I have been busy over the last couple of years, working with customers of different sizes and sectors. It having apparently been ‘midsummer’ on Sunday (or has it really started in the UK?), I thought I’d reflect on the last 6 months and beyond. I was also interviewed in a recent article, to answer some questions and here are some thoughts on the challenges that impact marketing:
Where to start and where to focus in marketing – ask customers: For a small business this is very much a challenge, with less resource in marketing and so many possibilities. The thing I have observed is that there is often a relationship with the customer, but often not much involvement from them in how they can help your marketing. Customers are great – and they know what your other prospects and customers need! So spending time in a structured way, gathering input from them, has provided substantial benefits in terms of messaging, branding, product direction and marketing activity that is most likely to have an impact. The latter is always a challenge – in bigger businesses, things can be tried and if they don’t turn out too strong, there is budget to try more – but this is harder in smaller businesses with small budgets. A company I have been working with recently asked me to do a large-scale market research project over thousands of merchants, through online surveys and focus groups around the UK. That is on one scale, but research can – and has also – been on the level of a handful of customers and the great insights they provide too. It’s a great place to start and I totally recommend it.
Marketing planning and follow-through versus flexing with the needs of the business: I see this on different scales. Some companies I worked with have a style that changes rapidly, as they reflect to the changing business around them. Others have a clear plan and stay on a steady course. Marketing needs to reflect the business needs and to get that balance, to be able to support the business. I am a strong believer in having a plan that you stick to – it may tweak and modify – but in principle you keep on track to deliver for the reasons you set out in your initial strategy. Plus driving strong execution, hitting deadlines and doing what you say you will do.
Focus and measurement: I have mentioned this before, but focus is so important. It is so easy to get excited by different ideas – to plan a campaign and come up with lots of ideas of what might work. But go back to the business objectives each time and ask yourself the question, “Is that in line with the business objectives?” If, for example the business objectives are to grow the business to business area with the sales of specific products or services, it is unlikely to be the right thing to blow all your budget on consumer-facing fun activity. It may have an indirect effect, by helping your business customers, but stick to the core things that will likely have the bigger impact on the business. And measure, so that you know what works – accept what didn’t – and learn from it.
I could keep writing – as there are so many things learned from working with different companies. But blogs need to be bite-size, so we can keep more for another day! I always think marketing is a mix of art and science. There are often clear clues and evidence that can point to what should work, but sometimes that isn’t the case and there is a mix of art – and risk in what will work – as well as determination to stick at it.