Marketing – necessary evil?

It came up in conversation that marketing is “a necessary evil” and an overhead! I can understand that some companies have had bad experiences and have come to feel this way – and I know only too well how careful businesses need to be with their budgets! But whoever made this remark was clearly not getting their marketing right. Marketing should be the biggest and best investment you can make to enable your business grow.

It all depends on how you define marketing. Many people think of marketing as making brochures, websites, exhibition stands and fluffy PR – it can be viewed as a little arty by those on the engineering side of things. However to be more precise, those aspects of marketing should really come under the heading of Marketing Communications. The real scope of marketing is wider than this. The classic concept of “Four Ps” defines it much better: product, placing (for this read distribution or route to market), pricing and promotion. In most companies, the marketing department is focused on the fourth “P” – the promotional work – but the four Ps model is spot on because it puts the elements in the right order. There is other work to do before the promotional work can be successful – the product has to be right, the pricing has to be right and the route to market has to be prepared.

I will add a note about markets here. The size of a market will dictate the size of the opportunity for an individual company – and the number and relative strength of competing companies in the same market sector will have a bearing on the share that each single player can reasonably expect to achieve.

I believe that for marketing to be successful – and in this instance I mean promotional marketing – a number of other business questions must be first. Top of the list is research to understand the size and scope of the market, competitors, and the potential demand and opportunity for the product or service on offer. Then, the product or service needs to be shaped so that it fits with that demand, at a viable price.

If the background research has been realistic, and if the product or service design and pricing are right for the market, then the promotional work should bring good results.

This article is about marketing budgets, not messaging, so I will not discuss propositions in detail here. However, to conclude, I would say that provided there is a real opportunity in the marketplace, increasing your marketing and sales work should bring a real increase in business – and that those businesses that done their research and spend more on their promotions than their competitors will almost certainly do better in the longer term.  This doesn’t favour smaller competitors – which is why the great business gurus like Michael Porter advise smaller companies to specialise in market niches where they can achieve visibility and success without such a large investment.

 

 

 

Integrated PR and Marketing

Good PR and marketing should help to generate sales. They help a company to find new sales prospects, and help the sales conversion process in numerous ways. However, this can be easier in smaller technology firms than in larger businesses. In small firms, very often the same individual is responsible for directing sales and marketing, whilst in larger companies, the roles are split between large sales forces and marketing departments with a number of specialists, all working in a more complex corporate hierarchy. In technical businesses, it may also be the case that technical product management will take the lead in PR and marketing.

This means that it can be far easier to align marketing, PR and sales in a small company, and respond tactically to market events, because the strategy is simply decided by one person. In slightly larger organisations,  good integration can depend on the personalities and how well the sales and marketing people are aligned as a team. The largest businesses will use formal structures and leadership to ensure that sales and marketing are working in tandem.

PR and marketing messages

A marketing plan, PR plan and sales campaign should all be geared to helping and supporting the sales effort needed to achieve a company’s financial goals, and all should be promoting the same messages about the company and its products or services.

Besides the obvious product features and USPs, your brand, reputation, credibility, track record, technical expertise, accreditations, support services and future outlook can all be factors in winning a sale in a competitive situation. This means that your PR and marketing messages should focus on those areas where they can make the greatest positive impact on sales. It can be an interesting exercise to conduct an internal workshop to brainstorm marketing messages and listen to suggestions from all parts of the business.

Technology vendors – PR to target SMEs

Targeting PR campaigns to SMEs is not easy, yet this is a market that some of  my technology clients are aiming for. SMEs are the companies that typically have any number of people up to about 200.

Thinking about PR and media for this audience, it is difficult to find a media channel that reaches them all, because they  include so many different kinds of companies. They could be retailers, manufacturers, service providers, professional services, or providers of food, drink or hospitality, and they have very little in common except that they are businesses that fit a certain size bracket.

I believe that to conduct a successful promotion, you need to know your customers better than this. There will be groups of customers in different sectors and some may stand out as being more attractive than others. It’s also likely that the clients in different sectors may use your products or services in varying ways, and for different reasons. So it may be helpful to break that SME sector down into vertical markets which will have their own trade media, exhibitions, newsletters and forums.

It can be a very interesting exercise to conduct a Straw Poll and see what media, magazines and websites the customers actually read, and where they would look for new suppliers. There’s a lifestyle factor too. For example, people who travel a lot by car may listen to radio, and people who travel by air may prefer to use laptops and tablet computers and of course, online news services and discussion groups that go to particular groups are great for reaching particular sectors.

 

 

Marketing – starts with the humble business card

Although small, business cards are crucial in marketing. My desk drawer is full of cards. Cards from editors and publishers, cards from current and former clients, cards from patent lawyers, web designers, hotels, restaurants, printers, photographers, bank managers – all kinds of business contacts and interesting people I have met through my work as PR consultant to technology businesses.

Swapping cards is part of the enduring ritual that we go through every time we make a new contact, along with shaking hands, and a quick conversation to get acquainted. There’s always a slight disappointment when a new contact says “I’m sorry I haven’t got any cards with me.” Sometimes that’s true, and the person is genuinely unprepared, but it can also be a polite refusal to agree to further contact.

Thinking where the business card fits into marketing, it will probably always be high on the list of “Marketing Touchpoints”. For most people starting a business, the card is the first marketing document they make. For established businesses, it is a small but vital piece in the increasingly complicated jigsaw of marketing actions.

Digital printing revolutionised business cards, and colour print is now possible without a large outlay, so most business cards are now a mini advertisement, with print on the front and back. The cards in my desk contain logos, straplines, bullet points, graphics – and one or two even show a photo of the individual. But not everyone is making the most of this tiny marketing tool, for example, not everyone uses the space on the back of the card to the full extent.

The business card that impressed me most was presented to me by one of the very smallest of businesses. It came from a one-man telecoms consultancy, and the card is not an ordinary card at all – it’s an 8-part zig-zag folding card where each section describes a different service that his consultancy offers. It is, in fact, a mini brochure – 500 x 700 millimetres in disguise as a card. How strange that a sole businessman would create this neat piece of marketing, when the hundreds of thousands of companies with professional marketing managers and far bigger budgets simply stay with the traditional card and never even think of doing anything different.

Exports, languages and PR overseas

Online communications are rapidly making the world feel smaller, but Marketing should still think “local”. When it comes to selling in countries where English is not the first language, sometimes it is a good idea to  prepare the PR material in the local language.

You may say: “Everyone understands English, so we can promote our company in English,” and of course, often technical terms are universal worldwide. However this is a little lazy. Making the effort to communicate in the local language can make a great difference. Most editors speak English, of course, but they don’t have time to translate the material we provide. Anything that makes their life easier will help your PR campaign.

With a little effort, it is always possible to find individuals who can translate technical marketing information into other languages. There may be a small cost, but in my opinion, the cost is extremely small in the wider context of selling overseas, which usually involves a lot of expensive travelling. Translating key press releases into local languages is a simple step that every company should consider if they are serious about their exports to the regions where English is not the first language.