Here's something to think about on Friday afternoon as you gaze out of the window, wondering if your lawnmower will start okay next month.
Autumn 2019, my younger, better-looking role model Mark Ritson suggested that marketers' level of success is the product of how well they do three things. Diagnosis multiplied by strategy multiplied by tactics = results.
It's a highly persuasive argument.
My online articles tend to be about effective strategy, as that’s the client benefit I most focus on. However Mark’s equation, (see it at 2’20” here,) made me realise a lot of my work is also in ‘diagnosis’.
That’s somewhere I think the majority of organisations have, to put it mildly, the opportunity to improve enormously. Is yours one of them?
Think about why it's important. Suppose you score 2/10 for diagnosis of your product or service, its issues and opportunities in the market. Even if you manage good subsequent strategic thinking, and your agency comes up with some superb, creative tactics….well, your final effectiveness is never going to be more than 20% of what it could have been.
So you need to get your head properly round your market before you start planning.
Sounds obvious. But many fellow consultants I speak to share my impression that a lot of marketing and sales people just aren’t getting the opportunity to do this. And it isn’t just the smaller or less ‘market-driven’ companies to which this applies.
And the pandemic hasn't exactly helped.
The pressure on all of us to hustle, to show that we are doing lots of stuff, is enormous. Within this, many of your colleagues, very probably senior ones, are Driver personalities. They will prefer starting a project on Monday and having it go wrong Thursday, to waiting until Wednesday to get a considered approach.
You need to resist this. Are you?
One of the problems of ‘diagnosis’ is that there is almost no end to how much you can do. But here are a couple of areas where improving your understanding should pay dividends, with better marketing results you can point to.
1. Better understand customer attitudes and motivations: Who are you really selling to and what are they really thinking?
Common sense will only get you so far, especially in today’s complex markets, when answering this.
Neither should you rely too heavily on internal received wisdom, such as what the salesforce tells you. Many salespeople pay undue attention to the opinions of their most vociferous, or lucrative, contacts. Equally, beware the ‘sample of one’ – your own, personal opinion on why people buy from your company, formed by…. oh, what was it again?
Researching customers, using formal techniques, could put you in the driving seat. Alas, it seems to be increasingly resisted, almost certainly because it costs money and there are people out there telling us marketing can be done on the cheap. Of course no one wants to spend £25,000 finding out a bunch of stuff that was obvious before they started. Yet, many award-winning, effective marketing campaigns have stemmed from insight derived from research. Sure you’ve got no budget?
OK, you can’t bring yourself to spend anything on formal, market research. So, when was the last time you just went out and spoke to some end users of your product? If you’re in travel, go sit in a railway station. If you’re in retail, buy a coffee for a few customers in the shopping centre cafe. If you’re in FMCG, you probably do have a research budget but it still doesn’t hurt to get into Tesco.
(My soft drinks client, years ago, hung around carbonated beverages fixtures in his local supermarkets so much somebody eventually called security. But Andrew regularly came back to the office with some new observation or theory he wouldn’t otherwise have had.)
2. Build a better picture of your competitor landscape: Hand on heart, how much do we know about what our major competitors are doing in the marketplace? How do they position themselves? What are their apparent tactics? Key messages? What can you learn from them? Is there anything they appear to believe that’s worth you thinking about?
Of course, gathering this information isn’t straightforward. These days, watching consumer media, or opening trade press magazines, and looking for your competitors advertising will miss a lot of activity. So what’s your alternative plan? Mystery shopping trade shows? Website survey? Have a plan.
It’s not a short-term solution but: try asking your five or six most stable and committed customers to file all the electronic and physical communications they get, touting for business. (If you’re truly unscrupulous, you might ask your contacts to encourage some of these suitors a tiny bit… I did say they had to be stable customers!) Give it a few months and you should have plenty of competitor activity to pin up on your office wall.
Lack of competitive knowledge can really blow up in your face. A friend had a client whose trade promotional agency got all the way to artwork/procurement on a concept, before a field force colleague fortunately happened to see it. Sadly, one of their lesser competitors had run with the same exact idea, the year before. Oops.
Of course, that story is about tactics. More strategically, do you maintain a ‘map’ or maps, analysing your position in your market against your main rivals? In terms of price, vs perceived quality, or speed of delivery, or range, …..whatever it is that separates products in your sector. Looking for space to ‘own’ in the market means understanding where everybody else is already. There’s no shortage of hints and tips on how to do this online, by the way.
Diagnosis, early on, drives effectiveness. It’s not fluff. However you think you need to diagnose, the more information you have, the closer your campaigns will be to that classic definition of marketing: 'finding out what your audience wants, or might want, and selling it to them - before some other so-and-so does'.