Business isn’t like baseball. Just because you build it doesn’t mean they’ll come. There’s research to do, campaigns to create, experts to hire. The tools of the game are discipline, analysis and information. won’t ever happen overnight. John Graham, owner of Graham Communications, a national marketing and consulting firm, says marketing is as vital to the life of a business as a computer system, telephone system, delivery trucks, etc. “It’s not optional today,” he says. “Marketing is an investment in the future growth of a business.” Which means you don’t forget it when business is good and then expect it to save you when business is bad.
Bill Koslowe, President of Pinnacle Marketing Management and author of Beauty and the Beastly Market — Taming Uncertainties in Marketing Beauty Products, outlines a basic master plan for marketing: First you start with a big idea and move into development. Once you think you have the product idea nailed down, write a positioning or advertising statement to describe the product. Next expose the statement to customers and plan for positioning. If you find you really do have a big idea that has the ability to generate dollars, proceed to the research and development phase to create a prototype. Take the prototype back to the customers and have them test it to make sure it meets the expectations of the positioning statement. Now you develop packaging, which offers your most powerful message because it is the representation of your product most seen by the customer. Next occurs a heavy testing phase of initial advertising and the introduction of the product itself, followed by advertising and promotional strategies. Finally, monitor the initial distribution awareness of your product. From the beginning in your business plan, you will have goals set forth and now you monitor actual performance against those goals. Many businesses take this sort of pulse every three months to see if they are where they should be. If not, it’s time to plan what can be done to identify the problem and solve it.
Before you hire a public relations firm, before you start arguing about the merits of television versus radio, before you even start selling your product, it is important to have a strong idea about your corporate identity. Make sure your idea is a breakthrough concept, one that conjures an image or proposition your target audience can latch onto. Jackie Shelton, a partner at Realife Marketing in Reno, says “Put together a piece that showcases your uniqueness?’ You should be able to express your idea simply in one or two sentences. If it can’t, you have a long-term education process in front of you — you may first have to explain to the ~consumer what they need, before they can understand why you are offering it.
You need to know what sets you apart from other companies. But be careful here that your ego does not color your opinions. This is a good time to talk to employees and existing customers if you are already that far along. Ask why they patronize your company. If you have not proceeded thus far, ask why customers choose your potential competition. Marketing is more about perception than reality and you need to understand what kind of perceptions exist and what kind you want to create.
The key to any business says Koslowe, is to know your customers. Talk to them frequently, and don’t be afraid to ask their opinions of ideas you are thinking of developing or services you are thinking of offering. Ask straight out what they think the best way is to express a new idea to them. Although less effective, the opposite approach is surprisingly commonplace: first develop the idea, and then find a way to sell it to the consumer “That takes time and money;’ says Koslowe, “and often loses momentum.”
Shelton says a prime mistake business owners make is worrying about what they want to say, rather than what the customer wants to hear. “What’s in it for me?” is the main question on every consumer’s mind. Graham says if you’re proud of the fact that you’ve been in business since 1939, hang a sign on the wall. But don’t think–that fact is going to move anyone to action. You say your employees are your greatest asset, but who would say otherwise? “You can blow your own horn;’ Graham says, as long as you blow it in your own backyard. Because that’s not marketing.” The object of marketing is to take care of the customer the way the customer wants to be taken care of.
Make sure you’re not overreaching and paying for an audience you don’t need. For example, buying television advertising for a narrow target is probably a waste of time and money. Try a direct mail campaign instead. You can obtain lists that pinpoint your target audience from direct mail houses or professional organizations. If you choose to advertise on the radio, remember that stations are driven by established demographics. Examine each station’s demographic profile and purchase your advertising from the stations that broadcast to your target market.
Remember that marketing is building identity. For a marketing task to be effective, says Graham, it needs to emanate from several different angles. So wherever the customer looks, he or she sees your company. In an effective campaign your product or service appears to be everywhere, even when it’s not. It’s about targeting. Sounds like a bother, doesn’t it? And it does cost money. But as Graham says, “If you cut corners, expect a cut in results.”
Koslowe says the balance of power in the marketplace has switched from the manufacturers to the retail community over the last 15 years. Today, it is important to build bridges with retail establishments to protect your in-store slot- your most valuable retail asset. This comes back to the identity work you accomplished in the beginning. Now you can tell, the retailer how your brand is going to increase the long-term competitiveness and profitability of his or her business.
The best form of advertising remains word of mouth. The quality of your product and your service will keep customers coming back. Advertising cat be a mixed bag when it comes to affecting that quality. Say you do a bang-up job with your public relations and suddenly you have more business than you can comfortably handle. Consequently, quality suffers and word of mouth spreads, canceling out all that good PR. Shelton handles PR for a local optometrist with an innovative vision therapy practice. The optometrist generates most of his PR by speaking to groups and organizations where he can directly address potential clients. It is his enthusiasm and knowledge that sells his service- traits that come across much better in a public speaking forum than they ever could on a commercial.
Consistency is the key to advertising. Remember, you are building an image, creating a perception, and that may take time. Shelton warns against changing ads to follow the competition or just because you’re sick of them. By the time your campaign hits the ground after all the discussion and design, you are not likely to be a good judge of market saturation. Now, if your customers start complaining that’s a different story and a sure sign to consider change. Don’t be afraid to ask your clientele what they think of your campaign. Shelton suggests putting something with the ad that can gauge its effectiveness such as “mention this ad and get something free.” Don’t expect instant results. Graham says there is no magic formula. If you are so set on doubling your sales that you’ll keep chasing rainbows, just cut you prices by 50 percent. You’ll double your sales, alright, and you’ll be out of business Marketing is not designed for instant response. Marketing is designed to create a brand, a feeling why someone should want to do business with you. The results of good marketing aren’t a strong short-term surge in sales, but a constant flow of business over time.
There are many reasons to go outside your firm for marketing help. One is expertise. Just because you have a computer doesn’t mean you are a graphic artist. Today’s audiences are media savvy and will not stand for poor quality or busy ads. They want helpful information that is quickly absorbed and easy to understand. Consultants (be they marketing firms, advertising agencies or public relations agents) are experts at how to reach audiences. But hire them early. Don’t wait until your business is in trouble to go to a professional. “Consultants are experts at maximizing growth,” says Koslowe, but it’s tough to grow in a crisis. Marketing research companies, such as Carl Bergemann’s Sierra Market Research, can ask the questions and do the footwork to find out the true reality of your customer’s perceptions. “We find out values.”
he says. In focus groups, he works toward emotional involvement, getting people passionate in order to uncover their real beliefs “If you can design a product or service around what emotionally moves them:’ he says, “that product will continue to be successful.” But if you are considering hiring a market research firm, warns Bergemann, look for tenure. “A lot of people move in and out of this industry. Make sure this is their long-term commitment.” Check for formal training in focus group leaders (Bergemann is certified) and watch out for low, low prices. Poor quality data can lead to decisions made on faulty assumptions.
Consultants can also keep your staff from getting distracted by job assignments outside their areas of expertise. Sure, that guy in accounting does killer memos, but that doesn’t mean he should be writing your advertising copy. Keep your employees focused on their jobs, and let the consultant focus on your marketing.
When looking for a consultant, watch out for people who just tell you what they are going to do without asking questions first. “In effect. they’ve told you they’re going to get paid to produce ads, mail, etc.,” says Graham. “That’s not marketing.” A good consultant will start by asking you what you want to accomplish and work with you on how to do that over time. He or she should be investing time up front learning about your business. “People call and ask me to do a brochure and I ask ‘why do you want a brochure?’” Graham says, “and they usually don’t know or it’s just because a competitor has one. Brochures don’t make sales. People make sales.”
Remember though, no consultant can, help your business if you won’t heed their advice. You may watch TV, read newspapers, listen to the radio; you may be able to recite commercials verbatim. That doesn’t make you a marketing expert. You wouldn’t assume you could play major league baseball just because you can list very player in the 1957 World Series, so don’t assume your passive absorption of advertising matches the years of training and experience professionals possess. If your not ready to listen to the professionals, don’t hire them. It’s that simple. But if you are ready to listen, go ahead and get your box seats. At least you’ll be part of the game.