Many export businesses make the mistake of focusing their business plans and efforts on creating the “best” product or service they can in the hope that the offering will then “sell itself”.
Unfortunately, this is seldom true. So what should companies do?
The short answer is to make sure that marketing is just as important an element in your business plan as your production, logistics, financial management, sales and client service elements.
The long answer is a bit more complicated. If you read the text books on this, they indicate 4 – 10% of your sales turnover should be allocated to your marketing efforts.
And in this context marketing is about lead generation, it’s about attracting new customers to your business and keeping existing customers engaged and hopefully buying more or just more expensive options.
But if you, like most Australia exporters, are actually a small to medium sized enterprise this sort of blanket percentage allocation can be almost meaningless. Especially if you are operating in more “expensive” markets such as the US, Europe or Japan.
Far better therefore to focus on:
a) market segmentation – who are your most probably customers, where they are located, how and what else do they currently buy, who are they influenced by and what “need” are you fulfilling
b) a well-rounded program – small businesses don’t have the luxury of putting all their eggs in one basket, you need to think creatively about the many different marketing options that exist.
c) a well-paced program – the aim is to try to deliver your message to your target customer segment as many times as possible given your budget. Using a variety of marketing channels, including many that are low-cost or free, to frequently promote yourself is usually far more effective than doing one or two big, expensive marketing pushes.
d) a measurable program – not everything can be quantified of course, but you need to ensure you maximise the chances of knowing which techniques in your marketing mix are delivering results. So where you can, try to build in some “tracking” capabilities – even if it’s just to set up your Google analytics or to ask each new customer how they heard about you.
Of course, all of the above is easier said than done. But if you want to understand and grow your customer base over time, it does need to be done. Thankfully with low cost telecommunications and the advent of the internet, it doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive. And once you understand your target segment, you can better target your marketing to reflect their needs, values, behaviours and locations.
There is also a plethora of marketing options available to businesses these days. These can include more traditional techniques; radio, TV or print advertising, trade fairs, direct mail, word-of-mouth, discount coupons or price promotions, marketing collateral, public speaking, public relations and even websites, which are now considered “old’ marketing tools
As well as more modern techniques;- guerrilla marketing, viral campaigns, “green” or CSR marketing, social media (Twitter, Facebook, blogs), mobile campaigns, celebrity endorsements, nano-campaigns and the list goes on and on.
The reality is that whether you are a corporate behemoth or a start-up like the three Sydney-based friends behind online shoe designer “Shoes of Prey” – you need to integrate both traditional and modern techniques into your marketing plan.
Australian and USA Media Marketing company DMG agrees. “While much of the buzz is around social media and online, in reality powerful marketing requires an integrated content re-sharing approach leveraging all sources including print, TV, radio, podcasts, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, video and more,” says CEO of Media Marketing company DMG Susan Fitzpatrick-Napier.
“For companies on a tight budget we advise that the best thing they can do is to develop quality, authentic content either via the media or create it themselves – and then use it everywhere to influence people who matter to the company.”
“At DMG we believe the website is central to all company marketing. Everything should be bringing traffic back to the site, with different areas designed for certain audiences, but the site is the destination, the target.”
And it’s not just about stretching your dollar further. Many people first looking at using marketing techniques like social media often think its ideal because it can be great low cost, high-reach option.
But exporters need to be careful not to consider social media, or any marketing technique, in this rather two-dimensional way.
As an article in CCNMoney noted: “in a world where unhappy customers can trash you globally in the time it takes to dash off a nasty blog…, it’s becoming much harder to manage reputation…”
Therefore exporters need to understand the pros and cons of all the techniques they use and try to manage the negative risks.
A classic example of this is the “celebrity” placement.
In November last year, the UK papers announced gleefully that “less than 24 hours after the royal engagement was announced, the sapphire-blue Issa dress that Kate Middleton wore had sold out in London.”
This is great celebrity endorsement, sales generation and PR if the supplier can quickly scale up to fulfill the sudden spike in orders. But it could be catastrophic if there are lots of frustrated and angry customers unable to buy the product.
Other potential concerns relate to what I call the 3 C’s of brand and celebrity association – credibility, compatibility and consistency. If the celebrity using your product or service has a reputation in-congruent with your company’s, the potential damage to your brand and sales is likely to be significant.
But if the 3C’s are aligned – it can be pure gold.
A recent example of this from our own back yard would be Camilla Franks, aka the Kaftan Queen. She must have danced for joy when Oprah was photographed in front of the Sydney Opera House wearing one of her Kaftan creations. That shot has turned up all over the internet, international publications and even in “serious” papers like the New York Times – and it’s hard to think of a down-side in terms of the 3 C’s.
But the real trick for all businesses who are able to orchestrate or accidentally gain a relevant celebrity “endorsement” is to re-use the materials. Stories and photos should be on the company’s website, mentioned in blogs, featured in on-line press kits and anywhere else their target customers might read about it.
Critically, they can also be used when trying to land new accounts.
So the true power isn’t in simply exploiting the moment, but in using and re-using it to drive existing and future customer engagement and sales growth.
Jo Lapidge’s story about how she used her exposure on the David Letterman Show to land a big new account is a great example of re-using these opportunities not just for lead generation but for large contract negotiations.
“As I stepped of the plane in JFK enroute to a big presentation with a huge distributor for the east coast, my mobile rang & it was our PR company screaming “oh my god, oh my god – guess what – Litter Kwitter was just been aired on David Letterman”!!!
The segment itself was valued at a media equivalency of around $60 000 according to Jo and reached an estimated 3.5million viewers. But even more rewarding, was what Jo then did with that segment.
“I quickly purchased the segment” says Jo. The cost was minimal and she managed to add it into the presentation she was to deliver later that same day to the potential new East Coast buyer.
“The buyer was most impressed & placed an order immediately, only to double it again by the time I had returned to LA two days later. We’ve maintained this brief in three export markets, with a little tweaking here & there. A quirky vision never fails to capture the media’s attention. Then I get to use it at the business end with our serious message about our product & close the sale.”