All too often in difficult economic times, as companies evaluate budgets, marketing programs and personnel are eliminated as a cost saving measure. In most cases this short-sighted decision quickly and negatively impacts lead generation, customer relationship management and perceived competitive differentiation. In fact, a period of market silence can make it difficult – if not impossible – to realize the company’s ability to ultimately achieve the market position necessary to achieve long-term goals.
Rather than starting by eliminating the most expensive programs and personnel, I encourage my clients to take a step back and rethink the overall marketing strategy with the goal of creating a marketing plan that is both affordable and effective. Such an approach starts with reviewing your marketing objectives to make sure they’re aligned with near-term business objectives and long-term business strategy. This exercise is especially critical for young companies, where functional groups frequently work quickly and independently from one another. In a fast-paced, siloed environment, it’s easy to develop a disconnect between marketing and business objectives.
So the first step is to eliminate any marketing objectives that do not directly relate to achieving the company’s business objectives. Sometimes this may require a total reframing of the marketing objectives. Once this is complete it becomes a straightforward exercise to eliminate those programs that don’t serve the new marketing objectives, and to replace them with a marketing plan and programs that do.
Consider the following as you construct or revise your marketing plan:
1. Don’t waste resources on unimportant items. If you are a B2B company, don’t spend countless hours and inordinate money on your company name and logo. Keep it simple. If someone can spell it, pronounce it, and it is unique in its industry and doesn’t offend when translated into another language, then it’s good enough.
The best logo for a B2B company will incorporate the company name. I don’t believe in spending extra marketing dollars trying to make prospects remember an independent symbol that is only meaningful to you. Beyond that, the logo also needs to be shrinkable – in other words, it needs to be recognizable even at a small size. If your logo is grandiose and overly complex, there is a chance that your company name will disappear when it is shown in a small format, such as when publishers or event managers squeeze lots of logos onto a page.
The same lessons apply to product nomenclature. Don’t make your customers choose whether they remember your company name or your product name – trust me, they will never remember both. Keep it simple by focusing on the corporate brand and sticking to basic product names when first launching. Once you’ve built the corporate brand, you can leverage its positive attributes across many product lines.
2. Invest in seasoned experts. Make sure someone is in charge of strategy, positioning and messaging.Hire the most senior person you can afford.Don’t try to save money by hiring a junior marcom manager unless someone on the executive team has a background in positioning and developing a marketing strategy – it will cost you more money in the long run.I’ve seen companies make this mistake over and over again. They hire a junior person who doesn’t understand strategy and who focuses instead on what they know best – execution and “look and feel.”The end result is a lot of expensive programs with beautiful graphics that are disconnected from a positioning perspective and don’t produce measurable results.
If you can’t afford an internal marketing person, then leverage outside consultants. In today’s world, there are plenty of independent marketing specialists (design, web development, events, public relations, writing, etc.) who are more than happy to work on both short-term and long-term projects. In fact, many are open to flexible compensation options (i.e., cash vs. equity) and are willing to work with you to build a solid program within the constricts of your budget.
3. Construct a Positioning/Messaging playbook. The most powerful marketing programs are those in which all program elements are aligned from a positioning and messaging perspective and “everyone is singing the same song.” The easiest way to make this happen is to create a Positioning/Messaging playbook that serves as a reference for all organizations, both internal and external, that are engaged in customer and market communications. The playbook should provide an overview of the company, product positioning goals, and key messages related to the company, its products, competition, strategy, market and customers. Once the playbook is created, distribute it as a confidential document to those persons within the organization who communicate externally with customers, investors and influencers. Provide subsets of the document to external marketing support personnel to ensure consistency in messaging across marketing programs. Treat the playbook as a living document and update it regularly.
4. Pay attention to your website. Most companies make a significant investment in the initial development of their website. The good news is that in today’s economic climate the costs of site development have dropped and talented web development organizations are easy to find. The bad news is that many companies view website development as a milestone event when in fact it should be viewed as an ongoing marketing program.
A website is only valuable if the content is fresh, current and visible. If your last site update is dated six or more months in the past, it sends a message that your company is inactive – not the perception any company wants to create.
Investing in site development but not search engine optimization (SEO) is akin to throwing money away. If you aren’t visible in the search engine results pages, prospects won’t find you. As noted on Intraspin.com, 62% of searchers click on links on the first page of results and only 23% of all searchers progress beyond the first page of results. SEO should be an integral part of all site and content development. Investing in SEO after the site has been designed is like building a house without a foundation – a costly exercise that can undermine all the work you’ve put into the site.
If you don’t know anything about SEO, I strongly recommend that you attend a Bruce Clay Seminar or read Search Engine Optimization for Dummies authored by Bruce Clay and Susan Esparza. Note: one way to keep long-term site costs down is to invest in a content management system (CMS) when you develop the site. This will enable any non-technical company personnel to quickly and easily update the site without the need for external development support.
5. Communicate on a regular basis with prospects and customers. Maintaining mindshare with prospects and customers doesn’t have to be an expensive proposition. Email newsletters, a company blog and phone calls are simple and cost-effective ways to reach out. Keep it short and sweet and communicate regularly. Invest the time in making sure that the information you communicate is relevant and valuable to the recipients. If your missives are not relevant, they will be quickly labeled junk. On the other hand, by delivering something of value, you’ll enhance your position in the mind of your audience.
6. Keep talking to the analysts. I used to be quite negative about working with the industry analysts. With a few notable exceptions (shout out to Tom Nolle who was fantastic!), meetings weren’t productive and frequently deteriorated into the vendor pushing for an endorsement and the analyst trying to coerce the vendor into becoming a client. A lively conversation about the market landscape and technology trends rarely materialized.
It’s a different world now. Recently while working with a client, I had the opportunity to meet with IDC, Forrester and Aberdeen and was more than pleasantly surprised. In all cases the analysts were knowledgeable about our market space, offered great insight, and engaged in a spirited dialogue. We didn’t have to beg for an endorsement. In this new world of social media, if analysts like what you are doing, they blog about it. Likewise, if they don’t agree with your strategy, they also blog about it or say nothing at all. It’s somehow so much more honest.
Of course, analysts would like you to become a client of their firm, but not at the expense of everything else. They understand the current economic climate and its impact on marketing budgets. They’re banking on the fact that if they provide real value you’ll become a client when the budget is there.
So the big message here is: even if you don’t have the budget now, engage with this community. They can offer a big-picture perspective of your industry that is hard to come by when you’re focused on your own day-to-day strategy. Plus they know your competitors and can frequently provide insight into who would make a good partner.
7. Leverage social media. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs and other social media outlets have given us efficient, cost-effective and useful tools for communicating directly with our key constituent audiences. Having said that, engaging in social media is an extremely time-intensive task. Just because all these new outlets exist doesn’t mean that you need to use them all. Social media options should be evaluated like any other program to determine which, if any, best serve the business objectives.
Once you commit to a social media program, it’s important to stay engaged to gain long-term positive mindshare. While the thought of producing a steady stream of content may seem daunting, don’t forget you have numerous resources within your company. In fact, one of the nice things about social media is that it gives you an opportunity to leverage the talent across your organization. Engineering, operations, customer service and even sales can all become credible public voices for the company. If you are new to social media and unsure of how it fits into the bigger marketing picture, I recommend reading The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott.
8. Swap out expensive programs for cheaper alternatives. Just because your budget is constrained doesn’t mean you have to eliminate programs in their entirety. Tough times require creative alternatives. Consider replacing a Public Relations agency with a freelance contractor. If you can’t afford a freelance contractor, then restrict your PR activities to social media oriented news releases that you can disseminate easily and cost effectively through outlets like PRweb.com. Instead of large expensive tradeshows consider regional seminars (you can charge for those to help cover costs) or webinars. Instead of printing collateral, invest your money in collateral content development and disseminate electronically.
In today’s economy, you need to squeeze the most out of every marketing dollar. That starts with a solid foundation (i.e., plan) comprising the most effective components for the lowest cost. Regardless of what programs you put in place, you can’t treat marketing as a one-dimensional activity or endeavor. Choose a range of activities and channels that will best help you meet your objectives.
I can’t stress enough the importance of making sure that every program on the marketing plan serves either a short- or long-term business objective. If you can’t articulate how a program does that, it doesn’t belong there. In tough economic times, the old rationalizations of “creates good will,” “is good for the brand” or ”helps build awareness” aren’t good enough. Every program that you implement should be measurable against a series of objectives. If the program isn’t successful, it should be quickly eliminated.
By taking the time upfront to map out your plan – and making a commitment to investing needed funds and the best resources – you’ll set the stage for short- and long-term success.
Anita J. Brearton | Managing Director | Golden Seeds, Boston | firstname.lastname@example.org