How to avoid falling into the ‘Marketing Trap’!

Danger Trapdoor warningThere’s a universal truth that most business people know: companies and enterprises succeed by getting, stealing, keeping and growing customers and clients.

Customers and clients are the only reason we build railroads, manufacture convenience foods, send satellites into space and manufacture fire retardant furniture.

But there’s a marketing trap.

Most managers are seduced into thinking that what worked yesterday will continue to satisfy customers and clients tomorrow. The trouble is, it probably won’t and it takes courage to lift the scales from our eyes to see how we should change the way we market to them.

Where trouble tends to emerge in carefully crafted brand and marketing plans is the apparent disconnect with the wider strategic goals of the company or enterprise.

A key objective of anyone responsible for marketing, as I explained in detail in High Impact Marketing That Gets Results, is to ensure that marketing is aligned to the business strategy. And in practice that means collaborating with all the areas of the business and enterprise and rewiring marketing to take account of new and emerging global markets.

Strategy is about making choices and deciding where and how to compete and how to make a profit from it. Strategy provides vision and purpose. And marketing planning is integral to this process. On the whole, investors and shareholders are typically a conservative bunch and they usually want the leadership team of a business or enterprise to make money the old-fashioned way – by earning it from the value proposition they present to customers and clients.

Some CEOs have become wedded to the mantra that you don’t become more successful by becoming bigger, but by doing things better. And although this may appear to be an eminently sensible position to take – this too is flawed!

The reason it’s flawed is it doesn’t relate in any way to the market or indeed to any difference that the business or enterprise is making in the terms of the customers segments it wants to serve.

It’s an internalizing statement that drives a blinkered, thought-less, money-making machine. Commercial organisations typically have an important requirement to deliver increasing returns to their owners and shareholders but they should have a higher purpose too.

UK-based marketing guru Peter Fisk observes: “Most organisations will spend three to six months in their planning cycles with their senior managers distracted and demotivated by endless bureaucracy. This is hardly a way to deliver great results. It’s not an environment for innovative thinking, making smart or bold choices, for seeing the bigger picture, the opportunities and threats in a changing world.”

Marketing strategy must be more intelligent in helping to inform the decision-making process. It needs to evaluate the bigger and best market opportunities; strategically and financially. It must also deliver clarity of business priorities: where you’ll compete, how you’ll be different and what will drive financial performance.

A company or enterprise today needs an overriding vision and purpose beyond the pursuit of pure profit or return on equity that justifies its existence.

‘Strategy’ itself is a widely misunderstood term. As a word it’s often confused with tactics. Put simply, strategy is about what we want to achieve and the way we are going to do this.

A tactic, on the other hand, is about how we are going to achieve it and measure the outcome. Strategy is about a sustained approach, requiring flexibility rather than rigidity given the pace of change that all businesses and enterprises face in their market segments.

Traditionally, a business or marketing strategy had a footprint of three years but even this is starting to look at best optimistic and at worst, a potential recipe for disaster. However, this doesn’t obviate the need to plan. In fact, it’s precisely why you should.

Typically, a company or enterprise has four overlapping strategies in order to maintain competitiveness in its market segment:

  1. Corporate strategy – this is about the vision and purpose of the organisation. This drives what market segments it should be in. It sets the context for all activities undertaken by the enterprise. Brand values and culture should align with this; providing a clear articulation of the purpose in a way that captures the difference from its competitors and how its relevant to its chosen customer segments
  2. Business strategy – this typically refers to strategic business units (SBUs), such as global insurance markets, UK insurance market and reinsurance markets, for example. At its simplest, it defines where and how to compete in each chosen market segment and the business model and resources required in order to do this
  3. Market strategy – this is the core part of the business strategy and offer marketers a ‘higher domain’ in order to influence the business direction and focus on priorities
  4. Strategic and tactical marketing strategy – this is more functional and operational – defining how brands, products, services, channels and communications must be developed and deployed in order to achieve success.

Widespread ignorance about marketing planning and confusion about the difference between strategic marketing planning, sales forecasting and budgeting has caused many organisations to fall short of their full potential or indeed to terminate prematurely without the real root cause ever being identified. Such agonising outcomes can be avoided to a great extent by fully understanding what marketing planning is and isn’t and assimilating this understanding in actual practice.

For example, 70% of the B2B sales cycle is now completed by buyers on line before they ever talk to a sales rep. So the old adage of marketing just making the phone ring so a sales person can close the deal is a thing of the past for many businesses and enterprises that depend on the internet as a way of reaching their customer and client segments.

Problems tend to emerge when the sales team concentrates on short-medium targets while the marketing department is focused on the creation of long-term brand awareness as this can cause non-alignment between these two functions.

Very often the sales team only engages with the marketing department at the execution stage of a campaign, but better results can be achieved if it’s included at an earlier stage of the strategy process – provided busy salespeople can recognise that their time input will be more sales down the line.

Top tips to prevent you falling into the ‘marketing trap’:

  • Don’t get too carried away in your next marketing campaign at the expense of failing to grasp the wider business and enterprise objectives.
  • Try to recognise the different priorities across departments within the company or enterprise and try to see how marketing can complement them.
  • Don’t see the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) as someone who doesn’t understand or ‘gets’ marketing! Better to work with them to develop a robust platform where you can measure inputs, outputs and outcomes from marketing activities in order to strengthen the role of marketing within the company or enterprise and ensure that it’s adequately resourced.
  • Try to involve the Human Resources Department when looking at how to promote the brand internally and with strategic partners. This is also good ‘internal PR’ for marketing as it ensures the activity of the marketing department becomes more transparent and more valued across all departments within the company or enterprise.
  • Finally, don’t see the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) as a barrier to your marketing plans – take them with you and explore how you can work more effectively with them rather than whingeing the IT isn’t working (again!).


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