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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Developing your business


All too often I see so–called strategies that are the result of muddled thinking, so let me try to de-mystify the process of marketing strategies and show why it’s important to get the strategy right before committing time and money on marketing activities.  Marketing strategies should be straightforward, understandable and actionable and, once agreed, should be the touchstone for all marketing and business development activity.  They should also be brief.

The word strategy is frequently waved around and often abused, partly because the same word defines the overall process as well as one particular aspect of it.  There essentially three parts to a strategy – the objectives, the strategy (ie the means) and finally the plan.  If we can keep those three aspects clear we’re a long way towards our goal of marketing effectiveness.  There are always strategic issues at the beginning of any business development process so let’s consider the three aspects that make up a strategy:

1. Where are you now, where do you want to get to and when do you want to do it by
In other words, what are your objectives? Understanding where you are positioned in your chosen market(s) is very important in order that you can exploit gaps or weaknesses in your competitors.  We need to define our objectives, first for the business and secondly for the marketing.  These should be clear, measurable and, importantly, achievable.  Every single piece of marketing should be held up to those objectives to ensure that it will contribute to their achievement.  Those that don’t should be discarded.

2. Setting the strategy
This is how we are going to achieve the goals.  For example, if you are a law firm it may be that one objective for the business is to increase turnover by 25% in three years.  There could be a number of different ways to achieve this, such as increasing fee income from the top five clients; or bringing in lots of new clients; or raising fee levels to achieve the desired increase.  Each option will demand a different marketing approach.
The first needs people who are able to develop the skills of key account management.  The second needs a marketing programme to increase awareness and give people a reason to come to you.  The third needs a mixture of communication and negotiation skills.  In reality, the strategic developments are usually a combination of a number of different aspects for developing the business.

3. Creating the marketing plan
Having defined the objectives and set the strategy, the third element is to choose from the various media (in the widest sense) options open to us and create a plan. You can’t really decide which will be the most effective media to use until you (a) have agreed a sensible strategy and (b) have an understanding of the market in which you’re operating.  But some people try anyway - which is why many firms waste money on activities that don’t deliver more business.
Some of the elements of a marketing plan require larger financial resources and others may need a particular set of marketing skills to deliver.  For example, how important is social media to your market?  How smart is your client database management?  How often do your clients and targets like to be contacted?  What interests them?    Having the skills to ascertain the client’s needs and priorities is an essential element in winning new business in any market.

4. Evaluation
This is where the value for money bit comes in.  The effect of marketing activity should always be measured and viewed against the marketing objectives so that we can see if the activity has been a contributor or a loss maker.  Would it be worth repeating?  When the chairman of Unilever famously said, “I know half my advertising money is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half,” he should have fired his advertising agency and brought in a team who understood the value of measurement in marketing.

5. Being prepared to think differently about marketing
The way in which people absorb marketing communication has changed for ever.  No longer is there a battleground for resources between ‘above the line’ and ‘below the line’ marketing (when did you last hear those tags?)  Today the smart money integrates communication far more successfully using traditional routes like advertising and PR along with new media and database driven campaigns far more sophisticated than anyone could have imagined only a few years ago.  Your existing and potential customers have become media gadflies and they cherrypick the way they acquire information.  And they have high standards set by other companies or entities that interest them so you need to be on your toes to keep up.  If in doubt as to where the cutting edge of new media is, do what I do and consult a young person.

It’s tempting to develop marketing plans based on what has worked well in the past.  But the bravest companies initiate change from their position of success, minimizing the risk using the best evaluation techniques.  And their discipline and diligence ensures they stand out from the rest.

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