to "large" and starts to corporatize). Until this point, it's your business, and no-one is going to tell you how to package it to the outside world. Either they work with you, or they will eventually get the boot.

The "come and do it for me expert" is what most business owners dream of after years of marketing frustration...

Thirdly, as a small-medium sized business, it is suicide to leave the sales and marketing activities entirely in the hands of someone else. By removing yourself from these activities, you are stepping away from the coalface of market interaction where the real learnings take place. There's a good bit of advice in Silicon Valley that goes something like this: "as the owner, you should not be in your office, but out in the market". Being out in the market is where sales and marketing takes place, and this cannot be anyone else's primary responsibility than the owners'.

So, what about using a small agency then, I hear you ask? This is where the difference between a consultant and a contractor come in, in my opinion. The above matrix relates to consultant roles, not contractors. A contractor is someone that comes in to execute a well-defined job for you. You already know who your target market is; what your value proposition is; defined your brand position, and have clarity on which channels to use and only need an execution partner. At this point, it becomes a good idea to get an outsider in to "come and do it for you" or "show you exactly how to do it". It relates to tactical tools - how to use LinkedIn; Google SEO...produce a YouTube video, etc. Contracting; not consulting. Implementation; not strategy.

But what about someone who has been a successful marketer in precisely the same type of industry that you are in now? A retired packaged goods CMO to come and tell you EXACTLY how to market your food startup? Or an ex tech-CMO to come and tell you how to build your SaaS startup? Is this not an option? It is, but here's the thing - it only works when your company is not only in the same industry but also the same level of maturity to the one that the outsider comes from.

There is no exact "let me show you how" kind of help out there. We are building businesses, not learning to drive.

If you're a small SaaS startup, you're not just a "SaaS business", but you're also a "startup". Both classifications matter. You see, there are two variables. Most business owners only focus on the one - the fact that they are in industry A or B, but forget the type of business they are. This reality means that even if you bring an expert in from outside; if they haven't worked in an environment like yours, they may be largely useless. 

All of this brings me to this idea of a "fractional CMO", which is essentially the idea of an outsourced CMO - a concept well established within financial circles as an outsourced CFO. Can marketing follow a similar model? My answer is yes, but only if the company is not only in the same industry but also the same life stage as the one the CMO has experience with, and then typically the "mature" phase. Put differently: you can't be the fractional CMO for a company that is still in the growth phase. There is only one person that can be the CMO for a growth-phase company, and that is the owner / CEO.

So, in summary, I believe one should use the "consulting roles" model in partnership with a company's lifecycle (below) to determine your needs for outside marketing help, at a senior level.

The company lifecycle
The company lifecycle


Only when a company is in the "maturity" and "decline" phases should it reach out to an outside expert (in marketing) to "come and do it for me" or "show me exactly what to do". Up to this point, there still is too much learning to happen to completely outsource the marketing role. 

In short, the unpleasant answer for many founders and owners is this: no-one can come and do your marketing for you. You must do it, but likely with an outsider to help guide you. Find a good consultant with diverse experience working inside young companies to help you in the capacity of a teacher, a coach and a partner - someone to help you learn. 

Forget about your ideal solution. No-one can do your marketing for you. It doesn't exist - focus on finding a sherpa, not a solution.



Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Taking a structured approach to learning to build your team

Guest post by Mark Turpin.

In Peter Senge’s book ‘The Fifth Discipline’, written in 1990, he suggests that:

“In the long run, the only sustainable source of competitive edge is your organisation’s ability to learn faster than its competitors”

This is truer now than ever – and is true in all sectors of business and the economy, including marketing.

In fact, learning becomes the main work of any business that wishes to stay ahead and competitive, or to be the leaders in your field.

In the 21st century, all other forms of competitive advantage can be bought, loaned or borrowed with ease – whether this is in the form of physical capital, financial resources, or even smart people.

Smart people can be hired by your business, and can also be poached away by other businesses, as people are completely mobile in a global connected economy.

Enabling a learning culture and environment for your people is a nexus point, where the interests of your business and your people coincide beautifully.

Your business needs to create a learning environment if it is to be (1) efficient (so as not to repeat mistakes made previously and improve how things are done going forward), (2) innovative (with products, services and processes),  and (3) responsive to the environment (to changes underway or emerging that can impact on or even disintermediate your business model).

Your people need to be stimulated by working in an environment that encourages their own learning, growth and development so that they expand their own skills and comptetencies for the job market. It is known that people are quick to move on when they are no longer stimulated in ther work and feel they are not learning anything.

So how does one start to create this learning environment in practice?  Taking the 3 business imperatives above, here are 3 tips that can help you start creating a learning enironment in your business.

A really good starting point is to build a regular habit of reflection. After each and every assignment or project or activity, the team involved can spend a small but valuable time together to reflect on what went well, what could have been improved, and what has been learned. This is a step to building increasingly efficient ways of working, especially if facilitated in such a way as to build a strong feedback culture within the team, and does not have to take long.

Too often this important activity is missed, or not even considered. We have a ‘bias for action’ and a business culture that tends to encourage us always to start the next activity, thinking that time ‘sitting around talking’ is time wasted when there is much to do.

The difficulty is that we then rush into the next thing, without any consideration of how to do things better – and the mistakes of the past are repeated again:



The result is that your business and your team lose out on innovation and efficiency at great cost. And your people also become increasingly de-motivated as they often know, like the person in the cartoon above, that there is a better way if only we pause for a while!

Innovation is also important if businesses are to stay relevant to customers needs and be ahead of the competition. Allowing your people to have regular brainstorming sessions can also unlock huge creativity. No idea is too stupid as a starting point, especially if people are encouraged to build on ideas that are put forward rather than shooting them down. Again, good facilitation can help.

A business that wishes to be responsive to the environment needs to allow and encourage its people to be well-networked with others in other areas of the economy and in other businesses, both by developing their own professional networks, and also by encouraging them to attend business conferences, to read widely and be familiar with the latest developments in your business field. And then to encourage employees to ‘bring back’ their learnings from the outside and share them within the business – whether through regular ‘brown bag’ lunches or other sharing platforms.

These practical steps will bring great rewards to the business when taken seriously, and will also enable your teams and your people to feel that they are also learning and growing in their work, which will result in higher levels of motivation and commitment.

________________________

Mark Turpin is a learning consultant, coach and mediator with Kessels & Smit The Learning Company, and a sessional lecturer at the Wits Business School. Reach out to him on LinkedIn to discuss the organisational learning challenges in your business.

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Shift business momentum through marketing strategy

Spending money and energy on marketing is the last thing business owners want to do because they worry it may be wasteful. The result is that often marketing gets postponed until there is no other choice but to consider it. At this point, the famine has set in with neglected brands and thin sales pipelines the most apparent symptoms. Let's look at each:


Neglected brands
Easy to spot this a mile away because it is, quite literally, so visible. No clear message that runs through the marketing materials, inconsistent use of logos and colours, no obvious point of difference, weak value propositions and generally uninspiring marketing communications. There is hardly a brand to talk of, just a company name and a shape on a letterhead (the so-called "logo").


A thin sales pipeline
With this, the signs are a little less obvious. It typically strikes you as you talk with the owner who will admit that he/she is exhausted as (almost) all the new customer acquisition happens through their personal; networking efforts. Without them, there literally is no sales. A thin sales pipeline is evident when enquiries are few outside the owners' personal network.

How to avoid wasteful marketing

The first step to not waste money on marketing is to start doing it. By perpetually postponing an investment in marketing, the company suffers more and eventually needs to play catch-up when it can least afford it: when sales desperation has crept in. It is during such times when a scramble for marketing success often leads to wasteful expenditure. By simply starting, and doing it early, the process of learning and refining can begin, and the art of marketing learned. The trick is to start somewhere, and gradually build your marketing competence. 

A thin sales pipeline is evident when enquiries are few outside the owners' personal network.

Secondly, you'll save a lot of money by taking ownership of your marketing and not be tempted to outsource it entirely. Merely asking someone else to do it and bring you the results, is a recipe for wastage. It is your business, and you need to be involved in how it gets marketed. It is where the role of a strategic marketing plan fits in: to get alignment across the business on "how we are going to promote this thing".

A third tip: use professionals. It is tempting to "go cheap" once you have decided you need a logo, or a new website, or a sprinkling of digital marketing, but this is not going to deliver results. Instead, choose someone, or a small agency, that comes with a solid track record and the higher fee as you will get not only better work, but also a transfer of knowledge that will help you improve your approach. An impactful brand costs money to build and quickly blows got air when the cheapest suppliers get involved.

Be careful not to overcomplicate things

It is not uncommon to find that a fear of marketing wastefulness runs so deep in a business that it falls into a trap of analysis paralysis. Everyone is overthinking what needs to happen in an attempt not to make a mistake. I call this "over-strategising" and I see it a lot. Although effective marketing depends on sound strategy, a small business is often able to flesh out such a strategy quite quickly with the guidance of an experienced marketing consultant. It does not have to be a thick document and months of deliberations.

None of us is a complete idiot when it comes to marketing, and much of it is quite apparent with the right guidance. The concept of a target market, for example, is often contentious because few want to limit their opportunity to sell. However, it becomes much more palatable when seen from the perspective of attracting the ideal type of client that will have the most significant impact on business success. This indeed requires a targeted investment in marketing that is easily understood as worthwhile, when viewed from the perspective of attracting the best possible clientele. 

It is not uncommon to find that a fear of marketing wastefulness runs so deep in a business that it falls into a trap of analysis paralysis

Over recent months I have increasingly become more focused on keeping my marketing strategies pragmatic and short. I try to establish the key drivers of the business quickly and then propose a tight set of tools and tactics that I feel can work to achieve commercial results. I deliberately aim for oversimplification, because anything else quickly becomes navel-gazing. I work with a core group inside the business to flesh out the ideal customer, outline their most important needs, define a value proposition and a communications plan. My aim is to keep things straight forward.

Don't postpone the marketing of your business (or product)

Now is the time to build a layered approach to growth by adding a strategic marketing approach to your operations. It can't be business as usual given the times we live in, i.e. relying purely on your personal network or your sales-team. Shift the momentum of your business by defining a clear marketing strategy that covers all aspects of brand positioning, market segmentation and targeting and communications that move the needle with prospective customers.

Marketing your business, your products and ultimately, the brands you build is not an optional extra for companies today. You can't choose whether you want to do marketing, or not - you must do it. A strategic marketing plan sits at the heart of tech-enabled, purpose-driven and success-focused companies. 

Think about it: all successful companies around the world invest in marketing. It's only the losers that don't. Don't be one of them.

Monday, 4 May 2020

Marketing plans over the Internet? Not ideal, but necessary

I've been helping businesses develop marketing plans for over five years and, in hindsight, much of it happens either over the phone, via email or on a video call. But the best way to start is undeniably to visit the business and "walk the floor".

Something special happens when you are physically present at a business and breathe the same air and get to sit in the very office or boardroom where decisions get made. But this can’t happen at the moment with strict travel restrictions in place. It confronts me with the question: how do I help entrepreneurs put in place focused marketing plans over distance?

There’s no doubt that all businesses need a marketing plan that includes a strategy (how to position the brand) and an action plan on what to focus on to successfully reach customers. Notice that I am not saying “you must spend money on marketing”, but rather “you must know what you want to do and how to achieve it” - no matter the budget.

Companies need marketing plans, whether they spend money on marketing or not.  

The pillars of a marketing strategy remain as relevant as ever during this time of turbulence: clarity on who the target market is, key decision-makers, brands, value propositions, messaging and success measures. A marketing plan is part of a sophisticated, mature, sales process meaning those that are serious about making sales, or at least maintain good standing with existing customers, must also know how to do marketing.

Unfortunately, the truth is that many smaller to medium-sized companies do not have a strategic marketing plan in place. It’s a bit all over the place because it is not seen as important enough. Sure, it’s not critical, but it is important, especially if sales are becoming harder to make.

I have recently circulated a survey to owners and entrepreneurs in which I ask them a few marketing related questions, including this one: “do you have a documented marketing plan?”. I am still sourcing answers, but as it stands, from 86 respondents, almost 60% say “no”.


Surely it is in times like this that the basics need to be in place to give your business the best possible chance of survival? Surely a clear, 1-page summary of your overall business strategy, together with a documented marketing plan and strict financial controls are all part of such basics? 

It confronts me with the question: how do I help entrepreneurs put in place clear, focused marketing plans over distance?

Since starting Firejuice I’ve been on a mission to help small and medium-sized companies - The Underdogs - do better marketing. As with all businesses, there is a deeply personal story behind why I started my business: I’ve been disappointed by large corporates and wanted to take revenge by helping the small guys unsettle the big boys. The best way to understand the intensity of these feelings is to visit me in person and have a coffee with me, but unfortunately, this can't happen now. The same is true for those I work with: I can’t visit them now, and it is not ideal, although, the alternative is far worse - to not have a plan at all.

Marketing plans are not optional. They are crucial to how companies tackle the next few months and my mission to provide professional assistance in this regard remains more relevant than ever, even though the process will not be perfect. I will not be able to visit you, and we'll have to do the entire process virtually, as I have already done successfully with clients in Uganda, Cape Town and Johannesburg’s East Rand.

Companies need marketing plans, whether they spend money on marketing or not. The roadmap to more, and better, sales and customer experiences is more important than ever. I am open for business. Firejuice is ready to help your business do better marketing. If ever there’s a time to overtake the big boys, it is now. The big red square is already falling.