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.


Clarifying Thoughts on Leadership

Defining Leadership

A quick internet search for the definition of leadership will reveal that it means “the act of leading a group of people or an organization” or “the state or position of being a leader”.

So, what does that mean?

Practically speaking, we can think of leadership simply as the ability to get things done, either on your own or through the cooperation of others. This implies that a leader knows what needs to be done and is capable and willing to either do it or work with other people (subordinates, peers, superiors) who are capable and willing to get it done.

Leadership is Not Authority nor Management

This working definition does not reference authority nor management, i.e., a leader does not necessarily have to hold a position of authority or management within an organization. A leader may be someone who is able to get things done individually or collectively with others, while not having a management position or title. Conversely, a person having a title and position of authority within an organization may not be able to get things done either individually or collectively with others. This person may be in a leadership position, but their behaviors do not reflect those of a leader.

So, to be clear, leadership is not the same as…

  • Authority, which denotes having the right to make decisions, have control, give orders, and force others to comply with your commands.
  • Management, which denotes directing and controlling a group of people and operations, as well as other resources within an organization.

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Leadership Styles

We should not confuse the act of leadership with styles of leadership, or the way in which someone leads. While several styles have been identified, let’s consider three examples.

  • Some people in positions of leadership display an autocratic style where they assume they are smartest, know the most, and have the answers and therefore believe its best if people just do whatever they say without questioning decisions and instructions.
  • Some people prefer a democratic style where they get input from other people, asking for opinions, often generating a collection of ideas from which decisions are ultimately made and people know what to do.
  • Some people operate with a laissez-faire style where they may seem quite uninvolved, allowing employees considerable freedom to think and act on their own, without providing much direction.

It might be tempting to assume that leaders consciously choose a style and adopt it for themselves, but it’s probably more accurate to believe that the styles pick the leaders. In other words, leaders, being people, have certain values and beliefs that determine how they think, make decisions, behave, and treat others. So, people in leadership do what they do because they are who they are, and these style labels are ascribed to them by others.

Characteristics of Leaders

Likewise, we should not confuse the act of leadership with the characteristics of individual leaders. Consider this: Would you rather work with a person who is…

  • Honest or dishonest?
  • Kind or mean?
  • Generous or stingy?
  • Decisive or uncertain?
  • Humble or arrogant?
  • Knowledgeable or clueless?

This list of personal characteristics could go on and become quite long. However, it’s important to distinguish between these qualitative descriptors of individuals and leadership itself, which involves getting things done either individually or by working with others.

To be sure, styles of leadership and individual characteristics matter significantly and will have a bearing on the degree of success one may have in a leadership role, i.e., the degree to which a leader is able to accomplish goals and tasks through the cooperation of others.

Essentially, the success of a leader is supported by their personal style and individual characteristics, but they are not definitions of leadership nor measurements of that leader’s success.

The Value of Leadership

Of course, every business and nonprofit organization desires people on their management team to be good leaders, having the ability to get things done and influence others in a positive way to do the same, while managing their area of operational responsibility, along with other resources.

To appreciate the value of good leadership capabilities within the management team, just imagine a past personal experience, or perhaps a current one in your company, where a person with a management title or position of authority did/does not possess good leadership skills. Yes, most of us have had this experience and know how many problems can occur when this is the case.

On the other hand, imagine working for a leader who knows what needs to be done, communicates that effectively, shares the workload appropriately, provides encouragement and support as necessary, and then gives credit (fairly) for a job well done. This is a much more motivating scenario.

Effective Leadership Teams

So how do you build an effective leadership team within your organization? The answer depends on the situation, and every situation is unique. But here are a few thoughts that might be helpful as you consider this very important question.

It has been said that organizations rise and fall on their leadership. In other words, leaders affect everything within your company, including the planning, the people, the operations, the customers, the culture, etc. which means they affect the outcomes as well.

If you intend to fill a management position, or any other key position requiring leadership ability within your company, consider the following:

  • Leadership starts with a person. So, make sure there is a process for identifying and selecting people who already have the personal characteristics you desire in your leadership team. This means you get what you want, and they don’t have to become somebody they are not.
  • An individual’s personal characteristics will heavily influence their leadership style. So, make sure there is a process for identifying and selecting people who have demonstrated a leadership style that is consistent with your company’s values and culture.
  • Leadership involves the ability and willingness to get things done, either individually or by working with others. So, make sure the process includes a way to identify people who understand this, possess a track record for getting things done, influence and work well with others, and demonstrate the attitude necessary to be a member of your management team.
  • Even the best leaders need to continually learn and grow. So, make sure there is a solid training and development program for your leaders. This should include opportunities to increase knowledge (both job-specific and leadership knowledge), which is necessary to perform the job and lead effectively. It should also include opportunities for personal development, keeping in mind that leaders are people, and people must grow in order to remain vital to your organization and effective as leaders.
  • Focus on being the best leader you can possibly be, as you work to build an effective management team. Most managers desire to be effective leaders… and they want to be on a team with other good leaders… and most of all, they long to report to someone who is a great leader.

The subject of leadership deserves our focused attention because it’s foundational to organizational success, impacting every aspect of your business or nonprofit. The ability and willingness of leaders to get things done, while influencing others to do the same, affects how well your organization performs and grows. So, let’s take steps to equip our businesses with the types of leadership they need and give our employees the leaders they deserve.

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


Understanding the Basics of Business Strategy

What is Business Strategy?

Have you ever taken a road trip, maybe to a quiet beach or remote cabin in the woods, for the purpose of resting and recharging your batteries? Chances are that you mapped out your driving route before leaving for your destination, hoping to get their safely, avoid traffic, and arrive in time to make the most of your first day of vacation. So, you had a destination in mind and a road map to get you there in a particular manner, all for the purpose of resting and relaxing.

Let’s think of business strategy similarly. As with planning a vacation, business and nonprofit organizations should have a destination in mind, a road map to get from where they are to where they want to be, and a purpose for doing so. Of course, the planning process for business involves different factors, but it requires a similar thought process to planning a road trip.

Business strategy is the process of evaluating the organization’s current situation; determining your vision for the future, i.e., where you want to be; understanding your purpose for such desires; then mapping out how you will get there, while arriving with certain conditions in mind.

Rather than making sure suitcases are packed, the car has fuel, the route is mapped out, etc. as we do when going on vacation, business planning looks at factors such as the company’s products and services, market opportunities, competitiveness, internal operations, communications, marketing, sales, financial resources, and many other factors that may affect the company’s ability to get from where they are now to where they want to be in the future.

This process of planning for the future results in a road map to help everyone understand the plan, know their responsibilities, stay on the same page with others on the team, and accomplish goals that will help the organization arrive in time to enjoy the results of their efforts.

Business Strategy - Hockenberry Management Consulting - Road Map

Why is Business Strategy Important?

Similar to a vacation road trip, if we don’t have our route mapped out (assuming we’re not relying solely on our smart phone’s GPS app), there’s a good chance we’ll get lost along the way, waste time and fuel traveling miles that aren’t helping us reach our destination, become frustrated because we’ll arrive late and lose most of our first day of vacation, begin bickering with our family members because that’s what people do when they become frustrated, miss opportunities to stop and visit interesting places along the way, etc.

The same is true of business planning. Without a good business strategy, well documented and disseminated appropriately throughout the organization, with the right people involved doing the right things at the right time, then chances are we’ll get lost along the way… although we won’t even know where we’re going (our destination), we’ll waste time, money and other resources working on the wrong things; we’ll miss opportunities to take advantage of certain market conditions; we may be defeated by the competition, or at least hurt in ways we may not even recognize; broken internal processes may not be fixed, so inefficiencies and quality issues may persist; customers will continue to be disappointed in ways that could have been avoided, and so on.

Business strategy is important because it helps you get from where you are to where you want to be, as an organization, in the most straight-forward, efficient, enjoyable manner possible, within established timeframes and budgets for doing so.

Otherwise, you may not get there at all, wherever “there” may be, or you may end up somewhere that you didn’t want to go in the first place.

How to Create a Business Strategy

A business strategic planning process consists of several phases, including:

  • Clarifying the organization’s vision for the future
  • Confirming the mission to be accomplished
  • Affirming organizational values which guide decision making and activity
  • Identifying and analyzing external factors which may affect the company’s ability to get from where it is to where it needs to be
  • Identifying and analyzing internal factors which may help or hinder the cause
  • Determining strategic objectives based on the analysis

All these phases must be done with budgetary factors and other resources in mind. Then, the company’s strategic plan can be used to develop functional plans, including marketing, sales, operations, human resources, technology, financial, accounting, legal, etc.

We believe it is best to have a qualified facilitator to help your organization develop its business strategy. You probably wouldn’t have your technology team represent the company at legal proceedings, or your human resources team buy and install high-tech manufacturing machinery. Likewise, it is best to have a strategic planning expert help with development of a solid business strategy to ensure your objectives are clearly determined, delineated, communicated, and implemented. This improves the company’s chances for achieving growth, increasing profit, gaining market share, or accomplishing other objectives established for your organization.

If you try to develop a strategic plan on your own, keep these important factors in mind:

  • Assemble the team
  • Cast the vision
  • Confirm the mission
  • Affirm organizational values
  • Analyze external factors (especially market opportunities and competitiveness)
  • Analyze internal factors (especially structure, function, leadership, communications, capabilities, capacity, resources, processes, customers, equipment, tools, etc., along with critical functions such as marketing, sales, operations, and support)
  • Establish a budget

Business Strategy

How is Business Strategy Different from Functional Strategies?

Business strategy and functional strategies are different, but they should be very much related. Imagine that we’re preparing for the road trip, and the driver is making plans to go south to a nice, warm, sunny beach resort, but the person in charge of packing suitcases is thinking the family is headed north to a remote cabin in the cool, brisk winter air with fresh fallen snow. Both options sound wonderful, but they are different, and the family will end up in a sunny paradise wearing heavy coats and gloves.

The business strategy informs and helps to determine functional strategies.

If our driver would have informed the suitcase packer about plans to head south to the beach, the packer could have loaded the suitcases with shorts, t-shirts, and swimwear. Likewise, an organization’s business strategy lays the framework for building appropriate functional plans to accomplish the overall business strategy. This includes the sales plan, marketing plan, operations plan, financial plan, human resources plan, technology plan, and so on.

If functional plans are not intertwined with the organization’s business strategy, and therefore not moving in the same direction, they will be pulling against each other. The result will be confusion and frustration, wasted time and resources, missed opportunities, etc. which may make matters worse than if there were no plans developed at all. With no plans, the company may have at least maintained the status quo, rather than going backwards.

How to Implement a Business Strategy

Many strategic business plans have been developed only to sit on the shelf and collect dust. They are of no value unless implemented. In fact, it may cause more harm than good to go through the process of developing a business strategy and then fail to implement it. Think of the time and resources invested, and the enthusiasm generated among participants… only for the plan to fall off the tracks. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but almost always results in disappointment among hopeful participants and can lead to more problems than were present before the planning process began. It would be like the entire family planning that much-anticipated vacation together, packing suitcases, loading the car, piling in, and then having the car break down in the driveway.

Again, qualified professional assistance with implementation may be a good option to seriously consider. To be done effectively, implementing a business strategy requires communicating the overall business strategy to functional leaders, supporting their efforts in developing operational plans consistent with the overall strategy, involving others who may be part of implementation efforts, informing all members of the organization appropriately and timely, providing resources and tools necessary to implement the plan, supporting those leading and those involved with the effort, reviewing progress periodically, making adjustments along the way, holding each other accountable to mutually agreed upon goals and timelines, communicating and celebrating progress and success, gathering valuable information that may inform future business strategies, etc.

Having a well-developed and executed business strategy could represent the difference between business growth and failure to grow, revenue growth and stagnation, profit and loss, greater market share and shrinking market share, innovative products and services being developed and watching the competition do so, operational processes being improved and the bottom line being negatively affected by inefficiencies and poor quality, gaining and retaining customers and losing them to the competition, and so on.

Take the calculated risk. Invest the time and resources. Develop a winning business strategy for your organization. Implement it as effectively as possible. Have fun doing so. Enjoy the results.

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