A major reason why marketing activity fails to show adequate results within small to medium-sized companies is because it is poorly managed. In this article, we discuss how to manage your marketing for business results by looking at the building blocks of an effective marketing management process.
Marketing does not start with the marketing activity you do; it begins with a brand. It is the brand that needs to be built and maintained over time to occupy a place in the customer’s mind and drive more sales at higher prices. Awareness, recognition, trust and ultimately, more profits follow from a well crafted and well-maintained brand. It is tempting to think of “marketing” as a means only to drive sales, but long term the greatest benefit lies in building a trustworthy brand for your business. Marketing management is in many ways the process of brand asset management, which has the added benefit of increased sales.
Define the brand
The first thing to do in order to manage your marketing is to define the brand that will ultimately be the focus of the marketing activity. This does not have to be a lengthy, complicated process. Ultimately you should be able to summarise the perception you want employees, customers and competitors to have of your business or product in a few sentences. This becomes your brand positioning statement and the north star of all marketing activity – is it “on-brand” or not. Everyone in the business should be aware of the brand position and work towards building it.
Once the brand position is defined, the next step is to formalise a basic set of design guidelines to ensure consistent use of the logo, corporate colours as well as a standard set of marketing templates. The brand guideline is a manual for the preparation of all marketing activity and ensures much faster execution. It is ideal to include a summary of the brand positioning statement inside the brand guidelines for completeness sake, turning into a single document that summarises the desired brand asset, whether a company or a product.
Prepare a marketing plan
Once the brand is defined, it is time to agree on a marketing plan to build the brand. Many businesses complain that they don’t see results from their marketing activity, yet they somehow treat marketing differently to other parts of the business where careful planning is standard practice. In research we conducted among 102 small to medium-sized businesses, only 42% had a documented marketing plan. You can’t manage, what you can’t measure, and this is often the problem with how SMEs approach an investment in marketing.
A marketing plan should include a clear definition of the market segment you operate in, a description of the ideal customer you want to attract and who the key decision-makers are to ultimately reach. This overview of your so-called target market should move beyond superficial descriptions and aim to identify the underlying needs these groups have. It is essential to move beyond a mere listing of high-level needs such as price and features and start to unravel the underlying emotional needs such as frustrations, problems, ideals and aspirations. The richer a description of the customer, the stronger the marketing plan will be. This approach is again applicable to both business and consumer markets and requires a great deal of attention to ensure a successful marketing effort.
Following a detailed definition of the target market, one should move on to think about how your ideal customer engages in a new purchase. What are the steps they take to move from no interest in what you offer, to buying it? A broad outline fo this process exists in the form of the so-called purchase funnel and forms the backbone of the marketing plan. By understanding each phase of the purchase funnel it is possible to to decide what type of marketing activity is required for your situation. There are many variations on the purchase funnel theme, but the basic outline has remained the same for decades.
Of course, a comprehensive marketing strategy should contain elements that appeal to each stage of the funnel, but knowing where the heavy lifting is needed allows smaller companies to be much more efficient given their limited resources. So-called “SMART objectives” (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound) should be tied to each level of the purchase funnel to allow marketing activity to be tied into an eventual sale, even if it targets only the awareness stage of the customer journey. Such a chain-link between various stages of marketing activity and sales become the holy grail of marketing and mostly absent from many SMEs.
Build a campaign
Once the marketing objectives are clear, a campaign should be developed and implemented. Just like in warfare, marketing relies on such defined campaigns to achieve the stated objectives, as per the purchase funnel: reach so many of the target market, create interest with so many, drive trial with so many, etc. This may involve many short-lived campaigns for consumer brands, or longer, more continuous campaigns for business brands. Not thinking in terms of campaigns is a major reason why many businesses struggle to see marketing results. There is no clear beginning and end to marketing activities and no clarity on what the aim is.
An essential aspect of such marketing campaigns is that it should not rely only on one single marketing tactic, such as Facebook, or Google ads, or a beautiful new website, but a a combination of tools. This is also reflected in warfare – no army only relies on its ground troops, or airplanes – there is always a combination of different tools used to achieve the desired goal. Using a combination of marketing tools follows a basic rule of marketing: integrated marketing communications (or IMC). It also means that you must be careful analysing a single marketing tool on its own and trying to attribute a sale to it (a common desire by business owners). The question to be answered is rather “have the combination of tools been successful”
Implementing a marketing campaign should be done according to basic project management principles. Use good suppliers, even if they are smaller agencies or freelancers. Ask them to show you examples of their work before appointing them. Keep communication in writing, and work with them in a collaborative manner to ensure they understand your business and requirements. Treating a marketing supplier purely as that – a supplier – is a mistake since marketing activity is highly dependent on the company culture and unique circumstances of the business and market environment. It is not possible for an outsider to deliver high quality marketing outputs without close interaction with senior managers to help shape the content.
Review and refine
A crucial part of any management activity is reporting. Professional marketing management requires that the marketing goals as set in the marketing plan (the SMART goals) be tracked and reported on monthly. This helps to understand if progress is made and whether changes are required. Ultimately marketing activity that works needs to be in touch with the market, which evolves continuously, meaning that no marketing plan can be cast in stone. Continuous learning is part of the marketing management process.
We hope this article has given you a solid overview of how to manage your marketing for business results. If you want help to refine your internal marketing management process, reach out to us for an exploratory discussion.