How smart is your marketing? Do you follow the crowd or set your own standards? People are attracted to innovative leaders, not copycats. Besides, most companies throw thousands of dollars down the drain on ineffective advertising- can your budget afford such waste? Start your education today- follow these seven keys to increase your marketing IQ and outwit your competition.
Key 1: Find Your Advantage
The first step is to determine what your organization does better than the competition. All marketing focuses on communicating to customers the advantage of your product over the competition. To compete in the marketplace, you must find what your company or organization offers better than the competition. What unique competitive advantage do you offer? What are the distinctive competencies that separate you from the pack? What strengths do you have that can not be easily or quickly copied by the competition? You should perform a SWOT analysis to help you find your advantage.
When determining the competitive advantage of the company, I caution you to avoid basing it on a supposedly unique product.
It is very difficult to have a sustained competitive advantage based on a product in our modern technological age. In the past, a technological innovation on a product could give a company the advantage for decades since others were not able to copy the product easily. Today successful products can be, and often are, copied in a matter of weeks if not days. Many software applications are copied (though not necessarily legally) almost immediately. For these reasons, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to hold a competitive advantage based on technology or a technologically superior product. That is why there has been a shift to the intangible elements of customer service and other value-added components in the marketplace. Low price, by definition, is not a competitive advantage because it can be quickly and easily copied by the competition. Competing on low price is an invitation to a price war. Competitive advantages today are usually based on service, reputation and longevity.
Key 2: Define Your Purpose
Why are you in business? What are you trying to achieve? How will you measure your success? Answering these questions is vital to defining your purpose. To determine and evaluate the direction and goals of your organization, you must have a clearly defined mission. Once you have developed a clear purpose, make sure all levels of the organization are in alignment and going the same direction. The best way to do this is to involve the stakeholders in the development of the mission in the first place, rather than a few decision makers deciding what they think is best and handing it down to be followed.
Key 3: Create an Image
The purpose of advertising is to promote image and awareness. Before you can implement promotions (Key 4), you must create an image. An image is both a concept and a physical visual representation. To compete today, you must have the right look. It is not enough to have a good product; you must also be able to attract the attention of the audience. The look should enhance the image of the product while maintaining alignment with the mission (Key 2) and promoting the competitive advantages of the organization (Key 1).
The key elements of image are the logo, colors and style, and branding. The logo is the visual symbol of your product or organization- it should be pervasive in all of your communications. Imagine police officers wearing pink and rainbow stop signs- this sounds strange because every color has meaning. Make sure your business is using the right colors for the message you are conveying. These elements provide recognition of your brand- but a brand is more than looks. A brand is the promise you are making to your customers. Crest promises clean teeth and Tide clean clothes. You recognize the names and the colors- but a promise kept is what makes the brand. Your brand is your reputation for keeping promises and the greatest asset you own.
Key 4: Implement Promotions
Promotion is the nuts and bolts of the marketing process. The promotion element is what most consumers see and think of when you mention marketing. Promotion includes advertising, public relations, sales promotion, personal selling, direct marketing, and internet/interactive techniques.
Before spending money on promotion, make sure you have done the hard work in keys 1-3 to avoid wasted expense. Target your market and understand what will be the most effective use of your resources. Determine an effective pricing and distribution strategy based on your research.
Use as many appropriate promotional tools as possible and integrate them together into one cohesive and powerful communication device. Do this by maintaining a consistent look, feel and message. Link individual promotions together- print ads with a web address, web pages with in-store coupons- for a maximum and measurable response. Remember the goal of your promotions is to turn prospects into customers, and customers into long term relationships.
Key 5: Build Relationships
In today's competitive marketplace, the best way to insure your investment is to establish relationships with customers. By building and cultivating these connections, you establish a protected relationship. People will continue to do business with you because they know and trust you. Make yourself invaluable to your customers, and they will likely be yours for life. You will also gain valuable feedback on how to improve in the future.
Key 6: Gain Feedback
Gaining feedback is what tells you whether you are on the right path with your customers. You have already done the hard work of developing a roadmap for success in your marketing plan. Feedback will tell you whether you are on the right track or veering off course. Use surveys, response cards, the internet, phone calls, focus groups, market development groups, and feedback from salespeople to gain information, learn and improve your marketing efforts.
Key 7: Adjust to Changes
Companies must consistently assess their position in the marketplace and make necessary adjustments to remain competitive. After gaining feedback, businesses must revisit, reevaluate and revise their competitive advantage, mission, goals, alignment, promotions, and relationships with customers. In other words go back to Key 1 and start over.