OK, so obviously I don’t think marketing is a load of rubbish. But, I understand why so many people do. Especially small business owners, sales people, and our colleagues in finance. It’s because marketing people insist on speaking in their own language. Which is ironic, given that, as marketers, we are meant to be the masters of communication.
Imagine going into a meeting and saying something along the lines of… “We’ve nailed a really great concept, I’m totally loving the big idea, I reckon this campaign will go viral, generating excellent word-of-mouth amongst our advocates. I’m really looking forward to tracking the buzz metrics.”
Those of you who are up to your eyes in the latest “marketing thinking” day-in, day-out might think that sounds great but many more will roll your eyes in dismay.
But, what’s for sure is that most business people will have heard something like… “I’ve just spent a load of money with hand-waving creative types doing something that I think is fun, but that will generate little but hot air.”
The problem isn’t confined to marketing. It’s in any expert discipline or established community. Business disciplines, like IT, law, marketing, finance, operations and human resources all have their own jargon. It’s worth taking a moment to consider whether the people you’re talking to actually understand a word you’re saying. If not, think again. Find someone outside your area to give you some honest feedback — do your words sound like gobbledygook to them?
The message is — always consider the language your business is using because what you mean to say is not always what people hear. I’m not completely anti-jargon, but I do advise you to handle it with care.
Many small and medium-sized businesses struggle to maintain a consistent level of marketing activity because energies and resources are diverted to deliver work for paying customers. Indeed, many don’t see the point in spending precious budget, and even more precious time, when they have plenty of work on the go.
As a business owner myself I certainly recognise the dilemma and can understand why marketing can slip to the bottom of the to-do list at times. But, if you want to grow your business, you need to maintain your marketing momentum.
Marketing for growth means marketing consistently. Here are five reasons to maintain a steady level of marketing activity for your growing business.
1. Build a steady and predictable sales pipeline
When new business becomes a rollercoaster, it is exhausting. Many small businesses find themselves in “feast or famine” mode — consistent marketing can break this cycle. If you know that the buying process in your business takes six days, six weeks or six months, then you know that you need to be generating those initial enquiries six days, six weeks or six months before you actually do the work or deliver the product. Famine happens when you forget to do your prospecting because you’re too busy feasting.
2. It’s worth repeating yourself
You may have heard talk of changing the education system to reduce the long Summer breaks, because it has been shown that children forget what they’ve learned over the long holidays. The same is true of your market. If you haven’t said anything for a while, you’ll have to forgive people for not immediately recalling who you are and what you do. If, however, you have a programme of regular communications that continually keeps you front of mind, when you do pick up the phone or bump into a potential buyer at an event, you’re one step further on in the conversation because you’ve not had to introduce yourself from scratch.
3. Generate the right kind of work for your business
Yes, there is a right and a wrong kind of work for your business. The right kind is profitable, enjoyable and builds skills and credibility. The wrong kind simply takes up time and barely turns a profit. Being busy does not always equate to being profitable, or fulfilled. By continually presenting your business as the experts in the right kind of work, you’ll get more of it. But, if you all have your heads down simply fulfilling the wrong kind — when will you get a chance to tell people about what you’re really good at?
4. Maintain those marketing muscles
Marketing is made up of many different skills and techniques. If you only pick them up from time to time, you’re likely to need to re-learn what you once knew. What’s more, with digital marketing techniques moving on at a staggering pace, if you look away for more than a few weeks it is likely that some new technique will have passed you by. Regular, consistent marketing activities undertaken throughout your firm will embed the skills so that it becomes second nature. And, when that happens, it’s no longer a chore — it’s just a great habit.
5. If you generate enough demand, you can put your prices up
Scarcity builds demand. Take the recent strikes in France and the impact on the availability of fuel. If people had simply bought the same as usual, there would have been no shortage. But, the sense of shortage prompted them to stock-up. Now, I’m not advocating scaring people into buying your products, but you’d be amazed how much more people seem to want what you have (and are willing to pay) if it seems like it’s in high demand. Taking this on board, it makes sense to keep marketing even when you’re full to capacity.
I learned what irritates business people most a few weeks ago. It's jargon. In fact a few years ago I read that over 25 per cent of business executives admitted to using jargon they didn't understand in meetings.
No wonder, then, that when it comes to selling technological things, so many messages dissolve into a sort of linguistic swamp.
Here's a good example from an e-mail someone sent me:
At Blah-co we have just developed an email stationery online software package that allows one in house member of staff to deploy all email users with a professionally designed Email stationery template, designed by one of our team of designers to all users and to include their unique contact details, meaning not only will the presentation of their emails improve but equally as important all be consistent throughout your organisation. (whew!)
Because of the way the templates are constructed our solutions avoid all types filtering ensuring your mail always arrives.
Well, I think I understand the beginning and the end and recognise all the words but I'm damned if I know what they mean when put together.
Here's another series of examples extracted from mailings sent by another firm.
"Are you one of those lucky few who have bedded down IT operations?"
"Would you realise a significant increase in business agility, accelerated decision making, employees pursuing a common agenda and a heightened awareness of your strategy?"
"Miss or ignore priority system availability or leadership messages"
"Adopting a new change driver that communicates change and strategy in a high impact and engaging way"
"Intranets suffer the limitations of pull technology"
"A controlled feedback channel enables you to capture a snapshot of employee morale in real time"
"Cascade this down to your people"
They actually have something great to sell, so we tried to translate their stuff into English.
Every day, you send tens, hundreds, maybe thousands of e-mails to people who want or need to hear from you.
Maybe they're your colleagues, your customers, your employees or your prospects: many may actually have asked to hear from you.
Then what happens?
Your "wanted" messages get lost in a sea of Spam. So the poor recipients go through the infuriating task of fishing out what really interests them from all that rubbish.
A **** sends your messages on a different route. One that avoids the traffic jams. It's a desktop alert that jumps onto your screen no matter what you're doing. You can't ignore it; it appears whether you're onscreen or off.
And that's why firms as varied as Sky, Arsenal Football Club. Kelloggs and Warner Brothers use them.
Winston Churchill said, "Use simple words everyone knows, then everyone will understand."
This is important especially if you're selling a financial or technical product or service. Use a bit of jargon to reassure the anoraks, but put the rest in plain English.
Confucius said that if language is used incorrectly, what is said is not what is meant, everything goes to pot and "the people stand about in helpless confusion".
If you wish for a few text-book cases, consider the National Health Service or the police force.
On the other hand, if you actually relish a little chaos, you need the economy bullshit generator. Click here and give it a go. It will add a welcome touch of drivel to your meetings.
It was inevitable with a name like ours and the increasing popularity of franchises of a certain chain of donut makers that our website would take some hits from people searching ‘Marketing Donuts’.
I have an interesting tale to share with you all as to how one of these franchises has gone about announcing their arrival in Bristol and marketed their donut products.
Last month I watched the England versus Slovenia match in the centre of Bristol at the Football Fan Park facility. This is essentially a square in the centre of Bristol that has a giant screen and a fenced off arena where football fans can congregate to have their hopes and dreams of national sporting glory dashed once again.
During the second half of the encounter which saw us secure second place in our group and prolong the inevitable demise, there were people walking into the arena with boxes of sugar glazed ring donuts. The more people that came in with donuts, the more people left to seek confectionery
Outside the arena there was a van packed full of trays of donuts and a sizeable but orderly queue of people receiving a free box of donuts. By the time the final whistle had been blown, the crowd inside the arena raced to the exit to join what became a sickening display of greed. The scenes were reminiscent of an aid convey arriving in an earthquake ravaged town. (Responsibility for the welfare of the public on the part of the company was tossed in the air like the final few boxes of donuts as the polite queue fast became a scrum of over one hundred people.)
The cost of this exercise may have been sizeable for the company but the clever part has been the size of reach that they will have achieved. Hand out a single donut and you make one person happy. Hand out a box of twelve and you empower that one very happy person to do the leg work for you in sharing the product and news of the soon-to-be-open new store with others. Seeding the public with samples of donuts has raised awareness of the new addition to Bristol. Word of mouth never tasted so good.
How do you encourage word of mouth with your existing customers?
Drayton Bird is a renowned direct marketing teacher, speaker and author. Find out more about him on his profile.
Why I started the Donut
I’ve always found small businesses compelling – what makes them work and the challenge of going it alone are to me the most interesting questions in business. And after 19 years of running my company, BHP, I admire SMEs more than ever.
Running your own show is tremendous fun, especially if you know what you’re doing and can manage the 101 challenges that come your way every month. Which is where BHP content comes in.
We’ve been producing our expert how-to guides, sponsored by blue chips and government organisations, for nearly two decades. But, of course, as an entrepreneur, I wanted something new to do. In a (rare) idle moment online, I scouted about for a really good marketing website for small businesses. There wasn’t one.
So we decided to do it, launching on 20 April 2009. We built small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) their own site with everything they needed to make their marketing thrive. Founding partners Google and Royal Mail backed us all the way, as have our ever-growing list of sponsors such as Vodafone and Yell.
What we’ve achieved in a year
As well as Marketing Donut, we launched two more Donut websites to cover starting up and law. We’ve just announced that the fourth site to launch will be IT Donut, scheduled for the week commencing 23 August.
We use 300 top people to provide the expert advice on the Donuts, but, for me, the real experts are also the users. Before we started work, we asked people running small businesses what they wanted from a site. They told us they needed fast, practical and accurate answers to their questions. The Donuts give SME managers that, free. Tools, templates, checklists, the lot: plus the news their business needs to know.
All the Donuts report live on major small-business happenings - we were the first business advice site to break news of the rise in minimum wage on Budget Day. MyDonut, the e-newsletter, now goes out to tens of thousands of people a month – next year numbers should top 100,000. (This is in addition to the 300,000 subscribers to the SME newsletters that we publish for our clients. Life at BHP is one big deadline.)
Since the launch a year ago, the Donut sites have fast become a key player in the UK small-business scene. Our Twitter accounts have over 40,000 followers and our Twitter team picked up two national awards last year.
Local versions of marketingdonut.co.uk, startupdonut.co.uk and lawdonut.co.uk are syndicated to our partners, both nationally and in the regions. Thirty-five organisations already have their own Donut websites and more are coming on stream every month.
The Donut is a strong business model, because it is a win-win for everyone involved. Crucially, BHP had already invested several years building up the strategic relationships and the content before launching the first website. As with most successful SMEs, we always knew that the Donut project would not be a sprint to success, it would be a marathon.
2010-2011: what’s in it for you?
As we expand the core "answers to your questions" pages of the Donuts, we will continue to cover news and key topical issues for you. For instance, this month the Law Donut explains how to cope with recruitment and redundancy as the economy remains fragile, as well as what to do when all your staff want time off for June’s World Cup.
We’re currently building the IT Donut, which will be a comprehensive resource for demystifying IT, troubleshooting and trading online. It will become the first place any small business turns to when they have a tech problem that needs sorting fast. We're currently recruiting experts who will rid us all of pesky IT stress forever, I hope.
We’ll also be providing a local service for users, thanks to our partners. Law firms, chambers of commerce and enterprise agencies are all getting involved. This is really exciting, as it gives users the best of all worlds - a huge library of constantly updated advice from experts throughout the UK, combined with local content.
An SME owner's work is never done, so I'm signing off to tackle the above. Before I go - thanks to you, our users, and all our partners and experts, for a great year.