When the economy starts to head a little south, it seems as if the marketing budget is the first to see the swinging ax. This is counterintuitive to the CEO, owner or entrepreneur who, in desperate times, is preoccupied with how he or she will compete to retain business and win new business. Cutting back the marketing = out of sight, out of mind.
The only logical rationale for thinning back the budget on anything is if prior results were underwhelming or downright unacceptable. We all know that we need marketing to promote ourselves and grow, so we must examine why marketing plans fail and understand how and where we can improve them.
- Your brand is just kind of sitting “out there,” undefined and vulnerable to the courts of consumer opinions, channel partner opinions and competitors who are attacking your weaknesses with their brand position and tenacious marketing. To address this, the first thing you’ll need to ask yourself is: Are we in control of our brand? There are four relatively easy ways of making this determination:
- Send an email to everyone at your company and ask them to define your brand. Also ask them to list your unique selling points. Give them a deadline to respond and when you get the results, the more disparity there is in brand understanding, the less control you have of your brand.
- Google the name of your company, go ten pages deep and see whether there are any posts, comments or blogs that include your brand name. Who’s posting the content? Is it good? Bad? Accurate? Are you proud of what you see? Is your brand mentioned on another website? And if so, in what light?
- Is there anyone at your company who is in charge of your brand? What are his or her responsibilities? Is s/he following through and held accountable?
- When was the last time your company held a retreat, workshop or any sort of meeting focused on building, enhancing or (re)defining your brand?
- The marketing team and the sales team don’t talk to each other. This is as common as it is confusing only because the principal role of marketing is to lubricate the sales process. Salespeople are in the field every day fighting the fight to win new business and are in the best position to let marketing know exactly what is needed to close more deals sooner. This could be website revisions, newsletters, literature, direct response, email campaigns or any other tools that would prove a strong, respectable ROI. If you sell through reps, ask them whether they have adequate marketing tools to successfully sell your products. Ask for ideas, and listen well.
- Operating with the idea that last year’s stuff is good enough. When was the last time you bought something that was “good enough”? Good enough is settling based on the better of a very limited amount of unsatisfactory choices, or an ultimatum. Good enough doesn’t influence buying behavior. Good enough marketing will do more harm than good.
- Nobody watched the metrics, there are no metrics to watch or nobody knows which metrics to focus on. You’ve heard the phrase “anything worth doing is worth measuring.” The fact is, marketing can be measured, and should be measured. If you want to get a larger marketing budget approved by the CFO, be prepared to discuss goals and metrics.
- Copycat marketing. Also known as “me too” marketing. When a company doesn’t understand who they are, how they are different or why they even exist, the easiest thing to do is copy the industry leader. Why doesn’t copycat marketing work? Aside from the fact that we all know it’s wrong, unethical, and even, at times, not legal, copycat marketing doesn’t work because marketing builds expectations and when the expectations are not delivered, customers not only don’t come back, they discuss it in their networks and online. The result: a reputation you cannot afford to have.
- The marketing plan is a list of tactics and timelines, but no strategy. Strategy is needed because the future is uncertain. We have no idea what political, economic, technical or social occurrences will take place over the next year, yet we need to be able to account for the inevitable unknown. We also do not know how the actions of our competitors will impact our business over the long term, and this is precisely why defining the brand is critical!
- The company can’t decide precisely what it wants marketing to do. Vague goals such as “growing” or “getting more sales” lack focus. If you want to grow your business, which part of your business do you want to grow? By how much? How did you arrive at your figures? Which markets do you wish to grow? Why do you want to focus on them?
When creating your marketing plan, always start with your brand. Define it, build it and make sure everyone understands it. A strong brand answers the big questions, makes decisions easier, provides focus and direction and most importantly, it gives potential buyers a clear answer to the question: Why?
Without a strong brand, your marketing will have very weak legs to stand on.