Marketing is often misunderstood and misused by many small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) Without a good marketing strategy, the business plan stands a high chance of failure, at worst – at best, it makes the job harder. It’s like building a house without foundations.
We commonly see marketing misused in two ways:
- To generate and update communication materials, such as the website, brochures, blogs, advertising; materials that are not connected to an overall plan.
- To generate leads with a view to solving short-term cash flow/revenue; not connected to profitable, long-term strategic revenue.
The reality is that any marketing is set to fail if it doesn’t have the correct strategy, a strategy that is connected to a business growth plan. We often see business plans fail because they’re missing a marketing strategy. You could say that we see a good marketing strategy as the ‘missing link’ in the business planning process.
For marketing to stand the best chance of working, the leaders of the business need to understand the following:
OPERATING MARKET: Any business needs to understand its operating market. What do we mean by that? These are outside factors that impact on your business – it could be the economy, impact of technology and innovation on your market, government legislation, your competition etc. We also think it’s important to understand the size of the market – including your domestic and international opportunities.
BUSINESS PLAN: Most businesses have a business plan, and this is important for successful marketing. This is because the growth aspirations of the business are the driver for the strategic marketing decisions and the level of investment required. For example, if a business wants to grow from $10m to $25m in domestic and international markets, this would be a different job and need a different level of investment compared to a business that wants to grow from $3m to $4m.
MARKETING STRATEGY: Marketing strategy is a series of decisions that deliver your business plan and inform your marketing tactics. To have a sound marketing strategy, your business needs to understand your position in its operating market, know your customers and how they buy from you, know how your business accesses revenue and what products and services your business provides. They are important decisions that help us decide on what marketing tactics you need to deploy. [See above for business plan and operative market. See below for marketing tactics.]
TACTICAL IMPLEMENTATION: Marketing tactics are typically where businesses start to engage with marketing, but it’s the wrong starting point. Without a solid plan to bind these tactics together they are often random and ad-hoc.
What do we mean by tactics? The most common tactics in today’s market are social media and digital marketing such as SEO (search engine optimisation), PPC (pay per click) etc. Tactics can also be content development, advertising, email marketing, press releases, exhibitions etc – but they all need to be working together under the context of a marketing strategy.
RANDOM ACTS OF MARKETING – THE IMPOSSIBLE CYCLE OF AN SMB
Extensive research into the SMB marketplace shows us that the typical marketing behaviour of a small to medium business is an impossible cycle, as shown in the diagram below. It constitutes random acts of marketing and offers very little in terms of results.
Let’s take each step in turn:
- SOME BUDGET: Most business don’t really understand how to set a marketing budget and therefore just allocate marketing money randomly to projects that are not necessarily connected to a plan.
- ENGAGE A THIRD PARTY: This is where the wheels start to fall off the bus. Businesses find a marketing firm that has come recommended or they have used before, without having any selection criteria.
- POOR BRIEFING: This occurs when there is no marketing strategy or understanding of what is required. The brief is lacking in detail and direction and the marketing firm defaults to its standard action without any real plan for this unique business and its particular marketing goals.
- CROSSED WIRES: Objectives, expectations and outcomes are not well managed. Agencies deliver what they consider to be right without any clear direction from the client. Because the client is not a marketing specialist, they really don’t know what they need to ask for.
- RELATIONSHIP FAILS: Neither party is happy and they don’t really know why the marketing and the relationship haven’t worked.
- MARKETING DOESN’T WORK: The lack of briefing and poor results lead clients to believe that marketing is not an effective solution for their business.
- TRY AGAIN: The business sees no other option, so they follow the same process.
- INEVITABLE FAILURE: It keeps happening again and again! However there is another way.
There is another way – N.B. Strategy’s Customerit framework is a strategy-led process designed for SMBs from corporate disciplines and thinking. Over 5,000 businesses have scored themselves with our survey and have seen the gaps in their marketing performance.
Understanding the gaps and the opportunities means a business can build a strategy led marketing plan that is fit for purpose and delivers growth.
To see success from this process, this is how you prepare:
- It needs to come from the top – the engagement should be led from the management team.
- Your business should have a business plan.
- The management team needs to feel that it is ready to have a growth conversation.
- There needs to be a growth target that is understood by the business.
- Your business needs to understand there’s a level of investment required to achieve that growth.
- You and the leadership team need to be in the right headspace for growth. You need to be ready to do the work.
If you’d like to have a conversation about strategy led marketing, get in touch with us for a conversation.