The Marketing Year – Target your marketing

It’s a long time since I was at school, and with no children in formal education, you would think that the academic year has little relevance to me. It would be great if that were true, but in reality, most things are governed by the school calendar, and marketing is no different. Let me explain.

The Marketing Year – in the real world

The year starts on 1st January, and you have a good period of around 13 weeks up to Easter, at which points, schools break up, and people go on holiday. Easter is increasingly a 2 week period when businesses move into tickover as people take holidays and this continues into May with 2 Bank Holidays – so 2 more short weeks where people take time off, resources are stretched and focus is lost. From the end of May there is a clear run of around 7- 8 weeks to mid-July when school holidays start and things wind down for the Summer. As the longest ‘down-time’, July/August is when keeping marketing ticking over can be most challenging. It is oh-so easy to just say…

 'Let's leave it until September'

The problem is then that you find September disappears as you try to build momentum for the run to Christmas. If you can ‘hit the ground running’ at the beginning of September there is then a good period of maybe 15 weeks until mid December when everything starts to shut down for Christmas – and another 2 weeks of downtime. In other words, the business yea reflects the academic year. A total of 35-36 weeks in 3 blocks where you can put real focus on marketing.

B2B Marketing Primetime

In reality there are three periods when we can really focus on Marketing:

  1. New Year – Easter
  2. End of May – Mid-July
  3. September – Christmas

Looking at things this way poses some threats, but also delivers opportunities:

First the threats:

  1. Marketing inertia: We know that one of the main issues with marketing is sustainability, and keeping things going. Having periods of the year (See this post: The danger of Summer) where there is an excuse to take your foot of the gas creates a risk that things will not be picked up again as marketing-inertia takes over.
  2. Frustration: Failure to address marketing-inertia can lead to frustration in trying to get things done.

Now the opportunities

  1. A structure for planning – Recognise the rhythm of the marketing year. It creates a great structure for planning.
  2. Seasonal opportunities – There are certain seasons (See this post on Christmas card Alternatives) that deliver unique marketing potential. These will differ depending on your own business and markets, but identifying and embracing them can deliver ideas & inspiration for you.
  3. Don’t be afraid of repeating yourself – Everybody does it. Every August BBC News lines up pupils to open their results on air and debate the health and relevance of the exam system! Whilst you always need a timely angle, seasonal marketing delivers some easy wins that can take the pressure off, and keep things moving.

Embrace the Marketing Year

We have always said the key to sustainable marketing is having a plan. Embracing the Marketing Year can be a real boon to planning, and give structure to your activities. January is less than two months away, so maybe now is a good time to start work on your Marketing Year.  

Real World Marketing Opportunities

In a recent post, we talked about how to make the most of your digital content online, but whilst we live in a digital age, marketing is not just a digital discipline. With the proliferation of online marketing channels, social media, email, search engine marketing, pay-per-click etc. it is easy to forget that marketing has been around for centuries before the internet. Most of these ‘real-world’ channels are still out there. There are many opportunities to promote your business and engage with your marketplace away from the internet. Sometimes, because there is so much focus online, using offline options as part of your marketing mix can help you to stand out. One of the key reasons for the rise and rise of online marketing is cost. Most traditional offline marketing channels (newspapers, magazines, TV, Radio, postal services etc.) are ‘owned’ by someone. They then charge you every time you want to use their channel to communicate with your market. The internet changed that. With some notable exceptions, once you pay for access to the internet, how much and when you use it costs no more. The communication process is, to all intents and purposes, FREE! The costs of online marketing normally relate to buying the creative and/or technical input of third parties. If you are willing to learn and have a go yourself, internet marketing can cost you nothing other than your time. Clearly, this is extremely appealing to many SME business owners. However, in the ‘dive for digital‘, offline marketing is easily forgotten. In reality, the work you put into developing your online marketing can be extended effectively offline at minimal extra cost. Let’s have a look at some of the options:

Write once – use many

In the link at the top of this post, I refer to an article showing how you can use the same content online on different platforms – well it doesn’t just have to be online. There are still thousands of print journals out there, all with space to fill:

  • National Press
  • Local Press
  • Magazines
  • Sector Trade Journals
  • Networking Group Magazines

These publications all need news and other content to fill their pages so tell them your news. So long as it is relevant and of interest to readers, there is every likelihood they will print it. If you regularly deliver good editorial content (even if you are also using it on your website or elsewhere) you may even find you get a regular slot. Okay, many print journals rely on advertising revenue to survive so there may be a bit of quid-pro-quo. If you want to build a long-term relationship, combining a modest amount of well-targeted advertising with a regular flow of good content can make your advertising budget go a very long way! Actually, a key to quality editorial content is to avoid using it as a sales pitch whereas, in an advert, you can pitch however you wish – though these days I reckon overselling can be a real turn-off to customers!

Exploring Exhibitions

I know, exhibiting is expensive. Even so, you don’t have to go to the cost of taking space and standing there for 2 or 3 days to get value from an exhibition. The beauty of exhibitions is you have lots of businesses all gathered together in one place. While there, they have the sole purpose of talking to people. If you work in a niche market, even better. Exhibitions in your sector can be really fruitful marketing grounds. If you are visiting an exhibition as a marketing project, remember that the theory is the visitors are there to be sold to and the exhibitors do the selling. If you turn up on a stand and try to sell to the people there you will get a frosty reception. I have even seen shows where exhibitors put up notices saying ‘No Sales!’ The key is to remember it isn’t about selling. It’s about contacts and relationships.If you visit an exhibition expecting to come away with new customers, you are likely to be disappointed. However, if you go with the aim of making new contacts and the possibility of future partnerships, your visit may be more fruitful.

Never forget: It's a process, not an event.

Long live the Mailshot

Very few SME businesses use the post for marketing these days. Yet precisely because if this, it can be a great communication channel. The key is targeting. Like many businesses, you may use email marketing. Let’s face it, email newsletters are at the heart of my business! Yet regular mail can be a great medium for targeted follow-up. If you use a dedicated email marketing tool such as MailChimp, you have access to statistics. These show who opens and clicks on your messages. Tracking these stats, you can build a picture of who shows interest, even if they haven’t been in touch. How can you move them to the next level? A cold (to the recipient) telephone call might appear a bit too pushy. I was recently in the midst of browsing a company website when their sales rep called me. Big Brother IS watching you! On the other hand, a personal letter could be a great introduction to a follow-up call. It could even trigger a call from them to you.

Mix your marketing

Open any book on marketing and you will find yourself reading about the Marketing Mix. Just like life, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to your marketing. The best results come from a carefully considered and consistently implemented mix of marketing approaches. The online world certainly offers powerful resources to push your marketing ahead but remember to keep the real world in the mix. There are are some great opportunities that, used effectively, can help to give you an edge.

Digital as a Business to Business Marketing Platform

B2B Digital Marketing – A Joined-up Process
Over the past few weeks, I have had some clients ask me to take a look at their digital marketing – particularly organic Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Paid Search (PPC). Although we have always done some work in these areas, it is the first time in a while that I have had the opportunity to take BSA’s joined-up, real-world marketing approach as a starting point, and on this basis, review the work of some ‘specialist‘ digital marketers working on niche Business to Business (B2B) accounts. It has been interesting! First, I must stress that I have only reviewed half a dozen accounts, but I am seeing some features symptomatic of a common theme. The B2B Digital Marketing Strategy (SEO or PPC) is on a parallel track to the business marketing strategy – but not always are the two aligned and joined-up. When I look at digital marketing in isolation, with no reference to wider marketing considerations of the business,  the process can look sensible but actually, the objectives are focused more on digital marketing goals and less on underlying development of the business. There is sometimes too much focus on delivering good-looking statistics rather than results that really impact on the business.

An SEO example – track the visitors

Search engine optimisation often starts by deciding on a series of keywords and phrases to optimise for. Using these keyphrases in a search, will (hopefully) see your website ranking high on the first page of search results. Many SEO service providers then focus on developing your website content to make it more likely that when the target keyword/phrase is searched for, your site will appear in the results, All very well so far but here’s the problem: What if only a few people actually search for that term? Your site may rank well but the SEO effort won’t deliver high-quality visitors to your site! We did some “testing in this area and put the results into a post “SEO as an effective marketing strategy“. It’s a while since we did this but I think it is still very relevant. There are tools that will give an idea of how often a keyword/phrase is used in searches but these are only really useful where a phrase generates a lot of searches. Yet in most niche B2B markets, particularly if you are primarily interested in targeting regionally (as many B2B service companies are) the number of relevant searches for specific niche terms doesn’t register in the stats. What to do: If you are using targeted SEO services, make sure you are monitoring real site traffic generated, not just search engine ranking. The goal of SEO should always be to deliver high-quality, relevant visitors to your website.

A PPC example – Company name as a search term?

Paid search avoids all that time-consuming Search Engine Optimisation! In principle, paid search can get your website to show at the top of Google today. Note: Other search engines are available! Of course, every time someone then clicks the PPC link to your website, you pay. With a niche B2B company, it can be that the nature of your business means relevant customers will be searching for very specific terms for which it is relatively straightforward to get organic (SEO) rankings. Although SEO setup can have a cost, the clicks are free! The nature of many specialist Business to Business companies is that much new business comes via referral.  The potential customer knows of your company before they start to search. They often start by searching for your company by name. Unless your company name is similar to a big brand name, you should be able to get effective organic search ranking for your company name. Even so, many PPC accounts still use the company name as one of the search terms!  OK, the click cost may not be high but if you can get your company name to the top of a Google search organically, why pay for company name searches as well? What to do: Not everyone may approve of this but how about doing PPC against your competitor company name? You need to be a bit careful, though as you must not use competitor logos or any registered trademarks. Of course, they can potentially do the same to you! Overall I see mass-market/Business to Consumer principles being applied to niche market B2B companies where customer motivation is quite different. In B2B, the buying process is less impulsive and more about relationship building. Customer engagement is a longer and more subtle process.

Overall…

In the world of B2B, I believe the overall digital marketing objective should be growing engagement rather than simply generating leads. Most of our clients operate in B2B/Technical niche markets. Here, business opportunities tend to develop when a potential client has built trust and confidence in your ability to deliver. Building this relationship can take time. If you focus on relevant targets (quality over quantity) and encourage them to engage. Perhaps initially by signing up to a newsletter. You then have a platform from which you have some control to build connection and relationships. It is through these the confidence and awareness of your capabilities can grow. When your potential customer needs your products/services, you are top of the list as a potential supplier. B2B marketing is a process, not an event. A joined-up approach should drive this process. A solid base of relevant customer engagement is at the heart of effective B2B marketing. If you use it appropriately, digital can be a powerful ally in this process.

No need to reinvent the wheel

It is often said that Content is King, but in the reality of trying to keep up with the demands for content in modern marketing, it can sometimes come across as more of an over-demanding tyrannical king. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There is no denying that good digital marketing needs good content and lots of it. However,  not all of this content has to be unique & original. The key is making sure you get every ounce of value out of your own original content, but also don’t be afraid to use other peoples content as part of your media mix.

 Make the most of original content

Whether it is graphical, written copy or video, creating good original content is time-consuming and/or expensive. So it is vital that you squeeze every ounce of value out of that content. By using your website as the repository for all your original content in the form of a news feed or blog, you quickly start to build up a valuable archive of content that can be used elsewhere in the marketing mix. Examples include:

  • Trade press
  • Social media
  • Guest Blogging on other sites
  • E-mail newsletters

If you have this resource then it is easy to respond to opportunities as they arise. Furthermore, on platforms like Facebook, Twitter & LinkedIn, don’t be afraid to post content more than once:

  • Multiple Tweet at different times of day –  links to the article
  • Facebook posting in different relevant groups & pages
  • LinkedIn – Posts on both LinkedIn Pulse and appropriate Groups

Don’t overdo it, but different people will hang out in different places and at different times. Remember that especially with Twitter, content can be very transient!

Mix it up

Remember, not all content needs to be original. Most people put content onto the web hoping that people will share it, so when looking for content for your social media streams, don’t be afraid to use other people’s content. Whilst you should not pass Whilst you should not pass this off as original, sharing it and crediting the author is perfectly acceptable. Furthermore, if you share content from well-respected sources with significant followings, there is a good chance they will acknowledge this, (especially if you make a relevant comment on their content) pushing your name out to a wider audience.

Remember to recycle

Recycling is not only good for the environment, it is also good for your content strategy. The fact is that as posts get older, they will drop down your news feed and get forgotten, but in reality, that post you wrote on your new widget 18 months ago is probably still relevant, and whilst it may not be new anymore, a few tweaks to the copy can breath new life into the story, and make it relevant again. Remember, not everyone will have seen it the first time around.

It’s not just about the decision maker

When people think about marketing, they tend to focus on communicating directly with those they are trying to sell to. But by taking this approach, you can miss out on many opportunities. The ultimate goal might be to get your message to those who are going to hand over their hard earned cash for your products and services. However achieving this communication is rarely simple, and often relies on the support and work of influencers in the market. Thus targeting these influencers as part of your marketing activity can pay real dividends, and deliver real opportunities. Influencers come in many shapes & forms – Bloggers, Press, TV/Radio to name a few, but the reality is that good influencers will rarely respond to the direct approach. They need to come to you having drawn their own conclusion about how interesting you will be to their audience. In other words, rather than “sell” your story to these people, you need to take a more rounded approach. Let me give you an example from our own marketing:

Local Radio Business Hour

BSA Marketing aims to deliver valuable marketing support to owner managed small & medium sized businesses, and as a secondary objective, we aim to have a very strong presence in the local area around Manchester. As part of our marketing strategy, we already write a weekly column in a local paper. We have however never had a chance to get the message onto wider broadcast media. This changed this week when we got the opportunity to be a guest on the local radio stations weekly business hour. But how did we get there? One thing is certain, we did not achieve this by directly pitching for the gig! We got there by regularly communicating what we do, and the benefits we deliver to our clients. This message was heard by the person who presents the business hour on a local radio station. A person who we had also got to know through regular networking around the area. Over time, our relationship has developed to a point where this person had enough confidence to invite us to take part in her show. This opportunity has resulted from our getting the BSA message out into the relevant marketplace, and presenting ourselves as “experts in our field” who have something interesting to say. Whether we are talking to influencers or potential customers communicating this message is a key goal of our marketing. There is no doubt that the strategy is working, even if the route to our success can be less than direct. In other words

If you do Stuff, Stuff happens! 

When you do stuff, stuff happens

Too often people look for the Magic Wand of Marketing – the perfect process for delivering results. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist. As a result, in many SME businesses, marketing tends to be an on-off-on process. there is no consistency.

The value of a plan

We have said it many times but a plan gives a framework for your marketing where your actions – and their results – can be put in context. It is important to see the big picture and to relate this to a practical action plan which sets out specifics that you can actually do today. If all you have is a big picture, you have no defined path to achieve your goals. In the words of Del-boy Trotter… In the words of Del-boy Trotter…

This time next year we'll be millionaires....

…not if you don’t know how do get there you won’t!

Embrace some flexibility

While it is important to relate big picture goals to ‘do-able’ actions, the world we live in is punctuated with uncertainty. Rarely do things work out exactly as you plan them. Embracing flexibility and sometimes allowing things to take their course can open opportunities but again, this is where the context of a plan is vital. When an opportunity comes out of left field you may need to quickly decide whether it is a good opportunity or not?  I talked about the idea of context earlier. By considering the new opportunity in the context of your big picture plan, it is often easy to see how well it fits, and so, how valuable it might be to you.

Doing Stuff is Good

I have spoken before about the marketing value of ‘Just Do Something!‘; that it is more productive to do something than nothing and if all you do is develop big-picture strategic plans but never actually take any action, you might as well not bother. Your plan might look great on paper but without action, you will never know if it will work. Anyway, things are extremely unlikely to play out exactly as you plan them!

Embrace (some) Granularity

Regular readers know that I like joined-up marketing; a planned process of linked and measurable actions leading to a goal.  This may be all very well in theory but real-world uncertainty ensures it is not how things work. Sometimes it can be good to do something where even though you can’t necessarily see how it fits as part of a joined-up marketing process, you can see how it can help in the context of your overall goals. Take the ultimate fundamental of marketing – communication and engagement with your target audience. You may have a plan which sets out your focus as building a prospect database via your website and social media and then developing awareness, relationships and business opportunities via email and direct contact. Then, all of a sudden, you meet someone who invites you to talk at a networking session. It isn’t part of your plan but (so long as the audience is your target audience) the talk can be a great opportunity to spread the word. The talk may be a one-off – a bit granular – but if the opportunity fits within the context of your plans, why not?

The value of content

Being asked to give a talk can be a great opportunity but it can also be very time consuming if you need to prepare your presentation from scratch – even to the point that you choose to decline. This can be the case with many one-off marketing opportunities; the time and effort you would need to prepare it just isn’t worth it. Such a shame! However, if you are regularly producing good quality content for your planned marketing – and we all are, aren’t we! It can be easy to take exisiting material and repurpose it.

A reliable content archive is immensely valuable

When you do stuff, stuff happens

I have been in business over 30 years and through all of that time, this has been my mantra! Too often, simply being out there and engaging with my customers and contacts has allowed opportunities to arise or problems to be solved in ways that it would’ve been impossible to plan for. Even if there is no obvious or reliable connection: When you do stuff, stuff happens. Let me finish with an example from the early days… Back in the close of the 1980’s when I was a newbie, things weren’t going quite as I planned. To be honest, I was struggling. I was naive, but I was passionate. I had a plan (of sorts) and we were doing what we could. At the heart of this was a real focus on doing a good job! Even so, we just weren’t getting enough work to cover costs – then it happened…. A client of ours had a meeting with an advisor from the fledgeling Manchester Training and Enterprise Council (remember them?) who happened to mention that they were looking to do some marketing, and our client happened to mention BSA. One thing led to another and the TEC awarded BSA a 6-week contract….which ran for 4 years! The rest (as they say), is history! Be out there, keep marketing, deliver value. When you do stuff, stuff happens!