Getting Back to Basics
I am constantly bemused by the number of clients who tell me that their competitive edge is that they are very honest and very good at what they do. The next obvious question, then, is how many of their competitors say they are not very honest and not very good at what they do?
We’ve all gotten so wrapped up in what we perceive to be our strengths, what we “know” the market wants, what we assume is the reason customers buy from us (or should buy from us), that we are in danger of losing the forest for the trees. We spend our time devising strategies, chasing the newer means of reaching out to customers and prospects with the ever-increasing mechanisms of social media, and accumulating new (or newly named) responsibilities (such as customer engagement), and so on.
But we rarely, if ever, take the time to stand back and assess where we really are, in the real-world, as the marketplace sees us.
Corporate planners are taught to do a SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats – before planning. Although I am told that the term is passé, the concept is not. And we need to make it a central part of our marketing efforts and routine, before the strategy development, before the tactical implementation, before venturing into new methods of communicating and measuring the effectiveness of our communications.
Marketing departments in larger companies have planning cycles. In smaller companies, the routines are not as formalized, and planning has a tendency to be more iterative. Generally, however, for both, this largely involves assessing resource allocation, new initiatives, cut-backs, etc. This planning almost never involves a “ground zero” approach, an approach of examining not merely the strategy and tactics employed but how marketplace changes may have changed the company’s strengths, opportunities, weaknesses, and threats at the most basic level.
And this needs to be done, on a regular basis, before time and resources are committed to a strategy, an approach, new tactics, or new mechanisms. Important questions need to be asked; and too often the most basic questions are not asked.
We all know them: What are our strengths? Are the strengths recognized in the marketplace? Do our competitors have the same strengths? What are their strengths? And so on. How has the marketplace changed? Where are there new opportunities? Are our products/services adversely affected by emerging trends? How are our competitors reacting to the changing marketplace? Etc.
So I am not suggesting we don’t know how to approach the marketplace or that we don’t know what we need to know. I am, rather, suggesting two things:
1. We need to set aside some time, on a regular basis, to systematically put all these questions and the answers together, measure our answers by the real-world marketplace, and only then plan, creating the strategy and implementation tactics.
2. We need to test our assumptions – every time – against what is happening in the real-world, on the ground, where the customers live and where our revenues come from.
With everything on Marketing’s plate today, there is an urgency about the press of daily business that carries with it a very real danger of losing sight of the basics. Marketing is both an art and a science; but at its core, it is a data-driven function. If we lose sight of the need to regularly and systematically examine what we think our enterprise is (warts and all), examine all that we do, and all the resources we expend, in light of the living marketplace – not just our assumptions about it and our customers, we risk losing all that we are working so hard to achieve: increasing revenues and market share.
Practical Marketing Rule # 1: If you don’t really know where you are, it is much more difficult to get where you want to be.