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At a time when many small businesses are struggling to get more customers it is important that decision makers have a clear understanding of what it takes to improve their returns on marketing investment (ROI). If your marketing sucks it is more than likely you are still in the dark about the dynamics of the seven Ps in the marketing matrix. Until you have a good understanding of this concept, you will not cherish every time spent improving different aspects of your business before rushing head on promoting prematurely to your market. The sad truth is that, so called marketing experts of our days don't always understand some of these concepts either. They often focus on finishing a project in haste in order to get their next customer. Pressing on with marketing your business without all the elements in the jigsaw puzzle in place is equivalent to cooking a meal with some of the essential ingredients missing.
For marketing novice, spending hard earned cash in so called adverting and PR marketing without understanding the dynamics of the seven Ps, the result can be a very painful experience. Making the mistake that being activity focus is synonymous to productivity and success is very often an expensive game with huge costs on the balance sheet of a business. Your marketing strategy should aim to cover a minimum of seven key areas with each element supporting the other. All throughout, you need to remember that trust and confidence in your business’ capacity to deliver its products and services is the key barrier between you and the results you are seeking to attain. Make no mistake, your target market will sniff at your business activities to smell the stuff it is made off. It is for you to perfume your marketing efforts and business with the best fragrance available or face the consequences of losing your prospects to your competitors. Other common challenges enshrined in marketing is the need to understand the purchasing power of the market, as well as the consequences of information overload, perception and the importance of your product's accessibility. If you are selling a luxury accommodation, you have no business talking about it with people looking for cheap accommodation. No one will spend their invaluable time and money polishing a wet shoe in expectation that it will shine. It is damn right waste of time and something you should never engage in. Similarly don't underestimate the power of perception. Just because you love your products and think it is great does not mean the market feel the same way about it- this is call perception-intangible in nature and very difficult to change once formed. The aim of your marketing strategy is to demonstrate that you understand the needs of your market and that your products and services are the solution to ease the pain they currently feel. Tricky but doable. In short, your product and services should be the prescription the doctor orders to free the market from its current disease whether it be lack of knowledge if you are a training provider or lack of self esteem if you are an image consultant. Think of your business as the doctor who can diagnose the ailment and come up with the right solution and you will get the overall concept of how best to approach your marketing.
With this in mind, you should always endeavour through your communication to show how your services or products will benefit your market. This sounds simple but yet challenging as most businesses are geared up to talk about the features of their products and their business as suppose to focusing on what in it for their customers. Expression of words through written and verbal communication also runs the risk of being misinterpreted where there is lack of synchronicity between the spirit communicating. At the very basic, before you embark on marketing your products and services, take a step back and critically review all the seven Ps listed below. Become your own consultant or get an independent consultant to help you out.
1. Products- Ask yourself this question- what problem is my target market experiencing and what benefits does my products offer the market? Don't move an inch if you cannot answer this question. It is a fundamental question which cannot be neglected. If you are a trainer, your trainees must have a pain they want to free themselves off. Of course this is manifested by a lack of success in an area due to limited skills. This failure is creating frustration in their lives in that they are unable to meet their desired goals. You qualify to gain access to their time because your training programmes represent a solution to help them meet their goals which is important to them through the transfer of knowledge to them. The benefits of your training is to help them achieve success in the areas they find challenging. Your training course titles including its delivery modality are features of your product. Always seek to find out what is important to the market and link your benefits to what they deemed important. Do you get this? I do hope so. If you are selling a drill, your target market's real need is a hole on a wall. Your products should provide them with a hole very fast and moreover it must be easy and safe to use. What your market wants is a hole and the drill is a means of achieving it. Your marketing message should state clearly how fast you can get a hole on the wall with your products. Thereafter, you can focus on the features of your drill.
2. Price- for the best part this represents a cost to your target market who will be actively looking for alternatives to meet their needs at a lower price. Don't we all do this. But make no mistake, price being the cost to the market is only one side to the cost equation. The time it takes to access the products and services in terms of distance or delivery turnaround period is also equally important in the costs factor. So when you are focusing on the packaging of your products, bear in mind the concept of price is two-fold from the perspective of the market. Taking account of the most common view point of pricing, you must ensure that your products is competitively priced. This does not mean it should be cheap; cheap does not necessarily lead to satisfying the needs of your market which was covered in the earlier paragraph. Similarly, if your price does not reflect the socio economic status of the market, there is a risk of sending unclear and mixed messages about your business to the market. For instance, if your market is too wide and include low income, middle income and high income buyers, unless you provide diverse products and services to meet the needs of individuals in the different income bracket, there is a risk your products and services will be perceived as too expensive by some or too cheap by others. This is where branding can help tremendously.
- Place- the products and services should be easily accessible by your market. Do remember that the cost of your services and products as far as the market is concerned is not merely what you charge for them. The costs of your products and services include hidden costs such as the time it takes to travel to your business to get the services- the cost of car parking space, waiting time for the services etc. All these factors will make a difference to the attractiveness of your services and products. You cannot possibly consider your services to be cheaper than another supplier simply because you charge $2 less than the other, when it will cost customers $5 in travelling time and car parking space not to mention the long waiting time they may experience if your business do not have adequate number of staff to deliver the services. What this means is that you should actively look at how you can reduce hidden costs to your market in order to make the product accessible and attractive. For businesses with international focus, you may opt to use local distributor, faster and reliable courier services that are competitively price, advance technology to reduce time spent on travelling, the list continues.
- Physical- the physical condition of the premises and website for today's business environment is critical in marketing. Before a client or customer visits your physical location these days, your website will be their first point of contact. Does the website reflect your business vision and goals. Does it look like what you really want the prospects to think about your business. If it is too cramp and disorganised, prospects may be put off and take their custom elsewhere no matter whether your products and services are easily accessible and competitively priced. Be warned, do not invest heavily, financially, on your website if your physical premises is in a damn right state. A friend of mine made the mistake of equating a beautiful website with a plush restaurant that he can entertain his friends for an evening meal. He was severely disappointed when he arrived there and off course he did not close the deal with the restaurant. Your physical premises represents part of your business and communicates to your prospects who you are and what you can offer. Remember trust and confidence are critical in the marketing equation. Also remember, that marketing is also about telling a story to persuade and influence buyers to purchase your services or products. In practice it is possible for a business to possess great products and services, that are priced competitively but fails to generate leads and sales due to the negative perception arising from poor quality premises and website. So watch out.
- People- Who are the faces of your business. People matters. When all is done well, if you do not have the right people attitude, no matter how well all other parts of the matrix is fixed, retention of customers will be a serious challenge. After your prospects have sniffed all the other bits about your business, rest assured they are sniffing your people too. Are they reliable? Are they confident? Are they trustworthy? What is the evidence to support my thinking about them? These are just some of the questions flying in their minds consciously and unconsciously. If your staff are polite, professional, helpful and possess great attitude, you will not find it difficult to market effectively assuming all the other elements of the marketing equation have been taken care of sufficiently.
- Processes- this is concerned with the procedures and protocol that are in place to transact with customers. They include things like payment system such as Paypal or 2CO, customer record cards, appointment cards, price list, risk management, feedback forms, vouchers, referral forms and the like. The quality of these processes will help your business convey a positive or negative message. Your aim is to convey a positive message and to that end you should spend time improving each aspect of your systems and processes.
- Promotion- Well, unless all the above are fixed, rushing to promote is a bit of a premature gesture. You may be able to get away with it initially but it won't last. You will soon know when you check your results - the report card for your business is your financial statement which shows you how well you are doing. Your promotion must be targeted at the market using clear communication that speaks to the heart and mind of the prospects. At the top of the communication strategy is the need to be benefit focused- from the buyers' perspective. Your product being the pill prescribed by you the doctor is of no use to the market, if all you talk about in your promo is related to your business- it age, success stories, the team etc. Remember, your target market is the most important factor in your promotional communication. Stay clear of describing features of the products until you have first grab their attention with your benefit offerings.
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Author of My Business Is My Business and Founder of BSS Management Consultancy