I have worked with many SMEs and discovered their lack of understanding for marketing has led to the company always in a limbo of survival or “ticking over”. The problem always comes down to the needed investment, the lack of time commitment and the misunderstanding of marketing and sales. Small companies believe in combining marketing and sales role together to save on costs but this overlap can result in far too much concern for the short term goals, and therefore missing out on the big picture. It comes down to this: are you after a short term growth, or a long term investment?
Marketing versus Sales.
Marketing focuses on building the brand and communication to the customer for brand recall (where the individual remembers the brand and has positive associations with that brand). The aim of brand recall is to build on the knowledge of the brand and therefore lead to a belief that this brand is the right choice for the consumer. Products these days are hard to differentiate, for example; anyone can bottle water, so why is it we know of Evian and choose this brand over others? The marketing that Evian outputs helps to improve brand awareness and will in turn help the brand to become one of the top choices in a person’s mindset. Another example is Coca-Cola who focus their marketing on pushing the emotive responses of that brand to a consumer. They have separate employees to take on sales as they understand the difference.
So what is sales? Sales is where your initial outcome is to make money. When Coca-Cola aim to improve sales they look at how their product reaches their consumers and target these areas. So when you see Asda selling Coca-Cola at a lower rate this is an agreement made between the two companies to help increase sales.
Marketing a brand requires an initial understanding of how your company wants to differentiate itself. There are several types of differentiation; including price (this results to price wars); or on service (making your product seem different and more appealing than that of the competitor). The final type of differentiation is a hybrid of the two, competing on price and product difference.
Coca-Cola use service differentiation and went for the feel good factor. Their world renowned Christmas adverts show Santa Claus drinking the famous brand. This shows the audience that the friendly Father Christmas who is known to be trust worthy, loving, caring and giving, trusts Coca-Cola. This in turn portrays the drinks company as a trust worthy, loving, caring and a giving brand.
On the other hand, we can look at Poundland who sell branded items for £1. This appeals to the monetary side of a purchase and will eventually lead to price wars which are a dangerous area to be in.
Once you understand how to differentiate your product you then need to understand who your target audience is. It is a common mistake for many starting businesses to diversify into all areas to try to gain a wider audience. This is often the first big mistake a company makes. Take a look at many graphic design companies who claim they can improve SEO, create websites, manage marketing campaigns, design print media, create newsletters etc. Once you make this mistake you have a huge audience to market to, but financially this is rarely viable and it also forces you to invest more into making sure you can deliver all these promises. I always suggest to my clients that they follow a basic rule of ‘stick to what you know” at first. Your company has strengths so build on it and sell it. Target a small audience which you can then manage and maintain, retaining customers is far easier than gaining new ones.
You need to ask who you would like to see buying your products and why. If you have a premium product for example a high end watch, you would not want someone who has no social status to wear this. Sounds awful to say but why? This is because this person will show that your watch is affordable to them, and therefore brings the brand value down. Soon enough the audience you would like to have wearing your watch do not want to touch your product and the perceived value of your product has disappeared. A prime example is Burberry; before the 1970s, Burberry was well reputed as a luxury fashion house product, but since 1970 the brand has become popular with the British casual cult leading to its being associated with members of football firms and by the 1990s it gained a new association with what is referred to as“chav”. This shift in culture from a high profile upper class image to a middle class image (and reverse) is known as prole drift.
Once you decide who your target audience is you can then outline a marketing plan to appeal to this target audience.
This is where things start to get complicated. Large companies will have a fifty page marketing plan which involves mass research and statistical data analysis to come to a conclusion and idea. This is far too costly and time consuming for smaller companies and more often than not results in common sense conclusions. What I recommend is that you start with a blueprint of where you will have every real opportunity to interact with your target audience. So if I were a customer searching for a new laptop, the first thing I do is go online and use a search engine (typically Google in the UK, growing in popularity is Bing in the USA). If you have a website which has successful SEO then I may see your site and click on it. But what next? I may purchase the product from the website and therefore you make a nice sale. The transaction does not have to end at this point though, you can create new interactions to retain your customer. For instance you could offer to subscribe the customer to your newsletter; offer online live chats for technical support; and always offer a telephone number for a more personal approach. The added benefit of these interactions is that even if you miss out on the sale you will have had an interaction with the customer to help push your brand awareness and image. Deal with a lost sale from a customer as well as you would deal with a gained purchase, and you may create a new relationship with this customer.
So list and create portals to meet and gain personal interactions with customers where you can. This will help to reinforce the brand and hopefully brand recognition and even recall in the future. Manage these portals so that you are able to improve every interaction with the audience aiming to beat the expectation the customer has from you. This will lead to a positive perception of the brand and this should in turn result in a new customer relationship. (look up SERVQUAL model for more information on expectation versus perception).
Something overlooked by many small businesses is managing the relationship with the new customer. You will have competitors itching to take your customer away from you and after all that effort you put into getting them, with the added advantage that they know you and like you by now, why would you neglect them and risk losing them? Majority of people today have had no interaction with a company after purchase and in certain transactional situations this is expected so is perfectly acceptable. However with the increase in social media, interacting with the customer is becoming a requirement so be careful when choosing which way you would like to go.
Interacting with a customer can be simple. Sending newsletters to a customer is a form of retention, although they may just go straight to the junk folder so you would need a good mailing system to analyse their success. You can contact the customer post purchase to see how they like the product/service if this is applicable. The new form of interaction however is the use of social media. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are great ways to interact with customers as they actively hunt you down and join your pages. Here they can be kept up to date, can be shown a personal side of the company, and they get updates on new products or features you may wish to inform them about. Additionally their friends can see they are supporting you which could result in new customers (a type of word-of-mouth). Coca-Cola and many other large companies have utilised this new form of media, but the prime example is T-Mobile. T-Mobile used Twitter as a means of handling any complaints and support issues that their customers had. They responded promptly to their customer complaints and issues which turned many negative ideas about them into positive. Followers of their page were able to see how responsive they are to their customers and therefore how reliant they are when there are problems.
Another benefit of this was the savings they had from having to handle the same problem with multiple customers. Customers all shared their experiences and problems and could see the resolution to their problem without having to even speak to T-Mobile whilst being reassured that they were helping to fix it, thanks to the support offered to the previous customer.
The final note that I want to push is personality beats corporate every time. When you are marketing your company, think back to that bad experience you had with a company and how it made you feel. If you have had the experience of being treated like a number, rather than a valued customer then you will understand what I mean by this. Every customer makes judgements not only on cost, but how that brand makes them feel. Every time they see the logo, hear about the brand, speak about the brand, speak to an employee or touch the product they are passing judgement over the brand. If the company is portrayed with more personality, then a mistake is more forgivable than that of a heartless, emotionless company.