3 Marketing Best Practices

Similarly published in Business in Vancouver: Marketing Best Practices BIV – Oct 19, 2010

Over three consecutive days last week, I was Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. I met with a different client each day and observed each one of them try to ignore the same marketing best practices in their strategic planning sessions. The experience highlighted a couple of things about best practices that must be shared.

First, while the marketing strategies themselves are completely different for different companies, the best practices to build the strategies remain constant.

Second, without facilitation, all three would have completed their planning process ignoring the same three best practices, all with the same rationalization that the practices, “make sense but don’t apply to us because we’re different.”

What were the best practices that all of the companies rejected? Is it possible your company is disregarding them too? That someone, somewhere has falsely concluded a marketing best practice is not a best practice for you due to lack of understanding or improper application? Let’s look closer at the tendencies of small companies to skip certain marketing golden rules in their rush to complete the marketing plan.

The Best Practices

1. Identify the “Ideal Customer”

A frequently neglected best practice is identifying the “ideal” customer.  One of the more common claims I hear is “everyone is a potential customer.”

This is like shooting an arrow at a target with your eyes closed. Defining your ideal customer allows you to hone in on a specific and unique marketing strategy that will get you noticed. Without this, you will be as undifferentiated as Dolly the cloned sheep.

Recently, we benchmarked the marketing efforts of an engineering firm whose differentiating claim was based on their principals’ collective experience…hundreds of man years of experience. They put together brochures with a focus on this expertise, peppered with a few customer testimonials from various diverse industries. They believed they had done the right thing in choosing a variety of testimonials in order to appeal to everyone. The problem? Their competitors of a similar size have exactly the same amount of experience in years and the testimonials were so unfocused it diluted the message, making them seem to be more of a broad player than a deep one.

Your business can have several targets, but the messaging should be different for each because the needs of each will be different.

Define your target customer based on the criteria of who is more likely to buy, buy more often, at a higher margin, stay with you longer, and need less convincing than others.

2. Create and Use an Aligned Marketing Plan

An aligned marketing plan states the company’s goals and outlines the specific tactics that will be executed to achieve those goals. It identifies who is accountable for what task and how the performance will be measured. A good plan will include alternate strategies should the results not materialize.

Many companies start with specific goals but get distracted by the latest and greatest tools. Their tactics become disconnected from their goals. As the fixation grows on the need for “new” marketing tools they talk about buying the latest relationship management software upgrade or logo redesign, without considering the alignment of those actions to the goals they set up in the first place.

One design client had set her firm’s marketing goal for the year to attract 20 new clients. Their target market was identified as those seeking exceptional customer service and creativity and was also willing to pay for it. This ideal customer group was a select group of wealthy clients, typically in the 45 – 60 year old demographic – men for the office design and women for home design. They defined the ideal customer. So far, so good.

Then they started to learn about social media. Next thing I knew, they’d spent $100,000 in six months, having hired a person dedicated full-time to tweeting and blogging. They also brought in a firm to redesign their website and set up an e-commerce section, another to help with their SEO strategy, and a third to create email templates. They developed quite a following in the design world – over 1,000 followers in very short order. The problem? These followers weren’t in their target market.

Here we have a company with a well-defined ideal customer, who then became distracted by the bleeding edge tactics. They thought these tactics were at the forefront of their industry because they were the only designers using them. Yet, not all tactics are helpful in achieving a company’s goals – the tactics must be strategically linked to the goals.

Another pitfall is focusing on the tactics instead of setting goals. During the original marketing planning sessions I attended, the design company was set on the need for a redesign of their website and brochures: “They’re ugly! The information is outdated! We need to freshen things up!” They weren’t wrong, per se, but were trying to figure out “how” before they had decided “what.”

Had the design company not set goals from the outset, they would have rationalized that they had achieved huge exposure in a short period of time and that the success was bound to turn into revenue and customers sooner or later. Because of the goals, however, the situation was salvageable.

At the six-month point they embarked on a strategic review of their efforts and the results, which were zero new customers. They changed tactics, reallocating their resources to focus on more traditional media that was more likely to connect with their ideal customers. They ended the year having attracted 12 clients – far short of the 20 they had targeted but not bad for the remaining 6 months of the year, given the original missteps.

What are your marketing goals? How many customers are you trying to attract? Is the brochure aimed at new customers who’ve never heard of you or existing customers who are unaware of a new offering? Who uses your website and how can it best serve them? Who in your organization is accountable for marketing and are they properly trained? How will you know whether your efforts were successful…the list of questions is long.

The more specific the marketing goals are, the more specific the strategies can be, right down to the specific processes and procedures that will accomplish those goals.

3. Measure the Results

Why do so many mid-sized businesses think marketing efforts cannot be measured?

Part of the cause is not setting goals in the first place and therefore being unable to reverse engineer the measurement. Or maybe someone told them it can’t be measured and they decided to believe it so they didn’t have to do it. Or they know they should, but don’t know how and haven’t prioritized finding a solution.

Marketing efforts can and should be measured. If you can’t figure out how to measure it, get help. If you can’t see a clear result, why put resources toward marketing?

The E-Myth Business Blog identifies “quantification” as one of the activities entrepreneurial business owners typically avoid and quantification of marketing effort tops that list. What gets measured gets managed, and without measurement it is impossible to know what resources should be dedicated to marketing and whether they have exceeded results, fallen flat or the degree to which the results are somewhere in between. A company that cannot measure its results is condemned to forever repeat its mistakes and fall further and further behind its competitors. Your company, however, won’t make that mistake. You now know better so you will do better. Don’t be Bill Murray in your own personal Groundhog Day. Break the cycle.

Next Steps

Knowing what to do is one part of the equation. Getting people to do it is the other. Changing the attitudes, beliefs, and actions of the employees in your organization is no easy task but it is a task worth the investment.

Bellrock is a management consulting and change management firm where remarkable is expected. If you found this article valuable, don’t be stingy. Share!

Written By:
Tara Landes

Tara Landes is the Founder and President of Bellrock. She has spent over 20 years consulting and training in small to medium-sized enterprises. A sought-after speaker on a wide range of business topics, Tara has delivered workshops and seminars at conferences and industry associations across Canada. Tara obtained a BA (Honours) in Political Science from the University of Western Ontario (UWO) and earned an MBA from UWO's Richard Ivey School of Business.

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