What is marketing?

By Matt Brown, matt@onevision.co.uk

At a recent business breakfast somebody asked me, “So you are in marketing. That’s advertising, right?” That got me thinking. I know what marketing is, as it relates to growing businesses for clients, but perhaps I was not clear enough when communicating. Exactly how do I describe what marketing is?

I don’t care about text-book definitions. There are countless definitions on what marketing is. I have been brought up in a business world where I am accountable and what’s important to me is being able to help businesses grow their customer bases and revenue, and showing the results.

So, for one attempt I could say that “We help clients grow their businesses through practical, profitable ways of finding new customers, and retaining and expanding existing ones.”

That still sounds a bit vague perhaps, but the problem with the label of ‘marketing’ is that it touches every aspect of a business that concerns the customer. And which parts don’t?

To me, marketing is much more than the traditional ‘product, price, promotion and place’. It is all of those elements, but it goes much deeper into the business. The delivery and presentation of every part of the business that touches the customer is of interest to the marketer.

For many clients we work with the business owner or marketing manager to provide them with the tools to help communicate their messages to their customers and target audiences. We also work with businesses where we fulfil the role of their marketing manager and marketing team. This is a much broader remit and allows us to work with the business at a much deeper level. Standing in the position of a marketing manager, we are looking for ways to help the business grow which are both sustainable and profitable.

Going back to the person who was linking marketing with advertising, it’s true that advertising may be part of marketing, but in reality advertising is just one tool that could be considered for prospect generation, leading to customer acquisition. Potentially valuable, but just one part of the overall picture.

To help grow a client’s business, we work with the management team and examine a range of key questions. You could equally apply these to your own business:

  1. What is unique about your business that your customer values and how can we communicate this?
  2. How we can increase retention and growth of existing customers and create referrals?
  3. How can we reactivate lapsed customers?
  4. How can we find new customers, profitably?

It’s essential to understand why customers buy from your business, what they love and hate about the business and what motivates their need to buy. These questions are fundamental and their answers will create more questions. On the basis that existing customers should be the easiest to sell to, as they already know and (probably) trust the business, you should look for ways you can sell more to these customers and work out the best methods to communicate them. Also, there is no point in bringing in new customers if the existing ones are fleeing for the exit because of a service or quality issue. Identify and fix those issues. Getting the most value out of existing relationships is a key priority.

Lapsed customers may yield gold for a business. Nearly 3 out of 4 customers stop buying due to indifference on the part of the seller. The product and service may be absolutely fine but if another seller shows them more care and attention, the customer may drift away. Looking hard at the lapsed customer list, and putting in place a process to encourage them back, is always worth some time.

Customer growth and retention for businesses should be considered a process. Cover every point where the customer interacts with the business. Right from how the telephone is answered to the presentation of the premises (where customers will visit); how the product or service is delivered, packaged and labelled; pricing; ordering processes (online and offline); how invoices are sent and payment enquiries are dealt with and how complaints are handled: these are all the concern of the marketer. The question to ask constantly, of every aspect of the business that touches the customer, is how can this be improved to make it easier, perhaps more enjoyable even, to allow the customer to buy more?

Customer acquisition falls into two parts of a process:

  1. The attraction and discovery of new prospect contacts.
  2. Communicating to prospect contacts who are not yet customers.

Finding new prospect contacts who you can engage with is a bit like fishing. While I am not an expert at fishing, I have done enough to know that fish come in all shapes and sizes and are found in many different locations. Onshore, offshore, rivers and lakes; each environment has its own fish species and each type of fish needs a different lure to attract them. A salmon is unlikely to be attracted to mackerel feathers. I also know that it takes about the same amount of effort to catch and land a big fish as it does a small one. But guess which one is more rewarding?

Marketing is similar really. First, you need to be clear about who you are aiming to reach with your message. Then you need to find ways to profitably attract them to your business. Correct targeting is vital. You could identify profiles and segment your target customers in any number of ways, but here are some suggestions to get started:

For Business-to-business (B2B)

  • What sector and geographic location are they in?
  • What is their business type and size?
  • Who specifically in the business would you like to reach: the people who could be specifiers or influencers of your product/service?
  • What are the issues within their business that your product/service could solve?

For Business-to-consumer (B2C)

  • What geographical location are they in? You might need to break this right down to street level.
  • What age and sex are they?
  • What interests do they have?
  • What is their status: married, single, divorced, retired?

You may need to break this down into a number of sectors that your business is working in. But do the work. Be specific. Don’t say that you are trying to reach everybody and anybody. Design your messages specifically to resonate with your ideal target customers.

Message delivery for the attraction and discovery of new prospect contacts
The next step is to figure out the best way to get your message in front of your target audience. There is a huge range of tools available to you, but a basic list of possibilities to choose from could include:

  • Website(s) that capture visitor information
  • Online and offline advertising
  • Press releases
  • Buy a data list and mail to it
  • Market to the lists of other sellers who are complementary to your business
  • Events and exhibitions where you could speak and exhibit
  • Networking
  • Write a book
  • Publish articles
  • Outside/roadside signage

Message delivery to prospect contacts who are not yet customers
Once you have discovered or attracted a prospect and have permission to communicate with them, it’s time to put them into your Customer Conversion Process (CCP). Your CCP will comprise a number of tools and steps with the intention of moving the prospect through the stages of being aware of the need of your product/service, to being interested in your product/service, to wanting to talk specifically about your product/service and what it can do for them personally. A basic range of possible tools to choose from could include:

  • A multi-step postal campaign
  • Email newsletter
  • Postal newsletter
  • Telephone follow up
  • Put on an event for customers and future customers
  • Offers and promotions within your business premises

Whichever tools you choose for your business, you need to bear in mind 3 things. You must:

  1. Select communication tools that are consistent with the expected image of your product and service. For example, a flyer under the windscreen wiper of parked cars may be cheap and fine for a local car valeting company or a bistro, but you will have a hard time convincing people to take you seriously if you are selling bespoke personalised holidays or a high value B2B service.
  2. Expect to test tools and messages. Marketing involves creating messages that will appeal and create action, but testing is vital to fine tune the messages and get the results you need.
  3. Hold every tool accountable. Know your numbers and measure how each marketing tool performs. The only measure that makes any sense is the cost versus the lifetime value of the customer converted.

Creating a marketing process is hard work but essential if your business is to grow and meet its potential. And it's not something you can set and forget. It's vital you take action continually to keep your marketing fresh and evolve your messages and the tools you use, always learning from the results of your actions.

Look at your competitors and learn from them as well, but never copy. Ask yourself what is their unique proposition? How could you improve upon it and apply it to your business? Be different and create your own niche.

Action and consistency
The two biggest tips I can give you on how to successfully market your business are as follows:

  1. Take action - don't spend hours creating the perfect plan. Action wins over perfection every time. Decide on your target audiences, create your key messages and select the communication tools to deliver the messages. And just start!
  2. Consistency - on average, it takes 7 contacts with a prospect before they become a customer. Most businesses give up after 3.

If you implement action and consistency, even without perfect messaging, you will be way ahead of other businesses.

When working with clients, we encourage the creation of a framework (a roadmap) of activity that can be viewed on one page. Actionable and easy to monitor, the roadmap is flexible and evolves over time. We can help the client to create the roadmap and then work with them to ensure it is implemented. There is no point in creating a plan if it fizzles out after a few weeks as they get busier and the day-to-day workload takes over. We keep the business on course to ensure that marketing activities are continuous and profitable.

Create your marketing roadmap for your business and keep taking action every day. Make marketing your business your top priority.

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