The Competitive Advantage
April 12, 2012
Our marketing classes in college taught us about 4 Ps of Marketing – the guiding tenets of Product, Place, Pricing and Promotions – to help create our marketing strategies and plans.
But the world – and marketing – has changed and that list now needs to be expanded to encompass new ways of thinking about and planning for marketing. The four newest Ps include:
April 12, 2012
We’ve all heard of the 4 Ps of Marketing – the guiding tenets of Product, Place, Pricing and Promotions – to help guide marketing efforts. To help guide your ‘Promotions,’ there are the 4 A’s of Marketing. In chronological order, they are:
Awareness: “If you build it, he will come” only works in Kevin Costner movies. In the real world, if prospective clients don’t know about your firm, how can they buy from you? In their classic book, Positioning, well-known consultants, Al Ries and Jack Trout, submit that marketing is not a fight for ‘market share,’ but rather a battle for ‘mind share.’ That is, when a prospective client has a need for a certain product or service, you want it to be your product or service that they think of first.Continue Reading
April 12, 2012
Regardless of the industries we serve, the age of our firm or the number of employees we have… we all share one common goal. We all want some greater level of market share and higher profit margins… and in nearly every case, achieving those goals starts with REVENUE GROWTH.
The initiatives you develop for helping to grow your business will most likely fall into one of four strategic categories… or more appropriately, one of the four “approaches” to business growth reviewed below:
Core Growth: “How can we sell more of our current services to our current targeted clients?”
This means not only finding more clients like you have now, but also increasing sales to your existing clients. This is most likely the kind of marketing & sales that most of us focus on most of the time… and that’s a good thing. But beyond this, though, the other three approaches that can really set the stage for explosive growth and provide you with a competitive advantage.
Market Expansion: “Who else, outside of our current client base, would be interested in buying our services?”
Here, we’re talking about looking at new vertical industries or niches within industries, new horizontal industries and new geographies.
Let’s suppose you own or manage a full-service research firm that serves all kinds of clients. Over the years, you notice that a bigger and bigger percentage of your business comes from one or two verticals – healthcare and higher education, for example.
Market Expansion suggests that you consider focusing your marketing & sales efforts on those verticals where you’re having the greatest success. This is not to suggest that you ignore the rest… only that you take a purposeful approach to growing your business in those verticals.
Another option might be ‘horizontal’ rather than vertical. If your research business targets research buyers (end users) in certain verticals, as is customary, of course, you might also want to consider targeting other firms that also serve that vertical (e.g. ad agencies, consultants, etc.). These other firms can themselves, become clients or, more importantly, they can become multipliers for you, helping you to make further in-roads into those verticals.
Lastly, you might need to think about geography. If you service the automotive industry on the west coast, you might want to think about opening an office in Detroit to better serve the auto industry there.
Product Enhancement: “What new kinds of new services can we sell to my existing clients?”
There are certain obvious ones here… quant shops can start offering qual and vice versa.
Beyond that, though, there are still numerous options. And today, technology can help to make it easier to make that transition.
Consider the full-service shop again, offering both quant and qual. What if webcam surveys were added to your quant-side service offering? On the qual side, what if you became experts in bulletin board focus groups or mobile qual? Same process… unique tools… new revenue stream.
Take a look at your current clients… what opportunities exist to add to your service mix and expand your relationship with them? And the broader your relationship, the more difficult it is to be displaced by a competitor.
Diversification: For this, you need to really think outside of existing services and clients… “Is there a brand new business we should be in that (and here’s the key) in some way ties into our current business?” This one can be difficult because it pushes you away from your comfort zone.
As an example, let’s assume that you offer website usability testing services. With that level of website and UX experience, it’s not hard to imagine expanding into actually offering website design services to an entirely new target audience, perhaps through a new division or subsidiary company.
Look around… are there opportunities for your organization to expand outside the walls of your core business? But a word of caution… just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Anyone remember Exxon computers or Levi suits?
So, where do you begin? Start observing… listen to your clients, pay attention to your competition and follow trends in your industry. Then cross-reference what you see with ideas for new products and new markets. Where the observations and ideas meet are the strategies that can help to grow your business.
April 12, 2012
This is the second part of a two-part article…
Principle #7 – Listen and learn… and be prepared to get out of your own way.
Just because you want to sell it, doesn’t mean that anyone wants to buy it. Or better yet… you can only be successful when you sell what the market wants and needs.
Here’s an example… if you are a boutique qualitative shop specializing in ethnographies… and several of your clients start asking for bulletin board focus groups, should you start doing them? Maybe… maybe not. But you do, at least, need to think about it. In business, you need to pay attention to the market and be prepared to respond to it – maybe in ways you weren’t expecting.
Principle #8 – Not all marketing is marketing.
Marketing isn’t just about ads, websites, social media and the sales team. Remember, anything and everything that touches a client or prospective client and that can influence their perception of your firm should be thought of as ‘marketing.’
Think about when you’ve waited in long lines at the DMV and how that influences your perception of that organization and the people who work there. How about getting stuck on the phone with an uncaring, even belligerent customer service rep… how does that color your opinion of that company? And neither of those issues generally falls under the umbrella of ‘marketing.’
As you’re working on your marketing plan, make sure to give some thought to those things not normally associated with marketing. For example, how your phone is answered (friendly receptionist or automated voice attendant)… your billing process (easy and accurate or riddled with errors)… project personnel (friendly and empowered or a “that’s not our policy” attitude)… project proposals (easy to understand or complicated and full of jargon)… your offices and furniture (nice or embarrassing).
Principle #9 – You still gotta execute!
The fact is, planning isn’t all that complex. It takes time and it takes brain power… but when it’s done, it’s done (at least until next year). The real challenge in marketing & sales is in the execution of the plan… in making it come to life.
Sticking to the timeline, making sure all the details are covered, doing things on a regular basis (even though they might seem boring or redundant), taking the time to measure and report… now that’s hard. Plan execution requires discipline, persistence and determination.
In marketing & sales, you plan your work… then you work your plan.
Principle #10 – Give it away!
In the market research industry, it’s harder than ever to connect with a prospective client. Why? Prospective clients have access to two things that didn’t really exist 15 years ago:
- A TON of available data online
- An even larger number of potential vendors (thanks to a global, connected economy)
Given that, how do you get prospects to take notice… to connect with you in that sea of data and competition? Answer: GIVE them something of value. For free. It is easiest to start with information… an eBook on a relevant topic, a recording of a presentation, an invitation to a private webinar, etc… anything that helps them to do their jobs better.
This gesture of giving away valuable information benefits you at several levels:
- It helps to showcase your areas of expertise
- It helps to differentiate you from all of those competitors, most of whom are not giving away good information
- Gathering the prospects’ contact information (when they download the info from your website) helps you to build a database and initiate a follow-up program as a means to establish a relationship
- Those that download this kind of information are self-selecting, meaning that most of the time, only qualified, targeted prospects will request it.
Their acceptance of your offer is the connection you need to start the buying/selling process.
Principle #11 – 2-way dialogue… what a concept!
The world – and especially the world of marketing – has changed in the new millennium. Thanks to technology, particularly social media, we are now a truly connected a society. Like it or not… for better or worse… that’s the way it is.
For marketers, this interconnectivity means that the rules of changed. It’s not longer just “push” marketing (“I’ll advertise like crazy until someone buys from us!”) Now, it’s about 2-way communication… it’s about getting permission to communicate… it’s about transparency and honesty.
Bottom line… it’s about engaging your prospective clients, helping them to get to know your company and what it stands for, then helping them to buy what they need… not trying to sell them something that you need to sell. It just doesn’t work like that anymore.
Principle #12 – Live the Brand
Every company has a brand… good or bad, compelling or weak – but we all have one. What’s yours?
Smart marketers have long been conscious of their company’s brand and trying to create initiatives in alignment with that brand. Often though, it’s only marketing that’s living the brand, not the rest of the company. And – here’s the problem – if everyone at your firm is not living the brand (and meaning it), then the brand breaks down and you lose credibility.
Let me give you a couple of examples:
- If your brand revolves around “innovation” and you still send faxes to clients, that’s a problem.
- If you want to be known for “customer service” and you still have an automated phone system that takes five steps to get through, you’re at cross-purposes with your brand.
- If you want to build a reputation for being specialists in the healthcare industry, but your new Project Manager doesn’t know the difference between an HMO and an HSA, your brand takes a hit.
Whatever your brand, to gain a competitive advantage, make sure everyone in your organization knows, buys into it, is trained for it and lives it.
April 10, 2012
Of all the disciplines in our industry – the research itself, accounting, management, HR, etc. – ‘marketing’ is the least understood. It is believed by many to be more ‘art’ than ‘science.’ It has a history of being perceived as “BS.” Ask a dozen people to define ‘marketing’ and you’ll get a dozen different answers. Now with the variety of social media available, it is even less understood.
The following Principles can help to explain marketing and its role in any organization.
Principle #1 – Show me the money!
In business, the purpose of marketing is simple – to help drive revenue to the company. If your marketing doesn’t help to do that, or at least moving you in that direction, then you are wasting your time and your resources. Marketing is NOT about winning awards or impressing your stakeholders. Good marketing is about one thing… and one thing only… revenue!
And when you think about growing revenue, remember that it comes primarily in two ways:
- Attracting new clients
- Maintaining and growing existing clients (hint: this is the easier of the two, yet it is often overlooked)
As you put together your marketing & sales plans, remember to allocate time and resources to help you accomplish both.
Principle #2 – It’s all about the process
Marketing is a process. Marketing is not luck or gut feel or magic or serendipity. Successful marketing is the result of a well-planned, disciplined, step-by-step approach to growing revenue.
So many organizations are re-active with their marketing… almost making it up as they go along. They simply don’t take the time to think through their marketing & sales efforts, to clarify the processes, to create a functional plan and then to execute that plan. But those that do are almost always come out on top.
Principle #3 – What gets measured gets done.
In marketing, you must measure your results. Why? Simple… to see what’s working and what’s not. If it’s working, do more of it. If it’s not working – stop doing it, or figure out a way to improve the results.
There’s an old saying in marketing from the founder of a department store many years ago that states, “50% of my advertising dollars are wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which 50%.” That is a situation you do not want to find yourself in.
I’ve heard it said several ways why we need to measure:
- “What gets measured gets done.” You know if the coach/boss is watching what you do, you’re more likely to pay attention to it and do it right.
- “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” If you don’t know what’s broken, you don’t know what to fix.
- “Measurement eliminates argument.” It’s awfully tough to argue with results in black and white.
Principle #4 – Be patient.
Too many business owners give up on their marketing & sales plan if it’s not generating immediate returns. That kind of knee-jerk response can be detrimental to the business. To be successful, marketing requires a sustained, multi-faceted approach to move your firm and its services from “unknown” to “recognized” to “preferred” in the minds of your prospective clients… and then to keep it there.
Principle #5 – Marketing isn’t a sometime thing… it’s an all-the-time thing.
To be successful with business development, you must also understand that marketing impacts and is impacted by every other department in your organization. Too often, marketing is relegated to some corner of the building with instructions like, “update our website” or “we need a social media strategy.”
To maximize the return from your marketing efforts, the marketing function and the marketing personnel must be fully integrated into every aspect of your organization. They must know what’s happening around the company… and the company needs to know what happening around the marketing department.
Don’t just ask for a marketing plan and then put it on the shelf. Make sure marketing has a voice at the executive’s table to provide regular updates on their activities and to provide first-hand feedback from the marketplace.
Principle #6 – Think about it! Really think.
Harpeth Marketing is all about helping our clients to create marketing & sales plans. And while you need a marketing plan to work from, what’s really important is the planning, the preparing, the discussions and arguments, vetting ideas and thinking through the “what ifs.”
If all you want is a plan without the planning, then pick up some marketing plan software at your local office supply store… and you’ll be done in no time. And you’ll get what you pay for. The real power of the marketing plan is in the thinking.
Part 2 will be continued in a separate article…
April 9, 2012
At the risk of preaching to the choir, I’m gonna tell this story…
Because you’re in the market research industry, I’m sure you’re doing some sort of client satisfaction study following each project. Perhaps some combination of quant and qual… maybe with a little Net Promoter Score thrown in for good measure. Then you track it and trend it over time to make sure you keep getting better. Great! Keep it up.
What I have found over the years, however, is that even if you get a decent percentage of your client satisfaction surveys returned, often they don’t include very much “actionable” feedback. The clients will tell you if they liked or didn’t like your work, maybe give you some vague specifics (e.g. “Our Project Manager wasn’t very responsive.”), but that’s about it. Not a lot to work with, is there?Continue Reading
April 2, 2012
On our website, we write about the Marketing Loop. The Marketing Loop is the foundation for the process we follow in all of our marketing & sales plan development and coaching work with clients.
The idea of the Loop means that your marketing is planned and executed, results are measured, recommendations are made from what is learned and it’s done a little better the next time. That is, it’s a process of continual improvement.
And the part of the process that seems the most difficult for nearly all organizations is ‘measurement.’ Why? I think measurement is perceived as difficult because it requires nearly as much discipline as the execution of the marketing tactics themselves.Continue Reading
March 27, 2012
I found the following online a while back about the value of patience when it comes to marketing. Very interesting…
1. The first time a man looks at an advertisement, he does not see it.
2. The second time, he does not notice it.
3. The third time, he is conscious of its existence.
4. The fourth time, he faintly remembers having seen it before.
5. The fifth time, he reads it.Continue Reading