by Tony Fannin, president, BE Branded
Large corporations and Fortune 500 companies have seasoned pros developing their marketing strategies. They have deep resources and brain trusts. One of their key weapons is their advertising or marketing agency. These companies compete and play to win by bringing together the best minds they feel that give them the strategic and creative edge over their competitors. So, if you’re not that big of a player, how can you compete in a crowded marketspace? Even large corporations like 3M and GE approach their business as a collection of “Start-ups” and take the mentality of a “Out of the garage” business. They believe in instilling the entrepreneurial spirit into their divisions to make them competitive and hungry.
The answer isn’t complicated, it’s simple, but not easy. It comes down to a few core areas. One, your product/service must deliver. In today’s world, being great is just the cost of entry. There are so many great innovations, products, and services out there, not too many “features” stay as a sustaining competitive advantage. The second core area is invest with the attitude of “play to win”. Many corporations will tell you that one of the main reasons why divisions or product lines fail is usually not because of inferior products or services, it’s they didn’t invest enough resources and marketing into it to give it a real fighting chance. This leads me to the third area, marketing. Many medium and small companies don’t really know how to set up a marketing strategy. As a result, their “marketing” usually doesn’t work as well as they would like or not at all. This leads them to believe that advertising and marketing doesn’t work when, in fact, they just don’t know how to truly set up a comprehensive marketing strategy.
Here are the 5 key areas to developing a solid marketing strategy: (footnote: you must be BRUTALLY honest in answering these areas, otherwise, you’re just cheating yourself and will not get the results you are looking for.)
1. What does the competitive environment look like? – Take a hard look at both, your competitors and your customers. You need to understand what’s going on now. Look at this like a benchmark. In the military, it’s being situationally aware. This also means know what’s going on in categories that is related to your industry. Do you know what your competitors brands stand for? Do you know what customers really want? (and it’s not the actual thing you’re selling. see: Do you really know what your company sells?)
2. In the last few years, what have your competitors done? – Be honest. Give credit where credit is due. Is their current marketing campaign dominating everyone in your category? Are they investing more into advertising than you? Are they reaching customers in a more creative way? Have they created a new, innovative product line? Did they take one of your best salesperson? These are the questions that need to be asked and answered honestly.
3. During the same time, what have you done to them? – Again, honesty is vital. You need to access your own marketing efforts and investments. What are you doing great? What are you doing that’s not so great? (I used “great” on purpose because anything less means you are not even paying the cost of entry) Have you realistically invested enough in marketing to make a difference? Remember you can’t expect splashy results by dipping your toe in the water.
4. How would your competitors attack you in the future? – Put yourself in your competitors’ shoes. What would you do to exploit any gaps and weaknesses? What marketing messages would make you look bad and your competitors look good? How much would you invest into marketing to gain an advantage over your company? What market niches would you exploit? This is the place to where you dissect your own company and formulate a plan of attack.
5. What are your plans to get your company beyond your competitors? – This is where many business owners and marketing managers start their marketing strategy. As you see, this is the last component in developing a marketing strategy, not the first. This is where you define tactics and goals that will help you leapfrog over the competition. This should determine your marketing investment. Not the other way around where you define a budget and then try to set goals and tactics. Otherwise you are setting yourself up to fail. Of course, many do it this way and that’s why they believe marketing doesn’t work. I agree with them. If I did it that way, it would work for me either. It’s important to stretch here. Just doing the same-old-thing will get you the same-old-results. One word of caution, if you like the results you’ve been getting and assume you’re going to get the same results again, you’re fooling yourself. By thinking your competitors will always be the way you see them now is not realistic and is very damaging in the long run. No competitor who wants to win will stand still. They will be improving and investing just as much or more than you do.
By answering these questions, you’ll be able to create a solid, comprehensive marketing plan. The benefit of this approach is that you’ll be able to anticipate your competitors’ next move and not be surprised. Instead, you’ll be prepared. In the best case scenario, you’ll be able to anticipate and preempt their move before they even put their plan into action. Most marketing and advertising agencies are able to put this kind of plan together for you. The other BIG asset they bring is the creative component. This is the “magic” that makes a marketing campaign stand out and connect in a real, emotional way with customers and the marketspace. Execute without a strong creative concept, and you begin to look and sound like the other hundreds of competitors that are out there. Your company will not have a unique voice in the market and will just add to the noise.