Start with a Strategy

Start with a Strategy

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While business can be divided into boxes (planning, admin, HR, sales, marketing, financial management, strategy, accounts), the truth is that no areas of business function in isolation. Some of the biggest organisations in the world are successful precisely because of an understanding that each section is a part of the whole.

The same is true of marketing. Marketing is the product of good business planning and strategising. It’s what drives sales, and ultimately what makes profits. But it cannot exist in a bubble. The days of designing a campaign and shouting it to consumers is over. Technology has redefined the way the world works, and marketing is no different.

“Today’s consumers are empowered,” says Ivan Moroke, group managing director of TBWA/Hunt/Lascaris. “They are informed, they expect transparency and they want to interact with brands at different levels. Traditional ‘push’ marketing still has a role to play, but it needs to be combined with other forms of marketing as well.”

Reaching consumers

In order to reach informed consumers who care about the world, businesses cannot ignore the social, political and economic landscape either. Marketing is about creating a message and then reaching consumers. To do that, it’s important to understand what consumers react to or are looking for — and then aligning this with the company’s own goals and identity.

“South Africa is particularly interesting in this regard,” says Moroke. “We are a relatively new and fast developing country. South African consumers are looking for an identity. Their fingers are on the pulse of change and there is a lot of class mobility. Companies that fail to realise this and react to it will not communicate with their target audience.”

For an example of how consumerism has changed, look at trends that have emerged in the current recession. A tightened economic environment has affected consumer and business buying behaviour. “Pre-recession emotion was a key driver in consumer decision-making,” says Moroke. “People were using money they didn’t have to buy things they didn’t need to impress people they didn’t know.

“And marketing followed suit. Marketing campaigns focused on communicating messages to the heart. The recession has changed that. South Africa may have been largely sheltered from the storm, but we were still affected. There has been a shift from the heart to the mind, from consumers on the street, to SMEs right through to large corporates. Everyone is evaluating price and informing themselves on the products and services on offer.”

This does not mean that companies and brands should no longer appeal to the heart and emotions at all, but it does mean that bad products and services can no longer be hidden with frills. “People are interrogating brands. As a company you need to ask yourself: Can we stand up to scrutiny? And if you can’t, what are you going to change to make sure you can?” asks Moroke.

Communication is key

According to Moroke, the first question every company should consider before even looking at marketing is what value their customers derive from their product or service. Grant Leishman, CEO of PenQuin International, agrees.

Working backwards from the ultimate objective of business (to sell products or services), and using marketing to achieve this goal, companies must come up with their ‘big idea’. To do that, they need to know what their message is, and to do that, they need to know what they are selling, who they are selling it to, and how much they need to sell. “Without strong company objectives, it’s almost impossible to come up with that big idea,” Leishman says.

“Marketing can’t cover up fundamental wrongs in a product or service,” says Moroke. “To put it bluntly, a pig with lipstick is still a pig. If you want people to choose your brand, you need a proposition they can buy into. Marketing is simply the way you communicate that proposition. Never just make things up. Your customers will eventually realise what you are doing and your brand will be damaged. Sit down and really figure out what your proposition is, and what your differentiators are from your competitors. If you find you don’t have a strong proposition, perhaps you need to go back to your product and service and relook your business model.”

1. What is your business selling?

Ask yourself the questions: What do I do? What am I selling? How much do I need/want to sell?

2. Find your customer

Who is your product or service for? The more specific you are about your target audience, the better your value proposition will be, and the more success you will have with your message. Remember: today’s consumers want to have a conversation with you and your brand, but in order to do that, your message needs to be something they care about.

3. Find your brand truth

Moroke’s advice is simple: Write on a matchbox what you are selling. “No matter how sophisticated your product or service, the first step is to be able to communicate what you do in one simple sentence that will fit on a matchbox — no frills,” he says. “The sentence should communicate one simple message: This is why people should buy my product or service.

“No brand can be everything to everyone. If you try and create a message that appeals to too many people, you will end up with nothing. This is why it’s so important to know who your customer is.”

4. The idea

Once you know what your business is selling, who it is selling to and what your brand truth is, you can develop your ‘big idea’, which is basically the message that your marketing campaign wants to project in order to start a conversation. “That big idea should have nothing to do with the company’s budget,” says Leishman. “Many companies, especially SMEs, shy away from conceptualising big ideas because they don’t want to allocate too much of their budget to a big marketing campaign,” he says. “Don’t let your budget hinder the idea. Rather have the idea, and then find creative ways to implement that idea based on your budget.”

5. Implementing that idea

In today’s marketing world there are a host of different ways to get a brand message across, from traditional to digital platforms, print ads to social media. An integrated marketing strategy is vital, but it’s up to the company to determine which platforms make the most sense for what they are selling, and who they are selling it to. “Not all platforms suit everyone,” says Leishman. “Every company should have a strategy and a website as a starting point, but not everyone should be on Facebook, for example. It depends on what you are trying to communicate and who you are talking to. The vehicle for your message is as important as the message itself, but don’t be restricted by which platforms you should use. The idea is to create a conversation. What is the best way for you to do that?”

6. Stay focused

Know who you are targeting and stick with it. Marketing does not have to be complicated. The rules are the same for everyone, from SMEs to large corporates. The budgets may differ, but the goal is the same: create the right message, reach your target audience and convince them to not only buy what you are selling, but tell other potential customers to do the same.

“What you ultimately want is to find the evangelists in your consumer group,” says Leishman. “Once you have them sold on your message, they will push the product or service for you — and people trust other people.” The secret to evangelists is that in order to earn that kind of loyalty, brands need to deliver appropriately and consistently. “You can’t make promises at one level and then not deliver,” he says. “This goes back to the fact that you need a strong proposition to begin with, and a clear idea of what value your brand is offering.”

Nadine Todd
Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.