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.

 

 

 

Marketing, AI, Big Data and Emotions?

IBM predicts that by 2020 the digital universe will be four times bigger than it is today. I guess much of this will be a direct outcome of the marketing ‘content’ we are creating today.

Hand in hand with this, IBM also predicts that we could see a trend towards “dark social”. This is a phenomenon where people no longer want to share everything about their lives on social media – the greater proportion of conversation on social media now takes place in private within the messaging applications.

I heard this at a great talk by Jeremy Waite, at the Technology for Marketing Show, where he introduced IBM’s latest work with AI and marketing. Another interesting trend, which we are beginning to see – is for the big IT companies, and I am sure Facebook will be one of the first of these, to look for ways to track emotions as well as clicks. While it may seem strange at first, it would really be extremely simple for a company to track emojis and feed the data back into their marketing information.

With these trends personalised marketing where you approach each contact with the right message at the right time becomes more complex, as there is more data to read. This is a new challenge for marketers, and Big Data and data analysis are likely to become drivers of marketing – working to understand feelings and emotions – especially in the bigger consumer-facing companies.

Rugged tablets shine in the Cloudy show

20160412_161006 (3)Because of the all-pervasive trend towards Cloud Computing, as I looked around the Cloud Expo Europe last week, there was not a great deal of hardware on show, and a number of exhibitors had thought of completely different ways to attract and interact with the show visitors. For example, one company was challenging visitors to a game of crazy golf.

One display which did catch my eye though, was the selection of cool rugged tablets from Tablet Technologies, which had a good position near the entrance to the show.

Tablet Technologies is a UK company manufacturing their own range of rugged Windows and Android tablets. The devices are built to client specs, so can include extra features, such as barcode scanning or GPS, with the showcase product being the NX10 IP65 Ruggedised 8″ Windows Tablet. Looking more closely, these devices have a true quality feel – the ruggedness of a Landrover compared to the lightweight tablets that most of us use. They will be a great asset to people in the toughest and most demanding jobs on the planet- travelling, in warehouses, working out of doors in all weathers.

Case studies – ten ways to use them

Here’s a quick article to suggest some more ways to use those valuable customer stories. Ideally you would make a case study for every market sector you sell to. First, collect the details of the story and have it written up as a case study, to make a marketing document that can be used as a sales tool. Then..

Case studies for marketing

  1. Number one on my list has to be Content Marketing because it has become so important. There are a few different ways of doing this, but the principle is simply to display a brief version of the story on your website, and collect the email addresses of the visitors downloading the story.
  2. Use the customer story in a PR campaign. Interesting stories about well-known organisations and forays into new technology are very often suitable for editorial news and features.
  3. Email marketing – refer to the customer story in an email marketing message, and  use a link to track “opens”. Many companies are now using a marketing automation system such as Hubspot to streamline this process.
  4. Share the case study with existing customers. A new case study is a great topic for a company newsletter or a presentation to a user group.
  5. A ground-breaking case study is a brilliant topic for a conference presentation.
  6. Do something different and present the story in other ways – for example it’s no trouble to use a smartphone to make a video for posting and sharing.
  7. I have seen detailed technical case studies being used very successfully for training sales people and distributors overseas.
  8. Why not enter a customer success story for an industry award?
  9. Add case studies to tender submissions to build credibility and strengthen a bid for a major contract.
  10. Finally, this is one to make your internal team feel connected with customers, even if they are not in customer-facing roles. Use glossy pictures of customers using your products to brighten up your offices. It’s also good to have them in reception and meeting rooms. Of course, this only works for certain kinds of products and services!

With so many ways to use a customer case study, I believe it is well worth taking the trouble to put a story together and have it written in the right style and format for your business. The first customer in a new market sector could be an ideal candidate for a case study, as their story will help to gain a foothold and build credibility in the new market area.  Ideally your case study library will contain examples from every sector of your customer base. Depending upon how you plan to use your case study, you may need anything from 500 to 1,500 words of text, but the average length for a business case study is usually between 800 and 1,000 words. That’s long enough to convey a lot of detail, but still short enough to be an easy read.

 

IT and technology shows fill ExCel

I am beginning to like the ExCel centre – the DLR route through London’s new docklands to Custom House is efficient, and it’s just a short hop from the station platform to the exhibition halls.

Today, ExCel was the busiest I have ever seen.

The spaces within ExCel are vast and cavernous, they house a number of individual halls of all sizes. On previous visits, ExCel had always seemed to be providing too much capacity for the shows and crowds it attracted, and even with a few hundred people around, you could still feel a bit lonely there.

Today, with some of London’s biggest technology trade shows all in full swing, ExCel came to life. The Data Centre World, Cloud Expo Europe, Cloud Security Expo and the new baby exhibition Smart IOT London filled one end of the centre, while at the other end, Railtex, InfraRail, ARLA and CITE (Civil Infrastructure and Technology Exhibition) were all buzzing with people. Thinking about visitor numbers, the first four shows alone probably attracted over 12,000 people.

 

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.

Trade show catalogue entries and PR messages

Recently, I found myself scanning through a catalogue of about 1,000 exhibitors, looking for companies who supply some particular products I am researching.

Writing catalogue entries is usually treated as a rushed administrative task, but could it affect the outcome you get from a tradeshow?

Many entries state that their company is “leading”. Sadly, this is meaningless corporate vanity. It’s also subjective, and editors usually remove “leading” from any edited, published PR content. Besides that, it doesn’t tell anyone what your company does.

At this particular show, a number of companies wrote that they have been in business for 40 years. Well to me, that makes you sound old fashioned if you are a technology vendor, and implies that you might still be doing things the way you did then. Although the history is interesting, I would add it as a statement at the end of the catalogue entry. I am interested in what you have achieved, and in particular what you have achieved recently – and what you have that is new at this show.

Ideally, the catalogue entry will answer the questions – who are you? what do you do? And what can you do for me? And if what you are selling is really your expertise, why not state the exact areas where you have this expertise? It’s particularly important for a newcomer to the market to get the messaging right.

I think there is often reluctance to be so specific in the description of a company’s service, in case any broader sales opportunities may be closed off. However, for most SME companies and technical companies the key to success is specialising in what you do and delivering a better product or service than the competition.  If you can begin to convey this in your PR, marketing and catalogue entries, then there’s a far more compelling reason to bring people to your show stand.