A to Z of Back to Basics Marketing

Welcome to my A to Z of Back to Basics Marketing, containing some of those all important principles of marketing that have not been made obsolete by the rise of digital marketing but seem to have got lost in all the hype.

I’m on a mission to help SME’s rethink marketing and its capabilities. Look out for the videos that accompany this article by subscribing to my YouTube channel to learn more about each item in the A to Z.

A is for Audit

It is quite apt that we begin with A for Audit, because conducting a marketing audit is the first step you should take in the marketing planning process. At its most simplistic level, a marketing audit examines what’s going on inside of your business and what’s going on outside of your business, with a purpose that extends beyond assessing the effectiveness of just the marketing function itself. A thorough audit should present you with a profound understanding of your current situation and the changing market conditions you face. From the identification of the opportunities you can exploit that are best aligned to your strengths, to any threats you may need to take mitigating action against, a marketing audit is a key business activity when it comes to long-term strategic planning.  

B is for Business Analysis

Putting people and process ahead of the tech is something I’m rather passionate about. I don’t suffer from “Technophobia” (honest!), I embrace advances in digital marketing, but always maintain that it’s people and process that truly make the difference. Let’s take CRM systems as an example, a technology that is often viewed as a business transformer. The technology on its own is not going to grow your business, the people and the process do that, but it’s often the part that is overlooked. That’s where business analysis comes in. The implementation of new technology such as CRM is a prime opportunity for a business to define stakeholder requirements across the organisation and improve processes to ensure that the tech is solving problems, not creating them.

C is for Core Values

You may be wondering why on earth core values feature in this A to Z of Back to Basics Marketing. It’s because marketing isn’t just about what you say, it’s about what you do, and living and working by your core values is a significant part of ‘what you do’ that helps to build trust with your stakeholders. Clearly defined and communicated core values give a business direction, they aid decision making across the business, and they help to maintain consistency in communications both internally and externally. They also help to differentiate your business from the competition, not just in the eyes of customers, but also in the eyes of the talent that you want to attract to your business to aid your growth ambitions. 

D is for Define

Who, Why, What, How and Where, are five simple steps that can help when taking a product to market. Many businesses fall into the trap of starting with ‘What’. They develop a product or service but miss out the vital steps of defining and understanding who it is they are targeting, and why they would choose them ahead of the competition. That’s why D is for Define. It’s about defining WHO it is you want to sell to, understanding their challenges, drivers, and objections, so that you can present the benefits of your product or service in a way that matters to them. In B2B, the WHO generally goes beyond that one person who signs off the purchase order. Don’t forget that there are others in the business that contribute to the buying decision, so it’s important to define all the WHO’s that have influence throughout the process.

E is for Empathy

Marketers in any business should be the customer’s champion, making the ability to empathise a prerequisite. It’s about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, seeing things from their perspective, and understanding all there is to know about the customer (see D for Define). However, I don’t just think that empathy is important for marketers, I think it’s something that should be encouraged throughout an entire organisation. Whether it’s encouraging empathy for the customer, or between the different functions of your business to improve efficiencies, everyone should be the customer’s champion to deliver an exceptional customer experience.

F is for Feedback

Feedback from customers helps businesses to learn, it helps them improve. Although, in order to do that you have to ask questions, that when answered, provide insight rather than just a top-level customer satisfaction rating. It’s about taking feedback beyond a customer satisfaction, box ticking exercise and using it to obtain a picture of how your customers view your business. Their view enables you to analyse whether what you say and what you do are aligned, whether what you believe makes you unique matches the customers perspective. Not only can you improve what you do, you can also improve what you say, by taking their feedback and incorporating it into your communications.

G is for Gauge

With competition in the market often been cited by SME’s as a major obstacle to the success of their business, knowing how they stack up against the competition is vital if this obstacle is to be overcome. Although easier said than done, it’s important to take an impartial stance when it comes to comparing yourself to the competition. So G is for Gauge, gauging yourself against the competition using an objective approach based on fact. An objective approach that weighs up how you and your competitors perform against your customer’s key buying criteria and needs.

H is for Hypothesis

Ever been told it’s wrong to assume? That making assumptions is dangerous? I agree, it can be, but when setting out your long-term strategy and plan, you must make assumptions. A good plan needs to incorporate your hypothesis, a set of assumptions that your projections are based on. When you have a measurable hypothesis, it makes it easier to analyse your actual business performance against those projections. The important thing is that you challenge the assumptions you use and test them, that’s why A for Audit is so important. Historical data, customer feedback, and third party analysis are just some of the ways you can test assumptions when conducting an audit.

I is for Inform

I’m repeating myself I know, but marketing isn’t just about what you say, it’s about what you do. It’s the entire business that is responsible for delivering the customer experience, so I is for Inform, because marketing should encompass all stakeholders. Marketing communications are generally perceived as those messages that occur between marketing and customers/prospects, yet it’s important that they are shared within the business as well. Whether it’s communicating your unique selling proposition internally, keeping employees up to date on performance, or making data more accessible, your internal communications strategy should also be developed alongside your external communications strategy.

J is for Journey

The B2B buying journey continues to evolve. When studying key buying activities, Gartner found that the activity buyers were spending the largest portion (27%) of their time on during the buying process was researching independently online. When I participated in Challenger training a few years back, it always stuck with me that buyers are 57% through the buying process before they engage with suppliers. That’s a long time before they engage with your sales team. So, it’s important that you are giving prospective customers the information they need at each stage of their journey. It’s about utilising your digital channels to deliver content that answers their questions (see D for Define) and aids them during the phase of researching independently online. 

K is for KPI’s

A term that’s often overused and misunderstood, we’re on K, which is for Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s). An effective KPI dashboard is not one that includes every single possible metric from your business. It’s not about creating an administrative burden and bombarding people with data. It’s about selecting those metrics that will help you reach your objectives. They must be relevant to your business in order to be effective. Start by defining the activities that will help you to reach your objectives and then choose the metrics that are most appropriate for driving those activities and measuring performance. When cascaded through the business, KPI’s that are strongly linked to objectives are a great way for employees to see how their own performance directly impacts results.

L is for Layout

For the industrial engineering and manufacturing SME’s I serve, facility layout is an important factor when it comes to maximising the efficiency of their operations. It’s no different for your marketing activities either, they too should be laid out in the most efficient way, so L is for Layout. When developing your marketing plan and laying out what you need to do and when, a good place to start is at the end. Start with the result, the output, and reverse engineer it to identify all the parts. By using this approach, the layout of your plan is less likely to have steps missing, or out of sync. Just like on the shop floor, having an inefficient layout leads to wastage, so optimize the layout of your marketing plan to maximise your resources.

M is for Mission

Along with a clear vision, defining your mission gives your business direction, it gives your marketing strategy direction. Vision and mission are often confused. Even some of the top business and marketing institutions appear to have blurred views on these fundamentals of business, but in the interests of getting on, here’s a definition for you: “A mission is a statement that defines the purpose of your business”. Ultimately, it’s the WHAT you do, HOW you do it, WHO you do it for, and WHY you do it of your business. These may seem like basic, even obvious things, but ask yourself ‘what’s the purpose of my business?’ It is probably harder to articulate than you think. Ask your employees too, it’s important that everyone understands the common purpose.

N is for New Entrants

Simplicity is the cornerstone of my values, so I try to avoid reeling off too many marketing models and theoretical principles, but I’d like to make an exception here…and not just because it gives me something to talk about at this stage in the alphabet. N for New Entrants, is one of the factors considered in Porters Five Forces. The model helps you to assess the competitive landscape and considers 1). Bargaining Power of Buyers, 2). Bargaining Power of Suppliers, 3). Threat of New Entrants, 4). Threat of Substitutes, 5). Rivalry Among Existing Competitors. This can be a useful tool when you are considering entering a new market and want to determine its attractiveness, profitability, and the level of competition. 

O is for Objectives

Setting clear objectives helps you (and your team) to be clear on what it is you need to do. Marketing objectives should not be set in isolation from the rest of the business, or just an arbitrary set of objectives around vanity metrics. It’s not just about aligning your marketing objectives vertically with overall business objectives, but horizontally as well with other functions of the business. Ultimately, the objectives set should contribute to the overall success of the business and need to be measurable (see K for KPI’s). Whatever type of objective you are setting…business, marketing, operations…they should always be SMART. An acronym I’m sure you’ve heard of, but just to recap, a SMART objective should be: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time Bound.

P is for Problem

“Focus on the solution, not the problem” – Jim Rohn. Sorry Jim, I’m going to have to disagree with you there. As marketers, first and foremost, focus on the problem. Focus on the problems of your WHO (see D for Define), understand them, and only then focus on your solution to those problems. Consider the problems and challenges that they are aware of. Just because they are aware of them doesn’t mean they are compelled to act, so consider what’s preventing them from doing so. Is your WHO underestimating a problem in their business and the impact it could have? By understanding the problem first, and the potential objections associated with them, you’ll be able to create communications that resonate with your WHO and the challenges they face. 

Q is for Quantify

Having spent more than a decade in analytical roles, or managing them, I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to data and numbers. Q for Quantify is about quantifying the value you bring to the customer, because “If you can’t measure it – it doesn’t exist” (Unknown). As consumers we frequently see similar businesses claiming the same thing…the best customer service, the best quality products. Prove it! If you have the best quality product, how are you measuring that? Product design life, failure rates, downtime? It’s important to be able to quantify these things, because the competition is most likely saying the same thing. When you can quantify your value, you can then utilise that proof to demonstrate those hidden cost savings that, for example, products with a longer design life can bring.

R is for Research

Conducting market research is an activity that is often associated with starting up in business. R is for Research, because market research isn’t just for start-ups, it’s an important activity for established businesses as well. Regular market research, or information gathering, if you’d like to think of it in a less formal way, enables you to keep up to date with industry trends, and those important changes in market conditions that may pose opportunities or threats to your business (see A for Audit). Then there’s more intense market research projects that help you determine the validity of new product development or entering a new market. These projects may initially seem costly, but sound research can help you to prevent making costly mistakes and spending money in areas that simply aren’t viable business opportunities.

S is for SWOT

A SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) Analysis is a strategic planning tool that is often misunderstood and misused. One common mistake I see is strengths being confused with opportunities, and weaknesses confused with threats. Strengths and weaknesses are inside the business, they are the things you have control over. Opportunities and threats are outside of the business and are factors that you do not have control over. A second common mistake I see, is a belief that the list of strengths should be as long as your arm and list everything you are vaguely OK at. A strength is something that gives you an advantage over the competition. If they can claim the same, it is not a strength. Imagine that your prospective customer is literally weighing you up against the competition. What is going to tip the scales in your favour?

T is for Tactics

With the abundance of tools and tech at our disposable in this digital marketing age, it’s becoming more evident to me that short-term Tactics are (unfortunately) taking centre stage without the orchestral conductor, Strategy. It didn’t particularly come as a surprise when Marketing Week published findings from a survey by the IPA and ISBA stating that 75% of marketers agree that short-term tactical needs often take priority over longer-term objectives. Strategy and tactics go hand in hand, but many businesses seem to find that balance between the short and the long term difficult, with short-term financial gain seemingly taking priority. “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” – Sun Tzu (Can you get any further ‘back to basics’ than the 6th century?) That’s pretty much what your marketing efforts will be doing if your orchestral conductor isn’t in place, making a lot of noise.

U is for USP

The obstacle of competition is much easier to overcome when you have something that makes you stand out from your competitors. Something that not just makes you different, but something that makes you different in a way that matters to your prospective customers. Without it, you’ll be continually racing to the bottom on price. Marketing is typically associated with generating more business, but it’s also about generating better business, business that grows your profitability. That’s why U is for Unique Selling Point (USP). The route to uncovering your USP starts with D for Define and P for Problem, so focusing on who you’re selling to. G for Gauge and S for SWOT also comes into play as you evaluate yourself against the competition.

V is for Vision

What impact do you want your business to have? For me, that is what effective vision statements are all about. They are focused on a desired impact rather than commercially driven, market domination and should inspire your employees to work towards that desired future state. Here’s one I’d consider to be commercially driven: “To be number 1 or 2 in every single market that we serve.” I’m not quite sure how this one from General Electric made it into an e-book of ‘100 of the worlds’ best vision statements’, it’s not particularly inspiring. It’s a good link back to C for Core Values, because your Vision needs to be aligned with those for people to believe in it.

W is for Work Together

The great rivalry between sales and marketing is no secret, each using the other as a scapegoat when targets are missed. Yet, when we’re aligned, sales and marketing is proven to deliver 19% more growth (Sirius Decisions). I’ve seen the benefits of sales and marketing alignment first-hand, having worked alongside a sales team for over a decade, it was quite amicable really! We can co-exist, in fact, I’d say it is now essential given how the B2B buying journey has changed (see J for Journey). That’s why W is for Work Together. Combined, sales and marketing bring a wealth of insight into the business; customer and product knowledge, competitor insight, market insight, and analytics to name a few. When you’re working on D for Define, or P for Problem, it shouldn’t just be left to the marketing department, sales should be contributing to these activities too.

X is for X-tended Marketing Mix

You are probably familiar with the original marketing mix and the 4 P’s of Product, Place, Promotion and Price. The extended marketing mix is less well known yet considers important elements that many businesses now look to use as a source of differentiation, service. That’s why X is for X-Tended Marketing Mix (forgive me for using some artistic license on this one!). The extended marketing mix considers People, Processes and Physical Evidence. Finding a competitive advantage, a USP, has become increasingly difficult on just product alone, hence the focus on the intangible assets of service. The three elements considered in the extended marketing mix are much more difficult for your competitors to replicate and should be a key focus for any business wanting to deliver an exceptional customer experience. 

Y is for Your Story

Working in the industrial engineering and manufacturing sector, I read many, matter of fact ‘About Us’ pages. And although I am presented with a detailed timeline of every machine tool they’ve ever installed, I rarely get an insight into WHY the business exists. That’s why Y is for Your Story, because your story uncovers why your business began and it’s something that I feel is often overlooked, especially in the sector I work in. Your story is the first building block in my marketing foundations framework, because when you sit down and think about how you got here, why you do what you do, you will find that it helps you define other things in your business such as your core values, mission and vision. What’s your story?

Z is for Zoom

Zoom is just one of the ways that you can enlist the help of someone like me, virtually. Watch out for my video on Z for Zoom where I’ll be sharing some exciting news about a great opportunity for two businesses to work with me in January to get 2020 off to a great start. Subscribe to my YouTube channel to make sure that you don’t miss any of the videos in the A to Z of Back to Basics Marketing series.

Focus on the Problem, not the Solution

“Focus on the solution, not the problem” said Jim Rohn. 

Sorry Jim, I’m going to have to disagree with you there. When you’ve got your marketing hat on for your small business, first and foremost, focus on the problem. Focus on the problems of your ideal client, understand them, and only then focus on your solution to those problems. 

In a recent blog, The Right Marketing at The Right Time, I explored the first vital steps that are needed when developing a successful marketing strategy. The first was ‘who’, so understanding who you help, understanding the problems you solve. The second was ‘why’, so why should they listen to you over everyone else, why are you best placed to help solve their problem. 

When we skip the ‘who’ and the ‘why’ and delve straight into the ‘what’, so what you’re selling, your solution, without fully understanding the problem it solves, marketing it can become an uphill struggle. Yet it’s a struggle that I discovered many SME’s found themselves in…

When carrying out some market research to determine the direction that I should take my business in, I came across a statistic that, well, frustrated me if I’m honest. It was that “45% of small businesses said that competition in the market is a major obstacle to the success of their business.” It was right up there with red tape and regulations!! 

The default stance may be “well I can’t control the competition”….and of course you can’t control what your competitors do, but there is something you do have control over. 

· You have control over your response to the competition.  

· You have control to differentiate yourself from the competition. 

· You have control to put yourself in a place where there is no competition. 

But that takes a strategic approach, one that defines the ‘who’ and the ‘why’ before the ‘what’, an approach that goes beyond short-term tactics and tools. 

As I continued my research on social media platforms, monitoring networking groups, the concern that competition was an obstacle to business owners’ success was reinforced. Business owners and freelancers asking for advice on how to solve the ‘I’m struggling to attract new clients’ problem, and the ‘there’s too much competition in the market’ problem, were typically met with solutions that involved doing more. More short-term tactical stuff….

· Be on more social media platforms

· Spend more money on Facebook Ads

· Spend more money on Google Ads

· Spend more on your website 

· Spend more on SEO 

As small business owners and freelancers with limited resources, doing more doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Yet it can be the solution that many are convinced they need because so many people are telling them that. We’re led to believe that digital marketing tools and tactics are the answer to our problems. 

All of this is what led me to my decision to focus on back to basics, strategic marketing. Those principles of marketing that have not been made obsolete by the introduction of digital marketing, but seem to have got lost in all of the hype. The principles of marketing that can actually result in you doing less, but gaining more, by taking a more targeted approach to marketing. 

If I had purely focused on the solutions that people were looking for or thought they needed, or the solutions that were already been offered in abundance, then I probably would have taken my business down the digital marketing route….most likely with no success! By just focusing on the problem first, we can uncover those things that our ideal client is either unaware of, or those things that they underestimate the importance of. 

I must confess to doubting whether the solution I had devised was the right way to go, but then in October 2018 I read an article in Marketing Week, where a survey uncovered that 75% of marketers agreed that short-term tactical needs often took the priority over long-term objectives. That’s marketers themselves admitting to this! The same article stated that this impacts marketing effectiveness, and not in a good way. 

So, if marketers themselves fall into the trap of focusing on short-term tactical needs then I wouldn’t beat yourself up too much as a small business owner if you’ve found yourself in the same position! 

This sealed it for me and I’ll continue to bang my back to basics, strategic marketing drum. I’ll continue to focus on back to basics marketing that helps move your business forward. And to come back to Jim, yes, it is important to focus on the solution, but only when you fully understand the problem.

The Right Marketing at The Right Time

“The right product, in the right place, at the right time.” 

“The right message, to the right person, at the right time.”

The world of marketing is awash with these proverbs.  

It’s also a world of great variation, one with many different views of what marketing actually is, even from marketers themselves, because there’s quite an assortment of flavours out there..

Digital Marketers

Marketers that plan

Brand Marketers 

Campaign planners

Social Media Marketers

Marketers that develop products

Content Marketers

Follow my 5-step blueprint and make 7 figures in 3 ½ minutes Marketers

Dare I say it, Bull Shit Marketers

It can be an overwhelming subject for small business owners, what on earth do you focus on and when? 

So although us marketers can chant our mantras “the right message, to the right person, at the right time”, how do you, as a small business owner make sure that you’re hiring the right marketer at the right time. And even if you are not hiring someone to help with your marketing, you still have to work out what type of marketer you have to be for your business. You have to be the right type of marketer at the right time. 

Hiring (or being) the wrong type of marketer at the wrong time can be one of the reasons why business owners have been known to mutter the words “marketing doesn’t work”. And you know what, some of them are right, it doesn’t. The wrong marketing at the wrong time doesn’t work. 

Just the other week at a networking event, I was talking to a business owner who had invested heavily in their website, predominately search engine optimisation. From the brief chat I had with them it was evident that this had been a classic example of the wrong marketer at the wrong time. 

Hundreds of pounds spent, no increase in traffic, even though sufficient time had passed to start seeing results. I appreciate there are two sides to every story, but I’m using a bit of artistic licence to illustrate a point. In this instance, before turning to a Digital Marketer, the basics should have been in place, the marketing foundations should have been built. 

It’s a regular occurrence in online networking groups, where a small business owner expresses concern over their ability to attract new clients. These posts are often met with a constant barrage of “advice” for the original poster (OP)…

“PM me, I’ll help you with Google Ads”

“Contact me, you need to be doing Facebook Ads”

I’ve chipped in myself on occasions and asked the OP if they have the basics in place. The answer is often no, but they know they should. Spending money on paid for media is the last thing you should be considering if you haven’t got the basics in place. 

It’s a bit like getting a painter and decorator in to paint your walls in Farrow & Ball ‘Sulking Room Pink’ before the plasterer has been to address the massive craters in your plaster work. Utterly pointless. The shoddy finish is by no means a true reflection of the decorators’ talents, he was just hired at the wrong point in the process. The wrong tradesman at the wrong time. 

The industry has to accept the part it plays, and any self-respecting marketer should tell you if they think you haven’t got the basics in place, they should be prepared to challenge you, after all, you’re hiring them as an expert. Sadly, this doesn’t always happen, some people are just happy to take your money, regardless of whether your business will see any benefit in return. 

If you’re a start-up or early stage business, first and foremost you need to be what I’ll refer to as a ‘Basic Marketer’. Strategic in nature, they focus on the fundamentals, the basics, good old vanilla flavour. Some people don’t like the word basic. It’s boring, it’s not sexy, it doesn’t get the pulse racing like all the flash digital marketing tools out there. 

But you know what basic is synonymous with? Vital. 

When we miss the vital steps in developing our marketing strategy, getting a return from our investment, whether that be time, money or both, is always going to be an uphill struggle. There is little point being any different type of marketer, until you have the basics in place. 

You’ve got to get the plasterer in before you start splashing that expensive ‘Sulking Room Pink’ paint on your walls…yes, that is actually on Farrow & Ball’s colour chart. 

So, what are the basics? What are the vital steps? 

First and foremost, know WHO you’re talking to, because if you don’t know who you’re talking to, how do you know how to talk to them and where to find them?

Get specific about who it is you want to work with, who it is you want to help, who will benefit the most from what you have to offer. As the saying goes, ‘you can’t be all things to all people’, and it’s exactly the same for your business too. 

You need to determine who your ideal customer is, this is WHO you should be talking to. 

It seems obvious, but it’s something that is often bypassed. 

Your next vital step is making it clear WHY you’re talking to them. What’s the problem that you solve for them? Why should they pick you over your competitors? What is it that you are offering them? Basically, why should they listen to you? 

It’s a good question to ask yourself if you want to test your own WHY. Can you convince yourself as to why people should listen to you? Without a convincing ‘why’ you’re just more noise in a crowded market place and your message will go unheard, most likely because your message is too similar to a lot of other people out there. 

Take a moment to think about the number of marketing messages that you are bombarded with as a consumer on a daily basis. Studies vary, but it’s suggested the number of messages runs into the thousands. So, as a business, your WHY needs to make you memorable in all of that noise. 

If your ideal customer doesn’t know your WHY, then it doesn’t exist. Don’t assume that people will work out what you are good at, they really don’t have the time….remember all of those messages they are being bombarded with! 

Next you need to define HOW you’re doing to talk to them. What type of content do they like to consume? Do they prefer videos, podcasts, blogs, social media, webinars, presentations, face-to-face meetings? Really understanding WHO it is you want to talk to, makes it much easier to determine HOW the content you produce is going to fit into their lives. 

The HOW stage is when you could start to introduce other types of marketing or marketer, and start to determine how those tools and tactics will benefit your business. Tools and tactics need to work for your business, knowing your WHO and WHY is a big step to working out which ones will do just that. 

When you know HOW you’re going to talk to them, you can turn your attention to WHERE those conversations should take place. That could be at networking events, exhibitions, LinkedIn, Facebook, your own website, online groups, offline groups…you get the idea, there’s countless options. There are so many places that you could be, but you should only focus on those where you know your ideal customer will be. 

You’ll be in a much better place to start engaging with marketing specialists when you get to this point, or as a DIY Marketer (and I don’t mean you market stuff for B&Q) you’ll be more confident in your choice of tools and tactics. You’ll be more confident that you’ve got the right marketer at the right time. 

And when you progress from the basics, whatever type of Marketer you engage with, always make sure you set objectives and align expectations. The disillusion with marketing often stems from miscommunication and misunderstanding between service provider and client. Even though you may have the right marketer at the right time, misaligned expectations can result in these projects being perceived as a failure. 

So, always set an objective and make sure you can measure the return you’re getting from your investment in marketing. A good marketer will manage your expectations without taking ‘the you know what’, and should not be wary of setting objectives. Whether it’s lead generation you’re after, increased conversions, or list building, make sure you can measure it. As Peter Drucker said “you can’t manage what you don’t measure.”

Sometimes to move forwards we have to go back to basics, it’s not boring, it’s vital. Jumping straight into being a Digital Marketer might make you feel like you’re making progress, but without the basics in place first you’ll find yourself re-doing your website copy countless times, swapping and changing tactics, trying new tools, and basically creating a marketing monster. 

Start by being a ‘Basic Marketer’. Start by defining WHO it is you want to talk to and give them a damn good reason as to WHY they should listen.