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The Single Biggest Marketing Problem


I had had some experience of marketing before I was making a living as a business consultant in London, but it was in London that the practicalities of marketing first struck me.

Amongst other things, I am a consultant in business and personal effectiveness with about 30 years’ experience in human resource and organisational management within small and medium-sized enterprises in the UK, Australia and the U.S.A. specialising in organisation design, staff development, training and counselling.

As far as marketing is concerned, I worked with a national intelligence broker in the City, where I succeeded in quadrupling company turnover within a year.

I worked with an internationally famous camera partnership in the West End where I helped to increase turnover from £20-30,000 a week to £150-200,000 a week. It’s now probably the most successful camera shop in the world.

I also worked with a musical equipment rental company in West London where I increased company turnover and profitability by 33% within a year. This company is now the largest of its kind in Europe.

I did some work with one of Northern Ireland’s largest chiropractic clinics, increasing throughput from an average of 200 patients per week to 500 patients per week.

This is the power of marketing.

Small to medium enterprises generate the jobs and therefore the income and trade which keeps any nation alive and functioning -but very few think they have the resources to get involved in 'marketing' and so most of them leave untapped some of their greatest strengths.

While I was working in this field, 8 out of every 10 small enterprises in the UK were going out of business within the first 3 years.

They had no grip on marketing. The truth is, they didn’t really know what it was.

What is the single biggest marketing problem faced by small businesses?

It sounds obvious, but the reason that most businesses fail is because they don’t expand.

They don’t expand because they don’t market themselves.

And they don’t market themselves because they don’t really understand what that means.

Mention marketing to many people and most will get the idea of expensive advertising, television campaigns, expensive consultants and 'big business'.

The dictionary definition is simple enough: Marketing is 'the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising'. Well, it sounds simple. But within this definition there are so many ideas that a remarkable number of people are put off entirely from doing much at all to market their own business’s products or services.

It’s all based on a misunderstanding.

What small business owners who want to do well and who consider marketing, usually do is:

1. They throw money and time at it.

They spend hours, if not days or weeks, putting together detailed advertising and promotional campaigns upon which they base a great deal of hope. If they are lucky enough to actually get the campaign accomplished, they breathe a sigh of relief, sit back and wait for the results, and then get caught up in other things, imagining that they have 'done marketing' and will soon enter into a new zone of operation.

Unfortunately, they’re wrong. They have succeeded only in scratching the surface. Within a year or so, if not less, their sales will have declined again even if the initial campaign was successful. They conclude that they 'have to do the whole thing again'.

2. They throw people at it.

If they can, the other thing that business owners often do is that they hire someone to 'do marketing' for them. They get in a company which claims to specialise in the subject and think that they are 'covered'. This sometimes has an effect because in doing so they accidentally hit upon some key marketing points - but more often than not they are still left with similar sales, and they haven’t really grasped marketing at all.

There is a successful approach to marketing, however. But it begins with something more basic.

Marketing is 'the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising'. 'Selling' as an idea is cluttered with many false concepts and practices; 'promoting' is likewise an area likely to contain many unworkable 'facts' and approaches.

Another definition of marketing which may help is:

Coming up with and packaging and moving a specific product or service into public hands.

It means to prepare and take to and place 'on the market'.

If it helps, picture a mediaeval market full of animals, bustling crowds, shouting sellers of wares, and open shop fronts.

It might also help to define business as the dictionary does: 'the practice of making one’s living by engaging in commerce.'

Commerce is further defined as 'the activity of buying and selling, especially on a large scale.'

If we put all this together and really look at it, therefore, marketing is business.

The two things are so indivisible as to be almost the same thing.

It would be fair to say, then, that when one goes into business one goes into marketing - in the same action. Marketing has since come to mean something a little more specialised and, in many people’s minds, something a little more mysterious. So many are backed off from it and think that it is a field all in itself.

It isn’t, really.

Any small businesses is, almost by definition, producing a product or set of products or a service or set of services. This involves coming up with the product or service, making it and then getting it into the public’s hands or in use for the public. About the only part of that which isn’t included in the definition of marketing given above is the 'making it'.

Most small businesses are still run by their owner or founder, and that person is usually still intimately involved with whatever it is that the company produces. He or she began the business, most probably, based on a love and passion for something, whether it was furniture design, cameras, sales or music, whatever it is the company does. The executive who starts a company normally begins with a vision based on a desire to create something.

The founder normally doesn’t want to let go. He or she wants to be on the shop floor, doing whatever it takes to get the products made. It is usually with great reluctance and difficulty that this person withdraws into an office to deal with things like administration, tax, legal affairs, public relations and so on.

One of these things envisioned as being done from the office is 'marketing'. It’s often viewed suspiciously -not what the business was designed to create.

Some marketing failures come about because of a confusion between marketing and directly selling to the customer. That’s a wrong concept.

Marketing includes all the actions from before the beginning of the production right through to its use by the customer and its word-of-mouth promotion by the public.

What should you do?

Your first step is you've got to have a product to market that will actually market.

And you have to carefully prepare that product so you can market it.

1. The Idea

From the first moment a product is thought of, much less made, marketing has to be in there with surveys to establish its design and use, and it carries on through at every stage to make sure that whatever it is will eventually sell and get good word- of-mouth promotion.

2. Attracting People

Advertising is part of it. To attract, you have to interest, and you can then get your message across.

3. Getting the Product Out

The part of marketing that is often overlooked is distribution planning. Without a plan to get the product distributed to key points where it will be sold and consumed, the marketing is incomplete.

4. Relating to the Public

The last step in marketing is public relations. You have to review your marketing program and your issues and your promotion and find out if they were actually put to use. Did anything ever arrive? Did things get printed? Were they actually sent out? And what was the response?

A completed marketing programme would always include a follow-up. The success of an existing marketing campaign or the success of the next one depends upon it.


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