Digital Marketing Apprentice 1 Month In

About Me

As a 16 year old I was torn between the decision of studying at college or working full time. I felt tha t going to college was the right way to go  in order to succeed further on in life. After finishing my first year in college I realised that the working environment would benefit me more and the idea of getting paid motivated me in me finding full time work. The idea of an apprenticeship was growing on me. My Dad was “persuading” me constantly to have a look on the government website for companies which were employing an apprentice. Having had little interest previously about apprenticeships. I was quite ignorant in the way they worked, and kept putting off the idea of an apprenticeship. However, one day it changed, I spotted two Digital Marketing apprenticeships advertised in the local area, both offering what appeared to be very good jobs. Even though was offered both jobs, the professionalism and culture of BSA Marketing appealed to me. I felt confident they would turn me into a better person all round as well as helping me gain the qualification along with real experience. After all that’s the point of an apprenticeship.

The Job

Although I have only been working at BSA Marketing for a month I have gained valuable life skills and knowledge around social media production, marketing, punctuality and customer service. First, I started by researching the clients for which BSA Marketing provide service. Only hours into the briefing with Duncan I was learning about the world of marketing. Prior to the apprenticeship, I had a keen interest in computers and design; this just added to my passion and I had a career I felt I could progress in. Within my first month I am already building experience on social media platforms with a range of different accounts managed by BSA (What’s on In Glossop, Business Peak District, BSA Marketing, Bankswood Music and The Town Hall Sessions – to name a few.) Despite only being a month in, I am already involved in real marketing, I’ve been attending meetings with clients and learning about businesses. Even the little things like having my own desk and computer; to the extremely loud coffee machine just give me the confidence to knuckle down and produce the best standard work I possibly can. I am enjoying my time at BSA to the max and it almost certainly getting up in the mornings easier.

The Future

Although I’ve only been working for a month. I have high aspirations and ambitions for myself and BSA in the future. Studying at Level 3 in Digital Marketing allows me to continue on to a Level 4 in the future. Which is equivalent to a degree. Most apprentices will complete their qualification. Then either take on a full time job at their company or move elsewhere into higher qualifications. I personally would love to go on to a Level 4 apprenticeship in Sales and Marketing, or to continue with the Social Media aspect. Whilst at the same time continuing to work at BSA Marketing, Because it truly is a wonderful place!

5 Steps to Real Marketing

I touched on the idea of 5-steps a couple of months ago and I have had quite a few people get in touch asking for a bit more detail. When people ask me what I do and I say I run a marketing company, they almost always make one of 2 assumptions:

  • Marketing = Design & Advertising or
  • Marketing = Websites & Digital

While both of these refer to aspects of marketing, neither (IMHO) defines ‘Real Marketing’.

What do I mean by 'Real Marketing'?

Real Marketing is more fundamental. It is communicating the essence of you and your business. It is about what you stand for and what people can expect if they choose to do business with you. Getting these things right is a big deal and worth some effort. Real Marketing takes time and you need to be committed to it. This isn’t to say your marketing can’t evolve over time, it can and it should. But the process should be evolution rather than revolution. Getting started isn’t difficult but does benefit from putting some thought into it. In my experience, setting plans then giving myself some time to process my views on what I have planned is a great way to really decide whether I am comfortable with my ideas, or do I need to think again? Here are my 5 steps to real marketing. I hope you find them useful…

1. Create a written plan

A written plan doesn’t need to be long and wordy. It is simply a way of crystallising your ideas so that you can refer back to them without any unconscious adaption! As a minimum, your plan should define 3 things:

A -Your key business proposition

What is the essence of what you do?

B – Your target market

Who is it you want to work with? As a rule, I would never suggest you simply target anyone/everyone! This may give you comfort that you aren’t excluding any possible customers but it makes communicating with your market challenging. You should be able to have a pretty good go at defining your market with 3 factors:

  • Location – where are you primary target customers located?
  • Activity – What is it that your customers do that make them relevant to your proposition?
  • Potential – Is your product/service mass market or niche?

C – What real value/benefit you deliver

Be careful with this one, it may not be as obvious as you first think. Don’t think about the features of what you do, think about the benefits your customers gain. If you aren’t sure, ask some them!

2 – Develop a practical communications strategy

Use your written plan as a platform to decide what message(s) you want to communicate, who you want to communicate with and how you plan to do it? These days there are seemingly endless communication options which in itself can be a challenge. Don’t feel that by not using option ‘X’ you are risking missing something. Think about where you are most comfortable. If you are a real Social Media fan, may there are some options here. If you prefer face to face, maybe getting out and networking might be better.Whatever communication tools you select, make sure they are appropriate to your target market. Don’t forget Step 5!

3 – Regularly review and refine your communication

No plan survives first contact with the enemy! I’m not sure about the enemy reference but this military truism has a great deal of resonance in marketing. All too often, people don’t behave as expected – we’ve seen a good deal of this recently! As you see people reacting/responding to your communications, be ready to adapt in the light of their feedback. Remember though that adapting should be within the framework of your plan! If you find the fundamentals of your plan being challenged, it may be time to go back to the drawing board for you whole business!

4 – Stick at it

Real marketing takes time. In fact, I believe you should see it as a consistent function of your ongoing business, something that you keep doing. Frequency is more important than volume. If you can allocate an hour a week to marketing and make sure you do something constructive and take action, it is better than spending a whole day on marketing 2 or 3 times each year.

5 – Don’t overcommit!

Try to make your marketing easy for you. If you don’t feel comfortable with a particular marketing approach, ask yourself why. Don’t do things just because you are told they are ‘the right thing to do‘. Your marketing should reflect your business and you do have a choice. If you over-commit your resources doing something you are not particularly comfortable with (could be time, or money, or both) you will struggle to stick at it and sustained activity is essential.

Deadlines are great!

Love DeadlinesDoes anyone really love a deadline? Yes it’s wonderful to get things done and off your ‘To-do’ list but being under pressure to get something finished is never fun – at least I don’t think so!. Yet most of us live by deadlines – which are almost always imposed by others! I wonder if this is why SME marketing planning so often becomes a ‘Cinderella‘ activity. It regularly gets left until last, the thing to do when you have some time – yet other deadlines keep creeping up and getting in the way! As a result, 2 common outcomes keep appearing:

  1. Constant Firefighting  – The deadlines keep cropping up and marketing planning sort of never happens.
  2. Delegate Responsibility – Engage a marketing services company to do some ‘marketing’.

With #1, you never really move anywhere while #2 is too often action without a plan. Fine, your ‘marketing company’ can build a website, do some SEO/PPC, telemarketing, email… whatever. All these are great marketing communication activities but if you don’t have a clear understanding of your business marketing objectives, your proposition, your target market etc., it is pure luck if the activity happens to be in the right direction!  When you find it isn’t delivering quite as you’d hoped, you ‘pull the plug’ and you are back where you started from. No Marketing and No Plan!

Evolution

Marketing planning for a business is an evolutionary process, not an event. Processes take time and once the time is gone, you don’t get it back. Maybe you wished you’d set yourself a deadline! The beauty of setting your own deadlines is that you only have to deal with yourself if you miss it.  Yet having the deadline puts focus on what you are trying to do. In your business, it really doesn’t matter whether your marketing planning is done today, or tomorrow. What does matter is that you give priority to planning your business marketing and that it gets done. Having a deadline maintains focus. It is amazing how, if you get used to making time available regularly for your planning – even if it is only an hour a week –  it becomes a habit. If you miss a week: who cares!

Want to do some marketing? Don’t start with digital!

Why is it so many ‘Marketers‘ describe themselves as ‘Digital Marketers’? Come to that, what is Digital Marketing? Does it actually exist? Certainly, there are lots of effective and powerful digital communication tools which can be used to get your message out to your audience – but hang on a minute. The issue I have is that although these tools are out there for communicating your marketing message and engaging with your market, they are just channels. Ask yourself 4 questions:

  1. What exactly is the message you want to communicate?
  2. Who do you want to communicate with?
  3. Where do you find them?
  4. Why might they want to do business/engage with you?

If you leap straight for your web browser before answering these questions, there is a real danger that you will just chase after the NBIT (Next Big Internet Thing), setting up a website and signing up for as many Social Media accounts as possible. You are doing what many people do,  look for (or be sold!) a marketing “magic wand”. Without a clear plan, these are unlikely to deliver any sustained marketing benefits – unless you are very lucky!

Let’s illustrate the point by looking at 2 NBITs:  Search Engine Optimisation and Facebook marketing….

Search Engine Optimisation

Don’t get me wrong, I believe Google (as the big-boy of SEO) is a key to effective web presence therefore making sure that your site ranks well on search engines is important. If someone types your company name into Google, they should find you! However, although a high ranking for a relevant key phrase may make you feel good, a page one listing  for some apparently relevant phrase is no guarantee of effective marketing communication – check out this post on an SEO experiment we conducted. Whatever anyone tells you about organic/natural search rankings, they are not free. Whether you are spending your time doing your own website optimisation or spending your money with one of the many SEO companies, search engine marketing costs. It needs to deliver tangible business marketing results. Furthermore, if you have answers to the four questions I asked above, you may well find that there are other, more appropriate channels you can use to engage with key segments of your target market in a controllable and cost-effective way. I remember one client who found his most effective marketing communication was done when he was playing golf with people. Search Engine Optimisation is important but not the ultimate solution. It should be considered amongst a ‘toolbox’ of communication options and (where appropriate) used as one element of a structured marketing communications plan.

Facebook Marketing

Facebook is a great marketing tool and there is no arguing that when used appropriately (check this post – Is Facebook right for your business?) it is a very powerful communications medium. My gripe is with the idea that a facebook page is regularly touted as a ‘must-have‘ element of any online marketing plan. Experience tells me that Facebook is primarily used by individuals in a social context. If you communicate with your target market in this context then Facebook is definitely worth looking at. If, however, your target market is B2B and you are communicating with people with their professional/work hat on, then I would argue that Facebook is at best irrelevant and, at worst,a distraction that draws resources away from other more fruitful marketing activities. BSA Marketing primarily works in SME business to business markets, so our opinion does reflect this! We did have a Facebook presence for a short while but it didn’t take us long to make the decision to pull it – read more here

A recent review

While reviewing a number of North West companies in B2B markets, I started looking at links to their Twitter and Facebook pages. Looking at these pages, some numbers tell a story:

#1 Company  Manufacturing
#2 Company  Manufacturing
#3 Company B2B Marketing
Twitter Followers
860
671
130
Facebook ‘Likes’
21
8
2

These are 3 examples that illustrate a common position. Hence, they beg the question: why do these businesses have a presence on Facebook? I am sure that if any of these companies had spent time asking the question “who is my target market, and where can I interact with them?“, they would quickly have established that Facebook was not an appropriate channel; The very reason why BSA Marketing does not have a Facebook page.

Start with your Brand

If you know what your company stands for and how you wish to be perceived by your customers and markets, you are a good way towards understanding your ‘Brand’. Knowing your brand makes it much easier to make decisions about marketing messages and marketing communication tools. We have written quite a lot recently about brand – check out these posts. The internet has had a  huge impact on SME marketing. It offers affordable, sustainable marketing communication opportunities to SME businesses. These options were previously only accessible to big companies with big budgets. Nevertheless, the marketing fundamentals haven’t changed. Addressing some core marketing questions before starting to click will really pay dividends. In conclusion, if you want to do some marketing, don’t start with the internet – start with your brand

Do you have a joined-up brand?

What is your brand?

Perhaps before we look at whether you have a joined-up brand, maybe I should ask a more fundamental question:

Do you know what your brand is?

NJoined-up brand - Grow your businessote that the question isn’t ‘Do you have a brand?’.  Whether we appreciate it or not, every business has a brand. Fundamentally your own business brand is what people (importantly your customers and markets) think of you. This will depend on their experience of engaging with you and can be incredibly inconsistent, particularly if your brand isn’t clear in your own mind. I’m not going into any detail here but suffice to say your brand is the essence of your business proposition and the benefit it delivers. A strong, respected and trusted company brand is the basis of growing long-term, sustained value in your company. I strongly recommend you take time to really consider and understand your own brand – and write down your brand so you have a permanent reference document If you’d like to read more about defining and understanding your own brand check out this post

A joined-up brand

Ask many people for the definition of a ‘Brand’ and you will hear words like Logo, Design, Graphics, Website. While these are all relevant, they are not your brand in themselves. They are (or should be!) representations of your target brand which is, in itself, much more fundamental. Every engagement between you, your company and your customers and contacts are all representations of your brand. Here are some that may be less obvious:

  • They way you talk and dress at networking sessions or in meetings
  • How you present letters, reports, quotations, invoices etc.
  • Your writing style in emails
  • Your email signature
  • How your company phone is answered
  • Your social media profile(s) and content
  • Your website content and ‘up-to-date’ness

This may all sound a bit overwhelming but there is another way of looking at it. If you find it too stressful and have to work too hard to deliver your brand proposition, ask yourself whether are you in the right business?! Alternatively, it may be that taking a step back and looking at things differently opens up different ways to do things. If you skip to the end, you will find I finish on an example of this that happened just last week! The important thing is to be aware and work to ensure your brand is joined up across ALL your business engagement at ALL levels. This is where a written brand statement is so valuable as a point of reference in helping to keep your brand joined-up.

The value of a styling document

I have already suggested that a brand is way more than a logo and a website but it is often in visuals where a brand that isn’t joined-up is most clearly exposed. Some people can’t help themselves when it comes to colours, fonts and styles!

  • A slightly different shade of green
  • A new font I’ve just found
  • Change the logo to fit is the space I have

Subtle changes over time can lead to a remarkably inconsistent brand with different logos, fonts and colours appearing in different places. As well as having a written brand statement, a visual styling document can be immensely helpful, particularly as your business grows. It can be simple – a single page may be enough – or more in-depth. The styling document will specify The styling document can include:

  • Approved Branding Colours (Remember to specify for both screen and print)
  • Logos – Approved logos, shapes and spacing
  • Fonts – What font or fonts to use for documents, website, emails etc.
  • Email signatures – ensure consistent content and layout

Having a styling document means everyone involved in producing marketing content and collateral will produce work with a consistent and joined-up brand style.

Staying joined-up – Less is more

Sometimes it seems there are new marketing channels and opportunities appearing every month. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking you need to embrace them all and ‘jump on the band waggon‘. Every new marketing channel you start to use is another that needs work to keep it joined-up; but once you start it can seem difficult, or even dangerous, to stop. I was talking to someone last week and she was explaining how pressure of work meant her website was out of date, she wasn’t proud of it, and needed to find time to sort it out. She also mentioned that she found it easier to keep her LinkedIn profile current. Although I believe a high-quality web presence is a vital marketing asset for any business, it doesn’t have to be your own website. It must be the place you promote where people can (and will!) go to find out more about you and what you offer. In my current example, I was talking with a consultant. Having a well presented LinkedIn profile can be a great web presence for consultants. I suggested that maybe the answer was to take down her website and, instead, redirect her domain name (I think it is important to have your own web address URL) to her LinkedIn page. To make sure your brand stays joined-up, concentrating on less can sometimes give you more.