Marketing comms: A process, not event

Over recent weeks we have been talking about Business Philosophy,  a potentially esoteric subject yet, as with most things in business, philosophy only takes us so far. Clearly defining your Business Philosophy can be useful to help clarify what a business stands for and what you are trying to achieve but it stops short of setting out the practical steps of how you plan to achieve your goal.

Driving your Business Philosophy needs action. Navel-gazing isn’t enough!

Marketing communications is key to letting your prospects and markets know about your business. It is not something you do once, it is ongoing.

Getting your consistent marketing message out as widely as possible is a process, not an event,

The problem with a process is that someone needs to set it up and getting running in the first place. If you run your own business, that person is most likely you!

However, as is evident in the current pandemic situation, the default position for most people is to look for direction from others.

It is easy to sit back and pick holes in the decisions of others and explain, after the event, how they could have done it differently. Yet the simple fact is that, as a starting point, somebody has to decide to do something – and then make it happen!

If it is your business, and your marketing, you have to start the process.

There should be time for subsequent review and refinement. This is the process. But you must start somewhere!

In summary, developing any process has 5 steps:

  1. Know what you are trying to achieve
  2. Know where you are starting from
  3. Understand factors that can influence your process
  4. Plan and implement your process
  5. Stick at it!

Let’s take this summary and apply it to marcomms….

The Marketing Communications Process

    1. Know what you are trying to achieve – What do you want to communicate, to whom and what outcome are you hoping for?

      • Take time to clearly define and understand your business proposition – As we have discussed before, it is easy to skirt around this and launch straight into ‘doing something‘.
      • Action without a plan puts focus on being busy rather than focusing on achieving results – a risky approach.
      • If you truly understand your business proposition, it makes planning easier as you have a framework to apply.
      • Who do you want to communicate with?
    2. Know where you are starting from – What do you have to work with?

      • What resources (typically time and/or money) do you have available to invest in your process – be realistic!
      • Do you have knowledge/experience of previous marketing activity that you can learn from?
      • What do you want to say?
    3. Understand factors that can influence your process

      • Your Business Philosophy is a key element here. Your philosophy will constrain the options you have available. You should only do what is right for you and your business.
      • How does your target audience communicate?  Knowing your market will help define the most suitable communication channels.
      • Will your message engage, inform and resonate with your target audience?
      • Will people be motivated to act on your message to help you achieve your goal?
    4. Plan and implement your process

      • Select your communication channels and set out a plan for relevant messages over time – Build a content calendar
      • I recommend using your website as your core message platform then use 2 or 3 channels (email/social media etc.) to spread the word.
      • Don’t forget offline. In this digital world, mail, telephone and face to face can all be powerful options
      • Build messages that reflect your philosophy and goals that are designed to resonate with your target audience
      • Do it and stick at it
    5. Stick at it!

      • Objectively review and analyse progress, and refine the process as you proceed.
      • Be realistic.
      • Avoid knee-jerk reactions
      • Be ready to give your process time.

Finally, in a single sentence…

The right message through the right channels to the right audience, consistently = success!

Protect your Reputation

In this weeks podcast one of the things we talked about was the importance of reputation when sending emails. In this post I want to explore this a little more deeply. Looking at ways to maintain your reputation, and hence maximise the chances of your emails being delivered.

Why reputation matters

Whether or not your email ends up in the recipients in box is controlled by filters in the sending infrastructure. These use many technical and content factors to determine the likelihood that the email might be spam. One key  factor today is sender reputation. An assessment as to whether the server sending the email is likely to be sending spam or not, and more importantly whether the sender is genuinely who they say they are.  This assessment builds up a picture of the reputation of that sender, and the better the reputation, the more likely it is that your emails will be delivered.

Here I want to look at 3 factors that impact this reputation:

  1. IP Address
  2. SPF/DKIM Records
  3. Your reputation as a content creator

IP address reputation

Let’s take the easy one first. Sending server throughput – The question here is “Is it unusual to be getting high volume emails from this server?” If the answer is yes, it flags up the possibility that the server has been compromised, and is unknowingly sending spam or malicious emails. It is in fact this second group where rather than simply selling something, the purpose of the email is to either deliver a malicious payload, or trick the recipient into revealing personal data & passwords (Phishing emails). Stopping his latter type of mail is the main focus of filters these days, and thus knowing the email is from a legitimate source rather than a hacked computer is important. This is the number one reason that using a dedicated email marketing system like Mailchimp, or mailing manager (The system used by BSA) is important. These systems will regularly be sending not high volumes of emails, and thus filtering algorithms will not see this activity as suspicious, or evidence of a compromised computer.

OK, so you are using a proper server to send your marketing email, but not all mass marketing mail servers are the same. After all, a phisher or spammer could simply set up a server and regularly send large volumes, so that activity in itself is not suspicious.  For this reasons, filters will also look at the identity of the server via its IP address. And in our experience this is one of the key deliverability factors.

List Quality

For this reason, professional email marketing providers will continually monitor the activity from their servers, to protect their reputation, and will block anyone from sending if they believe them to be acting irresponsibly. One of the key metrics in this analysis is list quality. Their preferred list development process is through double opt in where people add themselves to the list and then confirm the address by clicking a link. There is no doubt that this is the best way to build a list, and in consumer markets should be the core of your strategy. However it is not realistic to expect all lists to be generated this way, especially in many B2B markets where many contacts will be sources through offline mechanisms like networking and exhibitions. In these circumstances where you are adding  contacts manually to an email database, accuracy is essential, as is ensuring that any invalid addresses are removed before importing. For this reason we would recommend screening lists before adding them to an emailing system . Something we routinely do using the tool.

SPF Testing

This one is a little more technical, but I include it for you geeks out there who like to get technical! SPF (Sender Policy Framework) is a system that uses a DNS record to authenticate mail servers to send mail for a given domain. An SPF pass tells the receiving email that the domain authorises the sending server to deliver mail mail on its behalf and thus is less likely to be spam. Increasingly big mail handlers like gmail, exchange and Office 365 use this test to help confirm whether an email is legitimate. Testing the SPF is fairly straight forward, but you will need 2 pieces of information (The address you are sending the mail from, and the IP address of the sending server). Once you have these, head along to an SPF testing tool and plug them in. If you get an SPF fail, you will need to speak to your email marketing provider to get this issue addressed, but doing so is usually pretty straight forward. If you would like to discuss how to improve the deliverability of your email campaigns please feel free to contact us, we are always happy to talk.

DKIM testing

Again, this is a technical tool for authenticating the validity of a message. When using DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail), a digital signature is attached to each email, that can be checked against a public key held as a DNS record. Checking this key will allow email system to confirm that the parts of the email (including attachments) have not been modified since the signature was affixed.

Thus SPF ensures that the sender is who they say they are. DKIM validates the message has not been changed. Passing both these tests, whilst not guaranteeing deliverability, it will make it less likely that the message will be blocked by spam filters en route.

Whilst I am not going technical detail here, setting both SPF and DKIM is fairly straight forward through addition of a couple of DNS records.

Your Reputation

The final factor I want to cover here is the human factor. One element that most spam filters include in their algorithms is human feedback. Most email clients now will allow users to manually flag mail spam or not spam as appropriate. When users take this action, it is fed back to mail providers like Microsoft and Google. This feedback is then fed into their decisions as to what is or isn’t spam. For this reason, ensuring that your recipients welcome your mail is key. Ensure that you deliver high quality, well targeted content to recipients who want to receive it, and you are on the right track.

Of all the elements covered in this post, this is the one that should be given most consideration. The SPF and DKIM are fit and forget. Once implemented they are there and you don’t need to worry about them too much. Making sure your emails are well targeted, relevant and interesting, should be at the heart of your marketing communications strategy. Doing this is the key to maintaining a good reputation. Thus minimising the likelihood that your mail will be blocked by filters.

Do Don’t Say

To run a sustainable business requires motivation. The best way to motivate yourself is to create a close connection between your life philosophy (what gets you up in the morning), and what you are trying to achieve from a business perspective. A topic that David explores in more depth this week.

In some cases, this is difficult to do directly, in which case your business motivation may be a “means to an end”.  Success in your business dealings allows you to further your wider life objectives. But the ideal is to ensure that your life objectives and your business objectives are aligned. It is this scenario that I would like to explore in this post.

The idea of marrying your philosophy for life with your business objectives is something we explored recently when we looked at Simon Sinek’sThe power of why“. Here he explores the idea that using the reason you do what you do as part of your marketing message can be very powerful.

Now, I want to dig deeper into this approach. How to build your philosophical ideas into your marketing, without preaching. The key is to use actions rather than just words to deliver your message.

The truth is…..?

It is said that the words “The truth is” are often followed by a statement that probably isn’t the whole truth.

In the same way, telling customers that your offering is:

  • Great Value
  • High Quality
  • The Best…

May not ring true. Clients should be able to see it for themselves in the product/service and their dealings with your organisation.

Your philosophy should be communicated by what you do, not what you say. In other words, you should be telling people how you can add value for them. Let them make up their own mind if you offer good value, quality etc.

When looking at brands in the past, I have always highlighted the importance of demonstrating your brand values in everything that you do, and in every interaction you have with clients, not just in your marketing communication.

This is just as true when considering your philosophy. Demonstrating your thinking and what drives you in everything you do and in every interaction you have with your market is a far more powerful way of communicating your values than trying to talk people into agreement. If you have to give chapter and verse, then that’s preaching and people will switch off. To be effective, your philosophy should be clear from your actions.

If your product is high quality, then everything you do, and all interactions with your market should be equally high quality. If your philosophy is to go the extra mile, to make sure you deliver for your clients, then this thinking should be central to all you do and say.

Nothing is new

This idea is not new. Back in the 12th century, Francis of Assisi is quoted as saying “Preach the Gospel, if necessary use words”. In fact, this is a paraphrase. His actual words were

“It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”

A sound approach when looking to communicate your philosophy and your brand. It is one that certainly worked for St Francis!

Your business philosophy? Do you live it?

Building and running a business is challenging and can be hard work, but it can also be very rewarding.

We all do things for a reason. Running a business is no different. Here are 3 questions:

  1. Why do you run your business?
  2. What is your business philosophy?
  3. Does your business philosophy connect with your customers?

Of course, a business philosophy should aim for personal success and fulfilment, and providing for you and your family. However, it is important to balance your own wishes with a desire to deliver real value to your customers and clients. Furthermore, getting this balance right can be the key to long-term success where everyone wins. Too much focus on either your own needs or those of your customers upsets the balance and the business risks failure.

An honest and well-balanced business philosophy can also be a great marketing asset.

What is your business philosophy?  Do you tell people?

My BSA philosophy

To explore this idea further, I think it is only fair to look at my own philosophy for BSA in terms of the 3 questions I pose above

1. Why do I run BSA?

To be honest, running BSA was unexpectedly thrust upon me back in 1986 following the sudden death of my father. I never took the decision to start a business. I literally woke up one day to find myself in charge!

The following few years were stressful I didn’t have a plan. I had a team to motivate and expenses to cover – not to mention a mortgage! In the end, I did the only thing I felt I could, I put my head down and got on with it! Although I was only too aware of the bills and wages that needed paying, my philosophy from the very start was that the best way to meet my own needs and obligations was to deliver the very best we could for our customers.

2. What is my business philosophy?

34 years later, we are still here so I guess we have been doing something right!

At its heart, my business philosophy is all about partnership.  In my experience, simply supplying a service to a client at arm’s length works well as a one-off but is less effective when we are trying to build a longer-term relationship. Our aim is to engage with our clients to deliver real benefit – to improve your business. We can only do this if we properly understand a client’s own philosophy and objectives.

I am proud that we have been working with most of our clients for many years. A client relationship can be based on no more than proactively and intelligently hosting a website. With other clients, we are actively developing and implementing ongoing marketing communication programmes, including exploring, developing and advising on new ideas and opportunities.

We bring together our own experience and skillset to work in partnership with the knowledge and capabilities of our client.  Getting the partnership right means the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. My business philosophy is focussed on getting the partnership right.

We want to really help our clients, both in planning AND implementation. It is important that we help to make things happen, all as part of a bigger picture to drive and improve your business.

It is not about turnover. If a partnership is right, it is right, however modest or great it may be.

3. Does the BSA business philosophy connect with our customers?

In short, I hope so!

We recently did some customer research and, while the results highlighted some novel and valuable opinions, the core response does fit with my philosophy. Our clients see BSA as experts who effectively integrate this knowledge with the expertise of our clients to work together to deliver a better outcome for us both.

However, this led to another consideration: do we tell our prospective customers about our philosophy? I’m afraid to say that when we took a critical eye to our core marketing message on our website – we came up short. We had fallen into the classic marketing trap of discussing features rather than benefits!

I am a fan of the saying that ‘Every Day is a Schoolday’. No matter how much you know, there is always the opportunity to learn

Needless to say, we took the opportunity to make some changes.

Hopefully, our philosophy is becoming more apparent.

So what is your business philosophy?

So, what is your business philosophy? Does it effectively drive your business?

Might a partnership with BSA bring something to your party?

Let’s chat and see…