Marketing as a discipline has an ever expanding tool kit with some tools requiring the support of specialists. They can be used in a variety of ways and some can provide a wealth of statistics to assist with calculating return on investment.
There is always a need to justify expenditure, which can be tricky in some areas of marketing, and this pressure on evaluation has led some down a path of only concentrating on activities that can be measured.
This can lead to un-balanced marketing output and ultimately can result in less return on investment. In this maze of tools, techniques and evaluation methodology the whole process can appear very mechanical. This is dangerous given that marketing needs to be a creative process, not just in the design of on-line or print output, but also in terms of campaign initiatives.
Marketing needs a sprinkle of ‘magic’ to bring the highest rewards. However, the start point of any effective marketing is planning.
Defining Marketing Objectives
Without a set of clearly determined marketing objectives – that would normally be linked to some form of wider business plan – marketing efforts will at best be hit and miss, at worst a waste of time money and effort. Setting objectives seems to be a logical place to start, yet it is surprising how many organisations simply replicate activity from previous years with a bit of updating.
Use of strategy tools will help an organisation of any type determine its focus going forward.
The most well known of these tools is SWOT analysis. A simple tool whereby the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of an organisation are identified. Many organisations do this through pro-forma documentation, group working or a combination of both. A very useful addition to this is to ask customers and/or referral bodies, to take part. This gives an external perspective that is very helpful when setting marketing objectives. Having identified the issues it is then a case of building an action plan to address the issues. This is where many organisations fail. Agreeing a plan is one thing, but it needs to be implemented!
Another tool that is very helpful at this stage is PESTLE. This tool allows users to take a good look at the environment in which they are operating and then to implement objectives to maximise opportunities and respond to changes in a market place.
PESTLE is similar to SWOT in that it is largely a way at looking at an organisation. The letters stand for the following key headings. Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal, and Environmental. By looking at these factors in the context of the organisation it is then possible to begin identifying a strategic path for an organisation. It helps organisations act ahead of changes in a market place. Sadly many organisations are slow to react to change.
The recent pandemic has required many to revisit their analysis with some embracing the change and others burying their heads in the sand.
There are many other tools that can be deployed, some of the more well-known are Porters’ Forces model and the BCG matrix. Another useful tool is segmentation analysis. The basic principle here is that different segments or sectors have different dynamics and these need to be considered when attempting to market an organisation. Decision makers may be different, routes to market may be different and the organisation may have a stronger presence in some areas, weaker in others. This of course needs to be reflected in any marketing activity.
Building the Marketing Plan
As mentioned at the outset the marketing tool kit is a big one, with some of the tools, notably web and digital, requiring the support of specialists. A major difficulty for inexperienced marketers is knowing which cocktail of tools to deploy to achieve a particular objective.
Many organisations fight hard to dominate search engines, either by paid campaigns or by convincing Google to rank their site above others. However, in some sectors web sites may be used principally for ‘verification’ purposes to support a referral. In such a situation ‘click to client’ as a result of a one off visit to a web site is unrealistic.
Marketing plan section headings that are useful in structuring a plan are listed below. Against each heading a list of activities should be provided, with responsibilities allocated and a budget set.
- Marketing Communications and Advertising
- Direct marketing e.g. e-mail updates
- Referral Stimulation
- Corporate Social Responsibility
- Social media
- Customer care/advocacy
- Market research
The activities planned in each area need to support a particular objective. For many small organisations they will have a very limited budget and it is important to be realistic about what can be achieved.
Snake Oil Alert!
A note of caution. Watch out for the – ‘it’s all about xyz now,’ or the, ‘I once sat next to an expert who said…..’ traps. Marketing is not and has never been, a one trick pony. It needs to be integrated utilising a wide tool kit.
What about the Magic?
Mechanical marketing can leave people uninspired. What does this look like? Well, not investing in creative design, being constrained by the past, not taking risks with activities and not being willing to fail can all result in ‘me too’ output. If marketing is not creative what is it?
Magic in the form of creative thinking could mean truly engaging stunningly designed communications, innovative memorable events or even changing the way customers are served to make life easier for them.
It is often hard to visualise what this could mean when you are working within an organisation. Examples from other sectors may help. For example, adding coffee cup holders to cars probably did not come from a complaint and technology companies regularly have to upgrade their products arguably turning a want into a perceived need e.g. adding a camera to a phone.
It is worth remembering a brand is not just something that gets conveyed to customers through marketing initiatives, it is something that needs to be conveyed, and lived by the people working within an organisation. Remote working has challenged this with learnt culture and values breaking down. Businesses, especially service driven businesses, need to address the challenges posed by flexible working and ensure brand values are communicated and expectations are delivered by a remote work force. This should not be assumed.
Marketing then is a combination of solid strategic thinking, good informed planning and a liberal sprinkling of creativity.
Steve Bedford | Director | Conical
Steve is a director of the St Albans based marketing outsource, consultancy and design business Conical. He has presented at conferences in the UK, Sweden, Germany, Turkey, USA and Belgium. He is a former judge of the UK Marketing Excellence Awards.