UK: Is Marketing a Luxury in Troubled Times?

Last Updated: 15 November 2012

Many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) – and some large ones, for that matter – have difficulties when it comes to marketing. That should come as a surprise, given that Amazon in the UK alone lists more than 65,000 titles on the subject.

But that may be just where the problem lies. In difficult and complex areas of business it is sometimes difficult to see the wood for the trees. Outlined in this article is a simple view of what marketing is and the critical elements to be managed for success. It has been developed over years of working with SMEs and start-up businesses with little or no marketing budget.

There are three main questions to consider:

  1. What is marketing, really?
  2. Why should customers choose you?
  3. How can you attract motivated prospects?

1. What is marketing, really?

Marketing is the process of defining who the people are who want to buy the type of product or service you offer, and why they should choose yours. Once you understand that, you need to communicate with them so that they are motivated to buy.

Virtually all businesses will derive about 80% of their business from just 20% of their customers. This is called the Pareto Principle and it turns up all the time. It is therefore critical to understand who that 20% are:

  • Where do they live?
  • What are their interests?
  • What motivates them?
  • What do they value in life?
  • How frequently do they buy your product or service?
  • What else could they choose to buy instead?

Really put yourself into their shoes to try to understand these issues. If you find it difficult, talk to some of them and listen to what they tell you. (Sometimes there are real benefits to getting a third party to do this for you so that there is no "baggage" in the conversation.) Once you have built this understanding, can you build a database of potential clients or customers?

2. Why should customers choose you?

Even if you think you have a unique offer for the market, people will have alternative choices – even if one of them is simply to do nothing.

Try to draw a picture of the choices available to your target customer. Some will be closer substitutes than others – for example, tomato soup versus chicken soup as opposed to tomato soup versus sandwich. Try to write a single statement of the benefit to the customer for each choice and then add six points that differentiate each choice.

For your own product or service, look to see how your customers can learn about your points of difference from how you present yourself to them. This can be hard work, but do it well and you will be rewarded in the third stage.

3. How can you attract motivated prospects?

If you understand who and where the people are who may consider buying from you, what motivates them and how your product can satisfy them better than other offers, then the third stage of attracting motivated prospects is comparatively easy. The key here is to be consistent and to be seen (or heard). For example:

  • If you distribute leaflets, make sure you distribute them frequently.
  • If you go to networking events, make sure you go regularly.
  • If you use advertising, it is better to be in every issue of the same publication or in several publications at the same time, rather than taking a scatter-gun approach.

Aim to have 8 to 12 communication activities running every year, with clear messages and lots of opportunities for your prospective customers to see them. And make sure your staff understand what you are doing as well.

Finally, don't forget that communication is a two-way process. You must measure what you get back from your activities to understand how effective you have been in getting your message across. And if you are not getting the results you wanted, either you are not saying anything of interest or your message is not getting noticed.

In either case you need to go back to the start of the cycle, because if you are not saying anything of interest you probably haven't really understood your customers' motives, and if you are not getting noticed you probably haven't understood where they are.

Even when you are getting the results you want, make sure you are getting feedback from customers about how happy they are with your product or service and the relevance of your communications with them. The world is constantly changing and evolving, and what was important yesterday may not be important tomorrow.

Marketing is not a luxury in times of trouble or at any other time: it is a necessity for keeping your business alive.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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