In the on-going series A Case to be Made for…, I’m going to explore different areas of a business that are often overlooked or undervalued by small and mid-sized businesses, and describe the benefit that they can bring to your business, and what you, as an ever evolving business, need to prioritize for such a position. While not all business and business ventures are the same, the goal of these series of posts is to describe the benefits of various departments and let you, the business manager, decide how much of your limited resources, to dedicate to each area.
Marketing is the act of engaging with current, perspective, or potential clients to tell them about, or sell them on, your services and products. The size of a firms marketing team ranges from 0 (a firm completely ignores it relying on word of mouth to grow), to having an entire division focused on marketing, comprised of members with Social Media expertise, graphics design, video production and editing, audio production and editing, and other duties. Budgets for the marketing team can be a fixed price, but more often are a certain percentage of either revenue or profit. So if the firm has a good year, the next year they may have elect to spend a little more money to tell people how awesome they are.
The Case Against Marketing
With Marketing being an overhead cost, it can be easy to dismiss it. Especially if you are a small business and your funding is tight. Maybe you are coming off of a year where you missed your sales goals and you are looking to scale back, or you have shareholders that are breathing fire expecting you to maximize their ROI. Add to that the difficulty of tying marketing efforts directly back to the bottom line, and it is easy to understand why this department is often either on the chopping block, or worse, left on the cutting room floor.
But one of the main, and often incorrect, assumptions that I often hear is the notion that if you provide an a premier product or service, that it will sell itself…
The Case For Marketing
…and that assumption COULD NOT BE more wrong. First of all, history is littered with “under dog” products that took down a “superior” products. Facebook took down MySpace, iPhone took down Blackberry, Windows OS took down Mac OS (…in the 90’s), and fossil fuels to this day still take down nuclear power. And right now, your company is probably losing work to one of your inferior competitors.
It happens ALL THE TIME, and marketing is how you combat that.
It Takes 6 to 8 Touches to Generate a Viable Sales Lead. – Salesforce.com
Take for example Nuclear power. Nuclear reactors produce clean energy, and do it at a rate that fossil fuels simply can’t compete at. Yet the oil companies are able to market disasters like Chernobyl or Fukushima and essentially scare people away from them. Chernobyl happened thirty years ago; better design, technologies advancements, and harsher standards have prevented anymore instances. In Japan, it literally took an earthquake AND a tsunami to cause the Fukushima meltdown. How many cities were built on a fault line next to the ocean? And yet, cities and towns across the globe are petrified to build new plants – even if they would reduce energy bills, promote the environment, and bring in hundreds of skilled labor jobs to the surrounding area. Welcome to the benefits of marketing…
Another example is the iPhone. When Apple released the iPhone, it couldn’t do everything that the Blackberry line of phones could do. It couldn’t even copy and paste. But Mr. Jobs and company were able to market it to a line of style-conscience individuals based on the functionality it did provide, and the simplicity with which it provided those features. Based on the number of you probably reading this on your iPhone right now, I think we all remember how this ends. The product took off, and almost single-handedly changed what consumers expect for their smart phones.
But humor me, and imagine the adoption rate if Apple didn’t market the product. All of those facts would still be true. It would still be a stylish device that performed many features simply. However, there would not be lines around the block waiting for its release.
And there are times when the boundaries of the competitive environment prevent you from clearly differentiating your product. Sticking with the iPhone theme here, think about launching an app to the iPhone. You jump through all those hoops – you incorporate your company, get your D&B number, you register your company with Apple, you build the prototype, you bribe the iNerds who are evaluating your app, you make your small animal sacrifice and pray to the Gods, and finally, you’re IN! But now what? There are over a million individual apps in the iTunes app stores. How do you draw attention to yourself when technically you are bound to the capabilities of the environment just like every other app out there? You better have a good marketing plan…
There are other advantages that Marketing provides your business as well. For one, it allows you to control the message about your firm. People are going to talk about you and your products or services, would you like them to say whatever they want? I personally don’t want them to form their opinion on their own. I would rather have some influence over what they are saying so they can help me promote my products and services how I choose…
Marketing also provides a direct path to engage with your client base. Through focus groups or social media, marketing your ideas will allow you to get an idea of what your customer base is asking for and provide direct feedback to the product managers. This can be incredibly powerful when you company is risking everything on the next set of features they are about to roll out!
Marketing for Small to Mid-Size Businesses
With the advent (and refinement) of social media, marketing for small and mid-size businesses has changed. Traditionally, to get word out you’d have to use print, television, and radio advertisement. And those approaches can still work, as televisions, radios, and (for now) magazines and newspapers are still common place. However, when you choose that route for your business, you are also marketing to a lot of people that won’t be interested in your product. You can try to combat that with looking for niche publications and television stations, but that could limit your viewership as well.
Also, this approach can be expensive. PR Newswire, which is a great way to get your content out to multiple publications at once, is just under $200 a year for membership alone. To add your business logo to publications it’s almost $500 a year. Now granted, they can also get your company up on the Times Square jumbo-trons – which in fairness is totally awesome and kinda a personal dream of mine – but that doesn’t actually help many businesses market themselves to anyone outside of the immediate Time Square vicinity. And odds are many of the other channels that they will publish to won’t be the right fit for your company either.
So, you start taking it all in and looking at it in aggregate, and the costs start adding up quickly. And again, this is all for the “shot gun” approach, where you are spraying your content everywhere and praying that it will hit its target audience. And that’s where the beauty of social media comes in. They can turn that shotgun into a sniper rifle. You won’t have to advertise on 30 platforms that you don’t care about to get to the 2 that you do.
Marketing allows you to control the message about your firm.
Take Facebook for instance, which arguably has the most refined advertisement platform for businesses today. When you advertise on a platform like Facebook, you can choose the different demographics that you would like to target, and then choose how much you would like to spend. So, if you only want to target women ages 18-35, and don’t want to spend more than $20, then Facebook will only show your ad to women who are 18-35 until you hit your $20 threshold. It’s like Match.com, but instead of connecting people with people, it connects people with businesses and brands of interest.
Google Adwords targets people based on what they are searching for, and you only pay when someone actually clicks on your link. If your company makes grips for golf clubs, you can setup an ad where whenever someone types in “best golf clubs of 2016” your ad appears first. And again, if they scroll past it, who cares? You weren’t charged…
Twitter has its own advertising platform where you can filter your audience. Linked In has advertising too. And the best thing about all of these platforms is, you can view real-time analytics on how your ad is doing. You can see the number of people who see your ads, click on your ads, and determine how to further refine your posts in the future. PR Newswire may have an analytical aspect to it, but its aggregated and delivered in block-chunks (weeks, months, years, etc) instead of being made instantly available.
Being able to create an ad on Tuesday. Publish it on Wednesday. See how it performed Thursday. Tweak it, and publish a modified ad on Friday provides marketing teams with incredible flexibility that hasn’t been available before. And best of all, allows you to ensure you aren’t wasting your budget or your message on an audience that doesn’t care.
So, my final thought here. According to a blog post by Salesforce.com, it takes 6 to 8 touches to generate a credible lead. And a touch is anywhere that your target audience sees your name or hears your pitch. If you have to get to 6 to 8 touches to get a lead, and all touches are essentially created equally, then why waste extra time, money, and resources? It’s why Amazon is so effective. I look up a laptop once, and I see that same laptop in every site I go to for the next week. Amazon is collecting those touches, and the speed at which they do it keeps people coming back.
You need to employ the same strategy in your business. Get your name out there. Get it out there often. Get it out there on multiple channels. And start building those leads. And most importantly, start generating more sales.
Now pardon me while I go and look at this Macbook Pro again…
Side note, if you are interested in leveraging Ever Evolving’s network and marketing prowess to increase your touches, think about becoming a Contributor.