Friday, 21 September 2012

Research File: Three essential preparations for success in marketing

Following on from 'The lynch pins of efficiency' I thought it might be worth sharing and extolling the brilliance of a few another group of highly skilled and helpful professionals if you're budget will stretch to be able to afford the employ them. Namely marketing professionals which often double up as sales reps and customer service professionals too.

Customer Services and Marketing departments should, in my opinion at all times, be working closely together. Be aware that although there can be and often is much crossover in smaller companies the knowledge base and skills are very distinctive in what they do. Do not confuse the two disciplines. Both can increase or reduce profit margins of the best of strategic plans for any type of organisation, it all depends on whether you have selected, invested and instructed wisely. The rule of Garbage In = Garbage Out (GIGO) applies to any and all.

For the purposes of this article, I will concentrate on Marketing and follow up with a separate one on Customer Services. For the small enterprise it is debatable as to which you start employing staff to do first. My advice is to go with personnel with who will cover your weakest area in skills, knowledge and interest. As ever it is pointless to employ anyone if you are then not going to trust in what they are employed to do and end up doing it yourself. So if you enjoy marketing and are less comfortable with customer service issues or simply find you don't have that much time for them employ a customer service person, and vice versa.

As a business you should already have identified your target audience for the products and services you offer. You should already have done at least some basic research on the demographics of that (client/customer base including location, ethnicity, age, gender etc), and above all have a realistic idea of what they could afford by way of price. If in that research you discover your target audience cannot afford your pricing it would suggest that you are targeting the wrong people or quite simply pricing yourself out of the market. It suggests you might be trying to promote the wrong thing entirely.

When offering community services this becomes an extremely complicated and complex equation to get right and perhaps goes some way to explain why so many private sector companies would rather steer clear of actual service delivery as the profit margins and therefore sustainability and development prospects are simply not profitable enough (if at all) to be of much interest to them. I personally think that is precisely why they shouldn't take control of such services, advice and experience though are always welcome. The private sector are when all is said and done in business to make money first and last. Products even to disadvantaged groups however are much easier for the private sector to make a profit from.

If you doubt that, just think how successful the private sector is at marketing and selling any and all household items let alone standard office materials. Be warned though... Do not be tempted to mimic their marketing campaigns if you are a small enterprise because such campaigns work precisely because they have the budget to indulge in full-blown saturation marketing techniques across all forms of media... extremely costly and skilled! That said an intelligent bit of wording and imagery makes all the difference between winning an audience or alienating them and potentially losing them forever. Know your target audience or service users inside out!

Selling ice to penguins

The most talented of marketing people could literally sell ice and snow to penguins if it wasn't for the fact that penguins are more intelligent than human beings. Penguins happen to know that ice and snow are resources freely available from nature and know where to go to find it. Indeed no other species needs money to be able to eat, rear young, educate them or house themselves which is why I often find myself getting jealous of them. Sadly, as yet I haven't found a way of becoming another species during a recession! Mind you, other species don't have the time to develop interests and hobbies as we do so I guess it evens out.

The big boys invest phenomenal amounts of time, energy and money in research not least in understanding human psychology. They use that to shape how to communicate with their target audience, which is how they end up seducing us into believing we need or must have things that actually we don't. They create interest in things that have never occurred to us, fear of things that we shouldn't be worried about at all and above all a demand from us that we have never desired before. A good example is of this is chunky bars of chocolate. The exact same chocolate can be and is used to produce a myriad of shapes and sizes and it can only ever taste the same but we are seduced into choosing how we like it presented even as far as having it segmented to make it easier to break.

Every day I try my best not to be tempted by things I don't actually need or never had an interest in, but everyday I fail! That, dear readers is what is it is to be muggle in a sophisticated, complex, dynamic, often maddening and frustrating, fascinating, developed, free market social structure. Like it our not, we all contribute to it and we all seem to have a love/hate relationship with it. If nothing else you have to give these people credit for their ingenuity. So, what lessons and tricks can a smaller enterprise learn and use from all this to help them earn a healthy crust?

Three basic marketing essentials

1. Surveys - As outlined above get to know your audience, what they like, dislike, the language they use - how they tick. We are all customers so think about what how we like to be communicated with as a starting point and this should help you avoid some of the bigger pitfalls if you do nothing else. Before starting any enterprise though you should do two forms of research the first of which is to test if your idea will be of interest to anyone at all by conducting a survey.

Top tips for customer surveys

  • Remember everyone is extremely busy, so phrase questions simply  
  • Keep the survey short and to the point - ask only things that you absolutely need to know and ditch any that are just too detailed, complicated or that are off the primary issues you want to find out about 
  • Never have more than three priorities to enquire about in any survey. 
  • Never bombard people with dozens of surveys and always provide a simple comment box at the end for your sample audience to elaborate and speak freely as learning what people hate is as valuable to you as learning what they like 
  • Always make comment boxes optional and supply contact details should you strike lucky for people who might well be your first clients.

This you can easily compile a survey manually via hardcopy/paper, but remember there's no guarantee people will mail them back especially if you are expecting them to pay for the privilege - hence incentives such as freebies can be useful but it's more expense to you. Email surveys tend to get higher levels of response, or on the spot surveys for feedback after inviting people to attend an event. There are dozens of online free to use survey programs these days, but be aware they don't usually provide the analytics (breakdown of results) so you will have to work it out for yourself. It's why even the free services are often enticers to those analytics which you then pay for. Be careful some of these links may charge from the outset.

Seven random links to online survey programs

2. Market research - It is essential that you know your market to gain knowledge of where you will fit in and to help identify your Unique Selling Point (USP). Questions to consider asking yourself include who are your competitors or who offers similar products and services if you are a charity, public service or social enterprise.

You can do this quite simply but searching the net, saving the links so you can refer back to them and assessing if you will be duplicating (therefore in direct competition) or offering something original, new or different in style or delivery. From both your customer survey and your market research you can start to think about pricing, but never before. Even then you have a long way to go to get it right as you have to factor in costs of materials, hours worked, overheads, staff etc. 

For any new enterprise this can all seem extremely daunting and arduous, but it is vital to do this if you are to succeed. Luckily there are excellent business advisory services to help you every step of the way.

As mentioned before in previous blogposts on here, any organisation dealing with the delivery of services and products to the community should try to avoid duplicating what is already out there to provide a broader range to the community. I happen to think that's not a bad approach for private sector too as no matter what you do, we humans are determined to remain fickle so will ultimately choose from whatever the range of options happen to be available at any given time. The broader the range, the more choice we have. In a recession I think it prudent to bear in mind that diversity can only help as it could mean the difference between recovering from an economic crisis quickly or it deepening.

You can back that bit of research up with exploring what the current trends are for any given industry sector, again online and some are free er... at least initially! Most will offer a 30 day trial period to get you interested in purchasing their services, but my advice is don't until your budget can sustain such a cost comfortably and until you business is sufficiently developed to warrant it i.e. you've employed your first marketing person who should understand how to get the most out of such services.

At the end of the day, even global marketing service companies don't want to waste time and effort on customers who cannot afford to pay for their services or products. They should all be delighted for you to test drive them though as word of mouth and feedback can only help them. Expect lots of emails if you sign up to any of these things, even if you close your account. Fair warning, I feel. Most of these cover global markets, but the more precise you are when you ask your search engine (google, yahoo etc) to find something, the more of a match the results will be.

8 random links to industry trend and analysis information

In addition there are countless blogsites, website, books, magazines etc on what is 'hot' and what is 'not'. It is what you will eventually need to learn about if you are successful enough to make it big, but even for the smaller business, small snippets from such sources of information can make all the difference between avoiding launching something at the wrong moment or not. Timing, in marketing can be everything. Here are three more examples of some other online resources useful for research, again at random, note that Mashable is industry sector specific therefore there is bound to be something somewhere on the net for your industry sector I would hope.

3. Unique Selling Point (USP) - arguably the most crucial moment in launching a new enterprise, product or service. Identifying your unique selling point needs careful consideration and should not be rushed if you want to succeed. You will find, as I am right not that it will need refining as you develop. It is, if anything an evolving beast because you should always be aware of trends and changes in what your target audience likes, dislikes and develops new interests in. You might trigger those things or you might not. That in essence is the difference between success and failure - the ability to adapt and change when those two key elements do.

Three golden tips on identifying your USP

  • Do not based it on price and leave it at that. Yes price matters but has been categorically proved not to be the ultimate deciding factor to winning customers and clients
  • Do not base it on customer service alone. As above!
  • Do look at the detail of what your are proposing to offer, the how, what, why, when, who and how as that is what will make all the difference in the world

In conclusion, I hope this will help you to understand why it is that charities, public services, community organisation and social enterprises all have such a hard time of it to just get themselves noticed in any marketplace. I hope this will help explain why so much money now has to be spent on marketing for global charities such as The British Red Cross and why what salaries are paid are actually really good value for money as they seldom reflect the skills - let alone the man hours - of those making these things happen at all.

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