While perceptions may be changing, Kylie Beaufoy says many businesses still fail to see the value of good marketing – Here she sets out to dispel some key misconceptions.
Lord William Heskith Lever, the founder of Lever Bros once said, "Half my advertising is wasted, the problem is which half". In today’s deregulated marketing environment, the question is not only which half is wasted, but how to make sure the other half breaks through the clutter to give a good return on our promotional investment.
It is very easy to put a toe in the water and test a one-off campaign. However, in most cases these tests fail, not because the pictures aren’t colourful enough or the snappy headline didn’t say enough about your firm, but because marketing is about establishing a relationship. And, as we all know, long-term partnerships take a while to nurture; some even survive despite our poor attempt at an opening line.
Most Australian businesses have seen more change in the last decade than in the previous five, so to compete successfully now and in the future, experts agree that marketing should be integrated with all other business processes. As important as governance and practice management, marketing, surprisingly, is still often seen as an add-on or an afterthought.
Business owners need to overcome the fallacy that marketing is selling, and the belief that this taints the image of their practice.
Marketing is the art of identifying and satisfying the needs of clients with services developed for that purpose. Successful marketing is a combination of a number of strategies including pro-active attention to corporate branding, advertising, public relations, client relationship management (CRM), and below-the-line promotional activities (including direct mail, online communications and sponsorship).
There are several more misconceptions that keep businesses from maximising their marketing opportunities. These include:
1. "We’re good at what we do, that speaks for itself."
This is the wrong attitude. Clients assume a certain level of technical expertise from any firm. However, in an increasingly competitive marketplace, it’s the service quality that counts and firms should consider ways to differentiate their business in a crowded market. Complacency can lose you clients overnight.
Some of the questions you must ask yourself in order to determine what makes your firm different to your competitors include:
What is unique about the way we deliver our services?
Do we achieve better than average results? (Have we got successful case studies/statistics we can report?)
Do we provide specialist services for particular industries?
What services do we provide that our competitors don’t?
Do we have a well-recognised profile and reputation to leverage?
Have we won awards that enhance our image?
2. "Time spent on marketing is time we could be billing."
Many firms still judge time spent on marketing against billable hours. Partners may be hesitant to support activities that cannot be billed directly to a client and take time away from those crucial, and tangible, billable hours. However, firms should compare the value of doing billable work for unprofitable clients against the alternative of spending non-billable time on marketing to grow the business of profitable clients to achieve greater financial rewards.
3."We’re too small."
Marketing and PR are not the privilege of large firms. For example, if a law firm wants to develop its reputation as a specialist servicing the medical profession, then maintaining a high profile within that industry is important for the firm no matter what its size. Appearing regularly in a specialist medical publication, for example, may be just as valuable for the small firm as is appearing in the Australian Financial Review for the large corporate firm.
4. "We don’t need it."
Many firms devote too few resources to marketing and some none at all. Others don’t use their resources profitably. In order to determine your firm’s need for marketing, measure the time staff spend on non-core activities devoted to client development.
5. "We placed an ad in a leading newspaper and didn’t get enough calls to pay for the ad."
Marketing is an investment. While results from some programs are immediate, clients sometimes can take months, or longer, to win. One famous international advertising agency head once said there was 18 months between the first phone call and the first cheque. Organisations with a long-term commitment to building their business are those that ultimately reap the rewards.
There’s more to marketing than just spending money on advertising. Enlisting the expertise of a professional marketing consultant, whose brief includes the development of a communications strategy, is undoubtedly a more cost-effective way, in both time and money, to get it right.
6. "It costs too much."
There are inexpensive marketing communications options available. For example, the distribution of a media release promoting a firm’s recent Award win, or providing an authoritative view of topical industry issues can have much greater impact than an advertisement. In fact, industry studies show that editorial, in the right place, is worth at least three times the equivalent cost of an ad in the same publication. I have seen many instances where professional service firms have received significant amounts of work from a single press release that generated the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars worth of advertising space.
Strategically identified speaking opportunities are just one more example where great results can be achieved on minimal budget. It is not about how much you spend, but about getting the best results from the amount you are prepared to allocate to marketing.
7." We don’t understand it, so we’re better off sticking to what we know."
In today’s competitive climate, most businesses are in the marketing business, whether they understand it or not.
However, if you prefer to stay focused on your core business, then consider enlisting the help of a specialist consultant. More and more businesses are employing marketing professionals to develop, implement and monitor marketing strategies. Even with an in-house marketer, most firms can benefit from the time and cost-efficiencies of outsourced marketing consultants. Consultants can contribute a degree of objectivity to strategic planning and be highly motivated to continue to push forward a program designed to meet client goals. They can also bring to the firm specialist skills such as market research, creative concept development, media training, corporate identity and brand management, as well as expertise in strategic development and experience in all facets of corporate communications. Prior to commencing any campaign, good consultants will set measurable objectives and evaluation methods by which the results of the campaign will be assessed.
In summary, a strategically planned long-term campaign that addresses the issues of building relationships will help you avoid most of the Seven Deadly Sins.
* Kylie Beaufoy is director of Hall Chadwick Marketing Communications, www.hallchadwick.com.au