A New Opportunity
This week, we are talking about the importance of having a practical and well-planned approach to marketing communication. Towards the end of last year, I had an interesting meeting with a potential new client. A meeting that set me thinking about the business planning process more widely. My visit was with the MD of an agency business. He has many years’ experience in his field and undoubtedly knows what he is talking about. Now, in most service sectors from accountancy and insurance to estate agencies and recruitment companies, businesses have evolved delivering custom software applications to help the agencies operate more efficiently. My visitor’s agency is no different but some time ago, he came to the conclusion that the software applications targeted at his field could be improved upon, both in terms of functionality and the commercial basis on which they were offered. He believes a different approach could deliver a significantly wider appeal across his sector. In short, he felt there is a great opportunity.
Okay, so the idea was in place. What to do? To illustrate the point, let me digress. Great Britain has a long established tradition of technical innovation. From the canals of the 18th Century which were so influential in driving the industrial revolution, through to Concorde and Graphene, British engineers have some great ideas. Technically they are as good as it gets, but there is a problem. Developing the idea is one thing, making it a commercial success is quite another. Numerous canals never made a profit and even today, the majority of the commercial rights to Graphene are held overseas. Back to my meeting. The first thing my contact did to explore his new opportunity was to switch his computer on and start work on his new and improved software application. He went straight to the innovation. Now, several months later, he has invested significant time and money in developing his product. Version 1 is nearly ready for launch so now, and only now, are thoughts turning to the commercial implications of his idea.
Don’t get me wrong, having a viable proposition (product/service) that works is essential so the investment in developing the application is completely necessary. My issue is that the software development has gone ahead in the context of a fairly subjective view of the opportunity. Things are the way they think they are! There has been no objective research. Furthermore, there are elements of the commercialisation of the new software that haven’t even been thought about – at least not seriously. Building a successful business is about being joined-up in your approach. One of the joys of running a small business and being an entrepreneur is that you can wake up with a new idea and do something about it straight away – but you need to do this with not only consideration of your idea, but also using your experience to put the idea in the context of your market. Clearly, you must have a proposition/offer that actually does what you say it does, i.e. you can deliver on your promise. Additionally, your proposition should sit in a joined-up framework. I believe the key elements of this joined-up planning include:
1. Real Value/Benefit
Does your new idea really deliver value to your potential customers? Here some research, even informally, can be invaluable. The important thing is not to assume that just because you think it is a good idea, that your target market will too.
2. Customer support
How easy is it for customers to realise the benefit you offer? With some products/services this isn’t much of an issue but in my case here with software, there is a risk of assuming that because you understand your application, your customers will too. They won’t! Certainly, good application design can go a long way in making a new piece of software intuitive to use but the provision of effective support to help new customers with the inevitable learning curve will be essential.
3. Commercial Opportunity
How big is your market? How much are you going to charge? What level of market penetration do you require to make your new business viable? Can you achieve this? An interesting example here is Concorde which was never a commercial success in isolation. However, as a Marketing Statement for both British Airways and Air France, it had real value in raising the profile of both businesses. An idea that is not commercially viable can be valuable if your wider business is big enough to both carry the cost and reap the benefit!
4. Marketing & Sales Communication
You are clear as to the value you deliver and you know and understand your target market. How do you plan to communicate the one to the other? Further, how do you plan to convert market engagement from your communication into profitable Sales Revenue? To ensure sustained business success there are other elements that become important but the above are key to an effective starting point.
A joined-up approach does not need to be overwhelmed by planning. Getting the focus-balance wrong is a great way to never actually getting anywhere! This said, all element need to be considered. One of the greatest skills of the successful entrepreneur is to intuitively know how to get the balance right – or at least right enough to be successful! Also, there isn’t just one way to a joined-up planning approach. It may not be as efficient to only start to think about the commercial opportunity once you know that you can deliver on your idea but you can do it this way. A big dose of practical realism is essential in any business! So, in conclusion, where do things sit from my meeting? It is certainly a great idea but I believe the path from here to commercial success is not so straightforward as the MD anticipates. It will require time and money, and the right team of people. If these can be found, I believe the future is bright. If you’d like to develop a joined-up planning approach for your business, do get in touch