Should you do marketing if you win all your work through tenders?

I've heard this asked repeatedly over the last weeks. Do we need to do marketing?

We are only a small business with little money - do we need to do marketing?
We don't want to become a huge business - do we need to do marketing?
We are an engineering company that get all our work from government contracts  - do we need to do marketing?
We are only a holdings company - do we need to do marketing?

Notice the question isn't "should we do marketing" or "why should we do marketing" but "do we need to do marketing"? It is almost cynical in its assumption. The question really hides a statement; a conviction that "we don't need to do marketing". We, in our situation, don't need to - we can save that money.

I'll leave it to you to decide whether you need to do marketing, or not. My interest is in how you come to your conclusion. How do you decide whether or not your business needs to do marketing, or not? Here are some thought starters:

  • Marketing is not just about growing sales, but also to build a brand. Indeed, maybe you don't need to do marketing to grow sales, but perhaps you do need to do it to build a brand.
  • Doing marketing to grow sales is undoubtedly the best-known reason for spending on it since it is how "marketing" was invented: to drive sales of consumable products bought by the public (like a can of Coke). However, "brand building" is the more subtle, yet far more compelling reason for investing in marketing. 
  • Within B2B (business to business), the main reason for doing marketing is to build brand reputation, not drive sales. Boeing does not do marketing to grow sales. They do it to build (and maintain) their brand reputation. 

Notice how we can now rephrase the question from "do we need to do marketing" to "do we need to do marketing to drive sales?" or "do we need to do marketing to build brand-reputation?" or "both"?

It is indeed true that, maybe, in your situation, "doing marketing" will not be a useful sales tool. But does that mean you don't need to do it? Forget for a moment about "sales" and ask yourself an earnest question: do we need a brand?

Building a brand is where an investment in marketing becomes a proactive exercise in shaping the future of the business, instead of a reactive one to secure the next sale. Surely: you must build a brand if you are interested in the sustainability of your business? A brand is what sets you apart in the market; it is your point of difference in the minds of customers, investors, employees, future employees, partners and, yes, even, competitors.

Can you afford not to build a brand? To be seen as just another company? A commodity? Yet another business building roads, selling software or offering accounting services. No different from the others. Just another one. How sustainable is this? 

Building a brand is not about being aggressive and flashy and bragging and declaring war against the competition and making bold claims that aren't true. It is quite simply about being different and telling the world that you are. It is the most natural thing to do. No two bird species are the same - they look different, they sing different, so why should your company hide its feathers?

Building a brand is about answering the simple question "what do we want them to know about us" as Steve Jobs so famously put in his internal speech to staff in 1997. "Them" being the whole world, including your team. Surely you know *something*... about you (as a business)? Or are you just a name, on a quote, with a price? Just another tender...

Ultimately, to build a brand - to build a reputation - you need to do marketing. You need to TELL your staff what they must know about you, as a business. You need to TELL existing customers what they must remember about you. You need to TELL prospective customers why they should consider you. You need to TELL future employees why they should apply to you.

In the world of business, when you TELL someone something about you (as a business) in a way that is disciplined and coordinated, you are doing marketing. You are signalling, and that's what your marketing efforts are: a message in a world of noise.

"Do we need to do marketing?"

The day you have decided to open a business, is the day you have made up your mind: you must do marketing, not because of sales, but because you are different - or otherwise, why do you exist? Why should we work for you, buy from you...remember you?

Can your company afford to be a blur in a busy world? How long will it survive, if you indeed don't do marketing"?

Do we need to do marketing?
Yes, absolutely.

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