New Balance – A marketing success story

For a long time, New Balance were viewed as the pre-1990 Skoda of the trainers & fashion world. Nowadays, they’re a very strong brand, with sports apparel and equipment being purchased the world over. Personally, I find it amazing just how a company can go from a “dad’s trainers” brand to one that grossed $3.3 billion dollars in revenue during 2014. It’s fair to say that in recent years, they have gone from strength to strength. But just how have they done this?…

A brief history

Formed in Boston (US) during 1906 as a shoe arch support company, which remained steady until 1960, when 2nd generation family manufactured the world’s first running shoe with a ripple sole, which proved to be very popular with university’s and colleges. From a marketing point of view, there was little effort made to sell further shoes or products. Instead, most sales came from word of mouth. During the 1970’s, under new ownership, New Balance experienced a rapid increase in sales, due in part to the USA’s obsession with running.

Modern era

I think this scene from the 2011 film “Crazy, Stupid, Love” says everything you need to know about how New Balance’s image used to look from a fashion point of view. Whilst their supportive and practical assets were never doubted, the fashion world didn’t see it the same way. This narrowed their target market greatly. Since then, New Balance have grown at a very fast pace. With their growth has come new product ranges. For most of their life, they have focused on “Lifestyle” products. It is these products (such as the 574’s) that were once viewed as a no-go but now looked upon as retro. Much of New Balance’s marketing has been centred around the quality of their products and the “Made in the US” (or UK) promises. They have benefited from changes to fashion, that is for sure, but they have also used these changes to grow.

Growth

The growth has come from New Balance’s perseverance and staying power. They remained despite ridicule and have profited from fashion changes and some astute marketing campaigns. They have harnessed their growth in recent years, becoming more than just a trainers company. Now they offer apparel and equipment across a whole range of sports, as well as growing their “lifestyle” offering. The quality of their products has delivered consistent sales results.

Practical action

So, how did they achieve their growth? Perhaps an example of their successful marketing would be some of their recent Facebook Campaigns. New Balance have been noted for their successful Facebook campaigns in recent years. Perhaps most notably was one they ran over a Winter to Chicago Facebook accounts. Their targeting was simple yet well honed. The advert criteria was:

  • Users had to live near New Balance stores in Chicagoland (AKA the greater Chicago area).
  • Listed sport based Facebook interests, such as “fitness” and “Chicago marathon”.

This perhaps limited the adverts reach but meant those that it did reach were more than interested in it’s content. In total, the adverts reached 136,000 people and resulted in 600 sales, totalling $5000. The advert was quirky too. It stated that people could save 15% on purchases in store and 20% on purchases in store, if the temperature was below freezing.

To sum up…

In essence, New Balance is a great story about businesses with staying power and those who stick around. New Balance have ridden through tougher times, and pounced on some slight successes, turning them into big wins, making them they fashion & sportswear giant they are in 2016.

Pssssst…. Some useful articles:

New Balance Runs Away From The Pack Using Social Media Brand communication & strategy for New Balance

If at first you don’t succeed, learn….but focus on the process

learn from failureI was talking with one of our service partners the other day. They offer specialist creative/technical services – and they are good! The business has become established and grown steadily (though unspectacularly) over the past few years. In the middle of last year, the owner decided he wanted to ‘go for it’. He took on additional staff both in sales and technical/creative, he moved offices to central Manchester – and he went for it…. 9 months later, things haven’t gone quite according to plan. The business did not take off like a rocket yet the overhead taken on to deliver the growth was still there month after month – something had to give. The decision was taken to restructure the business back to more like it was before. It was accepted that the plan hadn’t worked. But that is business life. Things don’t always work – statistically they most commonly don’t work! The important thing is that the business is still viable. Business is a process and it is important to try new things because this is how we learn. If a new plan succeeds, great. The business moves to the next level, ready for the next push. If a new plan doesn’t succeed, it shouldn’t matter, it is just part of the ups and downs of business. Remember Google Answers, Google Reader, iGoogle? All gone.

In the past 10 years, Google has closed or reintegrated over 100 different services

In business, we are always learning. It’s important to get something out of everything you do – even if it isn’t what you were hoping.

Don’t ignore the signs

In September 1989, BSA Marketing was going through a tough patch. Income wasn’t covering overheads and something needed to be done. That ‘something’  included redundancies but it was my job to make them and I tried to ignore it. I hung on for 3 months until I had to face up to things. I still had to make the redundancies and my procrastination cost me £30000 – over £50k in today’s money. I’m glad to say we survived the experience, but I have never forgotten it. I take my hat off to our service partner. They made a plan, implemented it, then took action when they saw things going off-track.

Have a written plan

Having your plan written down crystalizes your objectives. If you specify your expectations and what it is you are going to measure to control your plan, it is easier to avoid ‘specfication creep‘ where the plan adapts itself to fit the outcomes you achieve. If uncontrolled, this can be dangerous. It doesn’t actually matter if you don’t match your targets. It does mean things aren’t going as planned and it is an opportunity to review your plan in the light of real experience. It could be that things are going better than expected though this can create it’s own problems! The important thing is that you learn and get better at what you do.

Stay realistic

The reality is that most plans don’t work out as expected (some work out better!) so if you over-commit resources and don’t see the anticipated results, you can find yourself digging a financial hole. Planned holes are fine – arguably they are at the heart of entrepreneurship and business – but be careful not to let a hole get too deep. It will be difficult to fill in! In both of my real-world examples above, we lost money, we dug a hole. In both cases the hole was manageable and that’s the important thing. And remember, the opposite of digging a hole is making a pile. Even if you are only making a small pile, it’s still a pile. …and you are in business, ready for the next step – whatever it is

Marketing Automation – Friend or Foe

Bots & their use in Marketing AutomationI have been reading a lot recently about marketing automation and the rise of the bot in social media, much I think fueled by Facebook announcing the Messenger chat bot development kit at a recent tech conference. All this got me thinking about the place of automation in marketing and brand development. On one level, considering that marketing is all about developing an engagement with your target market, it scares me. But on another, when you consider its role in delivering timely customer service messages, I can see it has a role.

The Good

There are times, when people engaging with your brand simply want a quick answer to a simple question:

what times are you open?

or a quick response to a request:

delivery of a white paper when they sign up to your newsletter.

In these cases, automation is the obvious answer. It allows you to deliver immediate responses 24/7 improving the customer experience and, in most cases, these are circumstances where people expect an automated response and don’t particularly need to speak to someone. Furthermore, having to wait for a human to respond to answer a simple and common question can be frustrating. Not good for the brand image.

In other words, the motivation for automating customer anf marketing communication should focus on the benefit to the customer. Good AI (Artificial “Intelligence”) will definitely expand the scope and effectiveness of automation in these scenarios

The Bad

Where marketing automation is used badly it is usually about cost saving A good example of this is email campaign automation, or abandoned shopping cart emails offering discounts after you put stuff in your shopping cart then never check out. Whilst these can be effective, all too often they try to be too clever and attempt to second guess the reason the user did what they did, leading to inappropriate or ill thought out messages being delivered. In the case of abandoned cart discounts, users quickly know to expect this and rather than checking out, abandon the cart and then wait for the follow-up email so they can get a discount!

The Ugly

But the marketing automation that scares me is that which uses AI to try to fool you into thinking you are talking to a person when you are not!. This approach says to me that:

"you are not important enough to me for me to put resource into actually talking to you, but I want to make you think that you are"

Marketing is about engaging with your target market, and building a rapport that adds value to them as a customer, re-enforcing the value that you add as a brand. To do that well, you actually need to talk to your customers. With the rise of the Social Media Bot, and the focus on metrics (Followers/Likes/social reach etc) I can see a situation where digital marketing becomes dominated by bots talking to each other, sending the metrics through the roof, but where are the the real conversations? They get lost in the noise!

Marketing Automation – It’s all about the Stats

Stats should be used to drive marketing, and not the other way round.

This is a phrase I have used a few times recently, and it’s when people forget this that they start to use automation in inappropriate ways. Stats are usually about measuring engagement on a purely quantitative level focusing on the numbers of engagements rather than their quality. Whilst there is no doubt that marketing automation, and bots in particular, can drive the stats and make the numbers “bigger”, in practice these engagements have little or no true marketing value. Every business should be aware of its brand and building your brand is the best way to deliver success in the long term. To this end, it is better to put more effort into fewer, valuable engagements that truly add value to the people who matter (Those who are likely to use your services/buy your products). Whilst this (focus on the real stuff’ approach will inevitably mean that your Twitter/Instagram followers/Facebook likes/web traffic will grow more slowly, the real people who make up those statistics will be people who really add value to your business. Whilst I am sure Mr Zuckerberg genuinely believes that the promotion of chat bots on his messenger network will add value to its users. Sadly I think they will simply be used by those “marketers” offering more marketing magic wands.

The cost of failing to plan

cornerFor many small businesses, the lack of a strategic plan is put down in part to their lack of resources to develop and implement it.

"I'm far too busy focusing on bringing in the sales and paying the bills to think about Strategy"

But the fact is, but omitting to consider the business on a strategic level can be a costly mistake. Here are 3 ways a lack of strategy can cost you money?

1. Strategy brings focus

One of the biggest issues in small businesses is a lack of focus, and the desire to be all things to all people. Usually driven by a fear of where the next sale is coming from, it is all to easy to say “yes” when asked if you can do something. Whilst this can bring short term gains in terms of revenue, it can be costly in the long term as delivering goods/services that are outside your core competences will lead to:

  • Sub optimal delivery & potentially disappointed customers
  • Additional costs as you have to learn new skills to deliver
  • Distraction from the core business

Taking a more strategic view that defines your core competences & the way in which you will use these to drive growth makes to much easier to say “no” to more peripheral requests, and will allow you to build strategic partnerships with other organisations better placed to deliver what the customer wants.

2. Lack of strategy leads to costly “knee jerk” management

Marketing is a good example of this, as a lack of strategic direction means that marketing tends to be done on a piecemeal basis, centred around “The next big thing”. When you get the call from someone offering a service to solve all of your marketing issues based on the latest buzz word in Marketing (SEO, Social Media, Content Marketing, Pay Per Click, Video etc) its all to easy to get sucked into short term marketing activities that have little or no value. By having a clearly defined plan it is possible to look at these tools in the context of what you are trying to achieve at a strategic level and so make much more effective decisions as to which are or aren’t appropriate. Whilst many small businesses will say that they don’t have the resources to run managed marketing strategies, in reality running a strategic marketing programme can often be less expensive, and definitely more effective than ad hoc activities.

3. Planning for the future will bring down costs

Whether you are in a business that offers services or products, the fact is that delivering these takes resources, and the more efficient you are in this delivery the greater the profitability of the business. Strategic planning allows you to anticipate growth, and thus plan for expansion in resources required to deliver it. Without this planning, companies rely on short term, flexible solutions to develop capacity which are always going to be more expensive. Whilst in some cases, the flexibility offered by this approach can be advantageous, adding value to customers. By implementing it in a more strategic context these benefits/costs can be recognised and built into the marketing message & pricing structure of the business.

Lack of strategic planning can be expensive

I hate the term “We are a victim of our own success. What it really means is “we didn’t anticipate/plan for the growth we are seeing”. Whilst in some cases growth can come unexpectedly out of left field, in most cases it can and should be planned for, By taking time out to create and implement a long term strategic plan, you can be sure that you are a beneficiary rather than a victim of success!  

Key elements of of a good marketing plan

planningTo fail to plan is to plan to fail

It’s a bit of a cliché but it is so true. Are you really likely to get where you want to go if you haven’t decided where that is or how you plan to get there? So many SME business owners just work day to day with no real structure as to how they plan to take their business forward. In effect people just ‘hope something will turn up’ A while ago, we were presenting a workshop on email marketing to a group of around 35 SME businesses when I asked the question:

Do you have a written marketing plan that you follow, review and update regularly as a tool to help you take your business forward?

Only 1 person raised their hand! To be honest, I wasn’t really surprised, in the past I have been guilty of spending time drawing up a marketing plan only to put it on a shelf and forget about it! Nevertheless, marketing planning is important.  It sets goals and gives you a structure against which to benchmark and measure performance. It is only if you have a plan that you can see if you are getting anywhere!

Where do I start?

I believe that one of the reasons that people are reluctant to put together a marketing plan is not knowing where to start. Hence I thought it would be worth a few words on what are the key elements of a good marketing plan.

1: Know your Objectives

To create a successful marketing plan, you need to be clear on your objective. (ie what are you trying to achieve) In most SME businesses, this is likely to be around, growing the business and building a sustainable/profitable sales pipeline. However when considering this, it must be recognised that most SME businesses are built around key stakeholders (often the owners & senior managers of the business). As such, often business goals are closely linked to the personal objectives of these people. A point that should not be forgotten when establishing the objectives of a marketing plan. I believe that good planning focuses on the long as well as the short & medium term. With this in mind, objectives need to be considered on multiple time frames, with short term targets & goals ultimately being stepping stones to longer term objectives.

2: Understand your Target Market

This is one of the key factors in a marketing plan. It is all to easy to take the view that you can sell to anyone and whilst that may be true, success usually comes from focusing on those to whom you offer most value. Understanding the size of this market, their needs and how your business can add value to them is critical.

3: Build your Message

Once you know your market, the next step is to understand exactly how your product/service benefits them and adds value to their business. This isn’t simply a case of identifying the benefits and listing these in your promotional material. It is about recognising the value you add to your customers businesses and understanding why they buy from you rather than your competitors. With this knowledge, you can start to tell your story. Rather than focusing your marketing on creating that killer copy that will have the leads flooding in (though if you can do that then all the better) its about having a strategy to communicate your value to the market over the long term.

4: Understand your resources & the tools at your disposal

So, you know your market and understand what you are trying communicate. The next factor to consider is resources. Knowing how much time effort and cash you are willing/able to devote to marketing is a crucial part of developing the plan. The fact is that all marketing takes resource to implement, but with the advent of digital media where much can be done in house it is now about striking the balance between putting in your own time or paying someone else to do it for you. On this basis, a key element of creating the plan is making decisions as to this split and how much of each resource you are going to commit.

5: Create an action Plan

So far the plan has been somewhat theoretical but now we come to the practical bit, deciding what you are actually going to do! No plan will succeed if you don’t actually implement it, so having a concrete, timed action plan is essential. This may sound strange, but in our experience, at this point:

Doing SOMETHING is more important than doing something that works

If you know your business (we must assume it this point that you do) and you have covered points 1-4, it is unlikely that you will come up with activities that will be totally ineffective. It is also unlikely that you will get it 100% right. The important thing is to make a plan, implement it & then move to step 6 below!

6: Know how you are going to measure/Monitor & control your activities

In today’s digital world, measurement & control of marketing activity has never been easier and doing this effectively will help you to see what areas of your marketing are being effective and which maybe need tweaking, or in some cases pulling altogether! When it comes to Monitoring control there are 2 key things to consider.

  1. Metrics should be looked at in the medium & long term, and not used to drive knee jerk reactions.
  2. Look at the figures in the context of your plan, and use them to drive and tune it rather than letting your plan be driven by the desire to optimse the measurements.

In other words:

Stats should be used to drive marketing, and not the other way round.

The final thing to consider then thinking about measurement & control, is to build this into the day to day processes for running your business. By embedding your marketing plan and the review and management of this into your day to day activities, it is much more likely to be sustained. You might find this post on the subject of living with a joined up marketing plan useful in this context.

Free Guide to help you

To conclude, and on the basis that it is always easier to start with a framework rather than a blank sheet of paper, the Institute of Directors has produced a straightforward guide to help businesses though the key steps of developing a marketing plan. It isn’t a ‘Fill in the form’ approach but rather asks questions that you can think about and discuss. Hopefully you will be able to relate the questions asked, to the points made earlier in this post. Download a copy here: How to create a Marketing Plan If you would like to discuss how BSA can help you develop and, most important, implement your own marketing plan, get in touch  

Mailchimp is an excellent tool – Here are 4 reasons not to use it

mc_v_bsaI’d like to start by declaring the fact that I hate Mailchimp, and the reason I hate it is that it is free & does its job very well! Thus making the job of selling email marketing services all the tougher! Joking aside though, Mailchimp is a great tool and for those who wish to handle their email marketing in-house, I can thoroughly recommend it. That said, I would like to look at 4 reasons why I believe getting professional help on your emailing is the way to go. No 4 is the real biggie, but I will get to that later.

  1. Templates don’t always cut the mustard
  2. Its not simply about email – its about creating a sustained joined up plan
  3. Lists and list management are central to good email marketing
  4. If you do it yourself you will probably give up

Templates don’t always cut the mustard

“Can I just….” 3 words that define the issue with email templates. They are absolutely great if you are willing to use them exactly as they are intended. Used in this way they make laying out the Email in a professional manner a simple drag and drop process. They will also take care of all the browser and mobile  compatibility issues. However, the moment you say can I just ….

  • make that picture. Bit bigger
  • change the font
  • add that additional social media icon
  • left rather than right justify that text
  • etc ….

They can become a nightmare. By using a company like BSA to assist with your email, your messages can look exactly the way you want them. In many cases, a client will give us a precise design in something like photoshop, and we will convert this into en email template, working with them to adapt it if there are things that technically won’t work in an email.

It’s Not Just about Email

Whilst Mail Chimp has some useful integration tools, especially when it comes to social media, proper joined up marketing is more than simply putting tweet and like buttons in your mail copy. Good marketing is about joining up all your marketing efforts: Blog, email, social media, offline activities, to communicate a single consistent message that promotes & builds your brand. Working with a professional marketing company will ensure that your email is an integrated part of a wider marketing, effectively telling your story, and building your profile within your target market.

It’s all about the list

Email marketing will in large pet succeed or fail based on the quality of the list. Mail Chimp assumes that you have built you list by people subscribing to your emails via web signup forms. In the real world however, especially if you are in the B2B arena, this doesn’t happen and your email lists will come from many sources both on and offline. Although you can import lists into Mailchimp, they insist they are all opt in, whilst in the UK B2B email marketing the opt out model is perfectly acceptable as long as it is well targeted. More importantly however Mailchimp does not like imported. lists to contain a lot of generic (info@ sales@ admin@ etc) addresses. Again in reality ( especially when your target is smaller businesses) it is likely that this type of address can be perfectly valid and is likely to be a significant proportion of your list.. By using a specialist email provider, it is possible to take a much more flexible approach to lists focusing on real world engagement.

Successful email marketing needs to be considered in the long term

The fact is, good marketing needs to be considered as part of a long term strategic plan. In our experience, people who “do online marketing” in house give up too quickly. They start well, usually in conjunction with a new website incorporating a news/blog facility. With the best intentions, they start blogging, and sending out email newsletters, but all too quickly for what ever reason they stop doing it. A recent review of SME websites that we did, demonstrated this situation perfectly. By getting help from a third party, your marketing becomes part of your day to day activities, with the donkey work being handled outside your organization. This way it is much more likely to continue into the long term, unless you take s strategic decision to stop/change it. In that way, it is much more likely to deliver sustainable results

Getting Help with your emailing makes sense

Good business is all about the effective use of resources. In the early days a business tends to have more time and fewer financial resources, in these circumstances Mailchimp allows you to deliver professional looking emails, on a limited budget ( even free if you are happy to retain the Mailchimp badge in the footer of your emails). As your business develops, your time will be adsorbed delivering your product/service. In these circumstances, outsourcing things like marketing makes sense, ensuring that the marketing continues, whilst you focus on servicing clients and running/building the business. It is also at this point where email marketing requirements may become more demanding and specific, thus the use of more flexible solutions makes sense. Mailchimp is a free great tool, but just because it’s free doesn’t necessarily make it the right tool for your business. If you would like to review your email marketing, we are always happy to talk, and rest assured, if the conclusion is that Mailchimp is the right solution for your business, we will be the first to advise you to use it.