This is one of the most common questions we as professional marketers get from exasperated business owners with large, middle market companies. For years their success was driven by either engineering or sales success, perhaps an expansion of distribution. Or, they grew their core accounts.
But then growth stalls, or plateaus, as we prefer to say. At this time, perhaps after living on that plateau for a while, owners ponder that question: what aren’t we doing that we should? Marketing!
So how can marketing grow a business? There are three major directions.
First, just as a reminder, marketing is NOT marketing communications (advertising, websites, online stuff, etceteras). Marketing is the parent and is one of the three major cores of a business. (Marketing is the distributed function that determines what a company should make that the market will buy at a profit to the company.)
Product and service design
Thus, the first direction: are we making the right stuff (which includes services)? In the 4 P’s of marketing (which are still very valid and easy as a model), this direction involves “Product.” When leaders ask this question AGAIN, all hell breaks loose. Or the converse, cricket city. Many companies ponder this question for years. The point here is, time to do something about it. The tragedy we see is companies often put off the bold decisions until profit starts to shrink and there’s less available cash to fund innovation. Innovation should be a constant in new product/service development.
Perhaps the company needs to catch up to the rest of the category, finally. Perhaps the company needs to blow up the existing product / service and build it again ground up. Perhaps the company needs to add technology, finally, whatever that looks likes. Lots of options here, but we’ll need to get away from our flag pole.
Making it easier
The second direction, which is a bit easier: how do we make it easier for our customers? This is a fascinating and simple question. First, what is ‘it’? ‘It’ can be anything. Product use. Packaging. How they buy. The pricing model. Warranty. Service. Installation. The obvious stuff. But it can also be quite abstract and can involve product design. In America especially, we groove on cool, different, first, remarkable, talk-about-it, first adopters, our values, self-projection.
Options in this direction are simultaneously: logical, functional, design, desire, surprise/wow/cool. And we’re talking B2B here, not just B2C. We have a client who is redesigning the case of their commercial product with inspiration from Halo. Yes, the video game. For decades their product has looked like every other product in the color. Okay, the color is different! But now, the aesthetic will be badass! And that’s okay.
The problem is we need to get out of our own skin to see the answers. Being in the business means we are likely either biased or prejudiced to what we’ll hear.
Come on, we’ve all been there. Here’s what the team says:
“Oh, customers always say that.”
“That idea is just a fool’s dream.”
“Customers won’t pay for that.”
“Do you know how difficult that will be to implement?”
“Well, that’s just the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard.”
Maybe all of these are true… for a customer segment, but not all. The danger is lumping all of our customers into one. No! Customers have not and will be homogenized and pasteurized. Walk out to your parking lot. Do you see a sea of white Ford sedans? No! It’s more like a box crayons. Variety!
Perhaps innovation that makes it easier for customers will be inconvenient for operations. Perhaps it will crunch net income for a while. Well here’s a great truth:the harder we work, the luckier we get.Especially in marketing. Bottom line: go Nike. Just do it. And if you’re too close to your product and customer base, get a third party opinion. Do a little cheap-but-good research that asks your customers and prospects what they really want. And no! It’s not just: a lower price.
New and improved! Execution.
The final direction is where most start: execution, usually in marketing communications. The common questions and need states:
- We’re not being found online. What do we do about that?
- How do we sell more online?
- My competitor is everywhere. How can we take them down a bit?
- How do we get leads off our website?
- How do we get traffic to our website?
- We’re not using video at all. How do we approach that?
- Our company has been talking to the same people forever. How do we talk to new people (usually starting online)?
- Our marketing is stale. Heck, I’m bored with it.
- We’re not getting ‘the call.’ How do we get on the list?
- Our marketing is clunky, just not working.
In the end, everything boils down to execution. Companies need to fire full bore within marketing, operations and financial performance, yes. So how does a company get more and better execution in marketing?
It starts with a few concessions.
- We don’t have the structure to do what we need to do.
- We don’t have the knowledge to execute the way we need to.
- We can’t afford to build the internal team we really need.
- If our internal team had the knowledge, inspiration, and leadership, we would have done these things years ago.
- We need to get outside our ‘closed’ internal system and gain some fresh perspectives.
And this is where an Outsourced Marketing Department, or at least some outside marketing consultation, becomes very valuable.
A true Outsourced Marketing Department can provide the dozen or so resources necessary for execution at a fraction of the cost of internal staffing. Plus, execution will be expedited and refined because, well, Outsourced Marketing Departments have the depth, skills, training, and leadership along with the need to perform. If they don’t, they get fired, probably more easily than underperforming internal employees.
When companies approach marketing seriously along any of these three axes, results begin to happen. Growth can be inevitable, but some risk is involved first, namely, doing things differently. Action begins first in thought.