What benefits should a marketing function deliver for SMEs.

Why read this?

Technology has fundamentally changed the modern marketing function. Marketing is too often thought of as purely a creative, qualitative activity, but modern data analysis has enabled a new range of benefits.  Perhaps the easiest summary of the change is that marketing can now be measured. We all know the popular quote “We all waste half our marketing budget. We just don’t know which half.”  Modern data methods have changed that and have made marketing a genuinely strategic decision tool.

The most common flaw is to think that marketing is only about communication, very often the website. This is now only a very small part of what marketing can be doing.

What is Marketing?

‘What product? What Price? What market?’ covers most of the important features of marketing. Perhaps add ‘brand’, which marketing executives communicate but should not be left alone to create. In companies with a well defined sales process,  marketing might take responsibility for lead generation. Marketing will also give sales people talk-tracks, evidence of product values, lines-to -take on competitors and much else.

Marketing is sales foreplay or it should not be done! Thus the internal clients of marketing are the salesforce who, (perhaps reluctantly!) should be saying their job is easier because of good marketing. This might be because they are talking to better qualified leads and so conversion rates of leads to clients are up. It might be because sales people find customers are less resistant to price because value is better explained and evidenced. Or maybe, sales teams find the company has the right (i.e. useful) products being sold using appropriate contract terms. Marketing departments give the sales team the road map.

Marketing is now measurable because, increasingly, marketing leads to directly to sales. CRM systems such as Salesforce, Web analytics in Google all show exactly where business is coming from. They also allow data about clients to be easily collated and analysed so sales teams can find more clients like the ones already buying. There is (perhaps) a place for general advertising billboards which create brand awareness but making poorly qualified customers ‘aware’ of products is expensive. Marketing activities can now be measured for how they are directly increasing sales.

Marketing is strategic and, if the above is believed, is the heart of what companies decide to do. Actually communicating it in either a leaflet or website is the last and easiest stage. In some companies when you ask about marketing you are shown to a relatively young communications person. Such people are valuable but only doing the last stage. The hiring dilemma in marketing is whether to have a creative, qualitative communicator or a numerical, analytical, data cruncher. It is not often they can be the same person.

Finally, data should inform but not make decisions. Modern data allows the decision maker to understand each sub component of the decision process better and but they do then need to use their judgement accordingly. There is evidence that automated data driven decisions, even where data is rich and correct, does not lead to the best outcome. Check the Ted Talk at the end of this article.

Brand

Brand is a top-level strategic activity. A strong brand makes selling easier, attracts talent to work at the company, allows the product to be sold above the competitors’ price and brings repeat business.  All these benefits are measurable. Brand is the very identity of the company and would likely be defined by the CEO i.e. not purely by the marketing executives.

Brand starts with brand values. What is it about the company that defines it, in terms that the customer finds directly useful? These will likely be some key words and not long sentences. It is not a mission statement or nor simply a description of the company’s  activity or identity.  The most useful brand values should differentiate from competitors by claiming genuinely unique values which competitors have to admit they do not have. Thus, quality based brand values such as “good customer service” or “quality”  (unless very well evidenced), are weak since they are probably claimed by everyone.

Supporting these brand values is a ‘reason to believe’ and this needs evidence as collateral. Thus, the marketing department will need to provide evidence that brand values are true and not simply asserted. This evidence might be client testimonials or evidence of client success using the product. Of course, it is possible to communicate a brand that is not true. Many have, but this is expensive, stressful and undermines trust which in the end is always fatal.

The very first thing to do having defined a brand is to make it true. Then it needs to be communicated internally so that everyone in the company believes it. This may not be easy and it certainly should not be taken for granted.  Then and only then is it worth trying to communicate it externally. Of course, very often companies start at the last stage!

Finally, absolutely everything a company does and projects must be on brand. Keeping everyone “on Brand” is very much marketing’s task and gives them licence to comment on a wide range of activities.  At the end of every call with Disney you are always told to “Have a magical day!” Everyone is on brand.

What does marketing do

First it seeks to measure, in money, the success of all it does. Even the most general brand building  eg “getting our name out there” or “awareness” (all best avoided) are pointless if they do not lead to additional revenue or profit. Measurement should be a culture in modern marketing which is therefore a quantitive, data driven activity. This is culturaly new for some marketing teams.

Key Questions that Marketing Set out to answer. 

Why are people buying our product?

Start with a product. Too often sales are selling the function of the product and not its benefit. In fact, they should be emphasising the user-emotion that arises from the benefit of the product.  Clearly, it is the job of marketing executives to understand what features of the product are valued by the buyer. Why is the customer buying? This will in turn inform how to sell it, what new features might be needed, what price is appropriate and much else. Marketing will want to get to customers themselves, attend sales meetings, but most important of all they should be in regular contact with sales people who probably already have this knowledge.

Where the buyer is not the end-user, marketing executives will want to understand the relationship between buyer and user. They will also want to make sure that everyone in the decision chain is getting the value messages directly from them. It is risky to hope the end user is being told about the benefits by the buyer.

Understanding the trigger for buying helps sales people contact customers when they have a need. At what stage in what customer process does the buyer decide to reach for the product? The timing of a buyers need is the hardest, but most useful, variable to measure and anticipate. There is interesting work taking place using Artificial Super Intelligence (i.e. Learning Computers) which tries to match buying appetite with other non obvious factors.

How are people buying our product?  Or how are we selling? 

What is the customer journey from first contact to purchase? Is this being done with an managed pipeline system? What activity or need is driving customers in the first place? Who is specifying the product? Can that be changed by a broker or intermediary?  Once marketing understand where customers are coming from they can go there to find more and they can put in place processes to make the customer buying journey easier.

And critically they can start lead generation activities that in time might lead to them feeding well qualified leads into the sales team.

Understanding the Market.

Far too much time is spent on sizing a market. Unless you have invented something brand new or have say 80% of the market it is unimportant how big the market is. If you have 2% of a huge market your task is to get 4% of it. At this level of penetration it might be assumed to be infinite. Your problem is market share not size of market.

It probably is worth knowing if the market is shrinking or growing so that you can measure renewal rates. You will also need to watch the horizon for industry or product changing ideas or technologies.

Is success uniform across geographies and, if not, can lessons be mapped from one successful sales team to another. Marketing can be the agent of communication here.

Summary

Marketing is strategic, and measurable.

Links

Ted Talk on Data Methods.

Posted in SME.

One thought on “What benefits should a marketing function deliver for SMEs.

  1. I agree completely Simon. I find it frustrating that so many small business owners see marketing as advertising and branding as a logo. In doing so they are really limiting the potential of their business.
    We have a lot of work to do to open peoples eyes, raise their expectations and help them achieve great results from strategic and effective marketing.
    Great blog post.
    J

    Like

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