Marketing Made Simple(r)

Can you think of a time in your life when you went from being completely unaware of a product or service’s existence to absolutely having to have it and wondering how you ever lived without it? Likely, this transition from not even knowing it existed to being a purchasing customer and raving fan, was in part, the result of good marketing.

A Practical View of Marketing

There are numerous perspectives on what marketing is and what it is not. Technically, a textbook answer exists, but we prefer to frame this concept considering what we have learned about growing businesses for many years.

At its core, marketing is about building awareness, creating interest and need, and influencing a potential customer to act.

Marketing is often confused with advertising, branding, and sales. Although these are all very closely related topics, there are some key differences to keep in mind. Advertising is more focused on mass exposure through paid channels, often about a specific sale or talking point. Branding is more focused on how the company represents itself and the impression people have when they think about that company. Sales is more focused on the actual process of selling products/services, either through transaction or consultation. While marketing may include advertising and branding activities, it generally deals with the overall effort to make people aware of your products/services, create interest and build trust, and ultimately lead them to a purchase through your organization’s sales process.

You can market a business, a product or service, and even yourself. In most businesses (especially small to mid-sized), all three can be equally important because customers will decide whether to buy from your company based on your business and its people, your products and services, and you!

Why Marketing is Important

Let’s take a 20,000-foot view over the basic structure of any organization for a moment. There are four major functional areas within every business. Marketing is the first of these functions, along with sales, delivery, and support. If we think of this as an order of operations issue, you have to market before you can sell, and you have to sell before you can deliver your products and services, and you have to deliver (including production) before there would be any need for support. In the opposite way of thinking, you can’t sell your product/service if people don’t know about it (through marketing), there is no point in producing the product or delivering the service if it hasn’t been sold (through sales), and there is no point in supporting something that doesn’t exist (delivery).

No marketing means no sales, which means no production/delivery, which means no revenue, which means no business. The success of a business draws a straight line back to its ability to market well.

Pause for a moment and think of a large, popular brand with a variety of products (maybe shoes, clothes, appliances, vehicles, insurance, etc.) and quickly think of all the places you have seen or heard of that brand in the past month. Maybe you saw a commercial on TV or heard them mentioned on the radio… maybe there was sponsored content that popped up on your Facebook feed… maybe you saw an ad for that brand on a website that had nothing to do with that product… maybe a friend or relative mentioned it in a conversation… maybe you got a flyer in the mail…

There are seemingly endless ways to be marketed to. In essence, these brands are simply trying to grab your attention to make you aware of them, help you realize how much you actually want/need them, and remind you of this until you finally become a customer.

As small or mid-sized business owners, the same is true! Our goal at the highest level is to make the right people aware of who we are and what we do at the right time and in the right way. Our goal is to help them see and understand that our product/service is essential to them – to their success, survival, happiness, etc. The better job we can do with this, the more likely they will come to a buying decision.

Understanding Different Types of Marketing

There are three major areas of marketing to consider and they all have different purposes and characteristics, so let’s discuss each.

  1. Branding is the first area of marketing. This is the part of marketing that refers to your image and includes your logo, colors, fonts, and overall visual style. Traditionally, the definition of branding could be this simple, but let’s expand our thinking to the bigger picture. We tend to think of this from a larger perspective, which includes how your team answers the phone, how customers feel when they interact with you and other people in your business, how clean your fleet of vehicles is, the uniforms you wear, even the personal hygiene of your employees, etc. All these things reflect who your business is, what your business does, and what your business stands for… which makes up your brand.
  2. Targeting is the second area of marketing. This is the part of marketing that includes identifying the people who are most likely to buy your products/services and then delivering a message to move them through your sales funnel as quickly as possible. Like the other two areas, this one should be very strategic and very purposeful. In today’s world, some of the most effective and trackable targeting campaigns are done on a digital platform (i.e. Google Ads, social media ads, geofencing, retargeting, etc.).
  3. Nurturing is the third area of marketing. This is the part of marketing that a lot of companies (unfortunately) forget about or put at the bottom of their list of priorities. The idea of nurturing is primarily focused on your existing customers. Do not forget about this group of people! They have already determined that your product/service is worth having and that your company was the best way to get it. These people likely already know and trust you and are by far the people most likely to buy your product/service again or recommend it to someone else. Take care of these people by staying in touch, making sure their needs are met, and being present. This assures them that they made the right choice in working with or buying from you and makes them even more likely to buy again or recommend you to a friend.

Common Marketing Mistakes

Earlier, I mentioned the importance of reaching the right people. Who are the “right” people? Well, they are the ones most likely to purchase your products/services, and therefore should become your target audience for certain marketing efforts.

Unfortunately, businesses waste a lot of money doing what I call “guess-marketing”. This is when business owners with expertise in areas other than marketing simply throw money toward advertising options and hope something sticks.

They often don’t know if it’s capturing the people who are most likely to buy the product/service and so they are likely missing the mark and wasting dollars.

If you’re reading this saying “that’s me,” please know that you are not alone. Business owners are rarely marketing experts and therefore lack the knowledge and understanding needed to market strategically. There is simply too much to know and understand. Some common mistakes business owners make include:

  • Falling into the trap of buying whatever is being sold to them. So, if the radio company comes knocking, suggesting radio ads, that is what the business owner will do. If the billboard company comes to sell a billboard, they will buy a billboard.
  • Having a higher comfort level with a certain type of marketing because of previous experience with that channel and only sticking to those marketing outlets. What is most familiar is not necessarily the most effective.
  • Trusting only the suggestions of others to build a plan. Unfortunately, just because a certain type of marketing activity comes recommended by a friend or colleague, doesn’t mean they understand your business, market, and goals (and the best way to accomplish them) well enough to make an appropriate recommendation.

We want to be able to make sure marketing dollars are going toward something that will get the proper return for the business. Make sure your marketing decisions are rooted in strategy and purpose, so you don’t waste your time and money on guess-marketing.

The Need for a Good Marketing Plan

A good plan is useful for any major functional area of the business, including marketing. A plan makes people aware of specific goals for their area of the business operation and how that ties into the overall business strategy for growth, along with details about who is going to do what and when.

As with other good plans, the marketing plan should be customized for your company, taking into consideration many factors, especially your company’s business growth objectives and sales goals. Ideally, your marketing plan will be created in light of the strategic plan and sales plan for your business, which together answer questions related to a wide variety of topics including products, services, markets, opportunities, prospects, customers, buying habits, competition, trends, product development, goals, resource levels, etc. Without a good plan, the marketing effort will likely be a series of guess-marketing activities, i.e., throwing stuff up against the wall and hoping something will stick.

A good marketing plan is important because it:

  • Helps you build healthy awareness about your organization
  • Creates opportunities for and increases sales
  • Avoids confusion among customers and prospects about who you are and what you do
  • Gets you on the right path to ensure you are making wise investments in your business

If you put together having the right reasons to connect with the right audience with the right message through the right channels at the right time, you will be one step closer to having a marketing strategy that works and helps to grow your business.

For more information or help on this and other topics, contact our team.


Now is the Time…

A message from Jeff during the COVID-19 pandemic, April 2020…

Dear Clients & Colleagues,

Now is the time to focus on innovative business strategy and proactive marketing.

It has been a strange several week period for businesses and nonprofits alike, and much has been said about the importance of leadership during these challenging times. It is true that effective leadership is essential, given the need for re-evaluating situations and circumstances, making necessary adjustments, and then making things happen. Of course, leadership can only go so far without other people, processes and plans in place, not to mention customers who want to buy your products and services.

Many factors contribute to business performance and growth, but two areas of particular importance right now include strategic planning and proactive marketing, along with increasingly creative sales initiatives. If we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves merely reacting to overwhelming circumstances which appear to be beyond our control. And often times during a crisis, right when we must be most effective as leaders, it becomes most difficult to think strategically about growing a business. Further, when so much around us seems uncertain and sales are down, any attempts to proactively market the company and its products and services are often put on hold.

Actually, it is during such times that it’s most important to devise a solid business strategy and marketing plan, keeping in mind the need for both short- and long-term objectives. It might not be as easy as it would have been otherwise, but it is necessary. We can’t be like the proverbial ostrich and bury our heads in the sand until the scary thing goes away and it’s safe to come back out and continue operating as usual. It may not be “as usual” again for a long time, and maybe never will be.

Be encouraged though. Now is the time to take action by thinking strategically about how to improve key areas of performance, market more intentionally than ever, grow your business as much as possible under the circumstances, and become better positioned for future growth when the situation returns to “normal”, whatever that may look like and whenever that may be. Regardless of what it is and when it occurs, you and your company will be ready.

We’re here to help. Remember, initial phone consultations are always complimentary.

I look forward to talking with you soon.

Sincerely,

Jeff


Customer Experience: Let’s be Intentional

The word “customer” has become a key term in business meetings across the globe, the topic for many published books, and a focal point for wise leaders ready to lead their businesses into the future. While there are numerous ways to think of customers, for the sake of this conversation, let’s simply define the term as any person or entity receiving, consuming, or experiencing an organization’s products or services. We could also discuss both internal and external customers, but for now we will focus on the external customer of a business organization.

The fact is… no organization can survive, let alone thrive, without customers.

Why customer experience matters

Since we know that businesses are dependent on customers consuming products and services, we must realize that the experiences a customer has with a business matter tremendously.

Take a moment and remember the last time you ate at a restaurant. Remember the experience of arriving at the restaurant, being greeted (or not) by a host/hostess, interacting with your waiter/waitress, receiving and eating the food, paying the bill, and leaving the restaurant. Which parts of that experience are easiest to remember?

My guess is that the best and worst parts of that experience are your clearest memories. Maybe you had a fabulous server who predicted your every need, but the food was cold. Maybe the host/hostess was rude, but you were given chocolate or mints with your bill. Each of these individual situations contributes to your total experience at the restaurant and determines how you would rate your overall experience and form an opinion about this restaurant.

Can you see how your personal interactions with the business directly influenced your opinions about it? You’ve made conclusions about the restaurant based on your experience with the facility, people, and product. This is important because you may share these opinions and conclusions with others and ultimately influence their opinions about that business.

A customer’s experience with an organization helps to determine whether they will return to buy again and whether they will persuade others to interact with or steer clear of that organization.

How customer expectations are changing

At the same time, we must recognize that the customer’s expectations are constantly evolving. Once upon a time, when customers interacted with organizations, their expectations were relatively simple. This is no longer the case.

Let’s break down the example of going to a restaurant to eat. Customers of the past would have expected to enter a moderately clean facility, be taken to their seat by a host/hostess, have their order taken, receive their food exactly as they ordered it, pay their bill, and leave. While this doesn’t seem too far from the expectations of today’s customers, let’s look closer.

Today, customers would expect to enter a very clean facility, be greeted happily by a host/hostess who would accommodate their seating requests, meet their server who would remarkably remember their order and anticipate their every need, receive their food order exactly as they ordered it, receive their bill and thank you gift (chocolate, mints, etc.), and be thanked for coming as they walk out the door. While some of these expectations may seem excessive, if they weren’t met, customers would very likely be less than impressed with their experience.

Customer expectations go beyond the basics. People want an experience that is simple and memorable. This may look a bit different for each business, but the bottom line is that people want to be the center of the story – to be valued, heard, taken care of, respected, etc.

Hockenberry Management Consulting - Customer Experience - People Walking

Why every customer impression matters

If we dissect the concept of customer experience through the lens of human behavior, we notice that when people first interact with or are introduced to your brand, they form an impression about it. First impressions are critical for setting the tone for the rest of their experience with your business. From those impressions, people will form opinions or patterns of belief that determine what conclusions they will eventually make about your business.

Given the quality of their experience, the customer will draw concluding thoughts about what the business does, who they are, and ultimately if they are a business worthy of supporting.

Through the impression and opinion stages, the business’ goal must be to shed a positive light on itself by helping the customer find success. Whether that success is having a pleasant experience while eating a good meal, finding all the items they need in the store, or getting a good deal on a new car. The better the business supports the customer and informs them of the “goodness” of the organization, the more likely they will be satisfied and walk away with positive conclusions about the business.

How customer experience drives business growth

One of the most important aspects to your business’ growth is the experience that customers have with your brand. Their experience will determine their opinions, whether they return and continue to engage, and whether they encourage or discourage others from engaging with your business. Customers who have their needs and expectations met by your organization will become loyal and help drive growth for your business by returning and referring their friends.

The reality is that “customer experience” is happening even if we are not aware of it, and whether or not we are being intentional about designing it well. It can contribute to repeat and referral business if designed well, or it can cause customer fall-off and poor reviews if not done with intention.

Once you understand the mindset of the customer and cater your business’ interactions with them to reflect what the customer wants and expects, you have a much better chance of meeting and exceeding their expectations and gaining loyal customers… and we know that loyal customers who become raving “fans” of your business will help to drive growth for your business.

How to design customer experience

A common way of thinking about customer experience is to consider how presentable and polite your employees are to customers. Please realize that customer experience goes far beyond the concepts of customer service. Customer experience begins the first moment an individual becomes aware of your organization and continues to expand as they personally interact with your organization.

Their experience is not about one single interaction, but rather many smaller contacts, interactions, and moments of exposure to your business, which informs their thoughts about who you are, what you do, and how well you do it.

This experience must not be left to chance, which is why we must be intentional about designing it. To design something is to create with purpose (my definition for the sake of this discussion).

When we look at your customer’s experience with your business, we must create each step with intention and purpose, with the goal of making their experience positively memorable.

In its simplest form, designing your customer’s experience requires mapping out all the moments where that customer will likely interact with your brand, identifying the key moments from that experience, and working to make each critical point in the customer journey impactful.

For more information or help on this and other topics, contact our team.