Last year we conducted a survey of professional services firms, to find out about their experiences of effective, and ineffective, marketing. Marketing has long been an area where businesses struggle to understand the real impact of their activities, and spend. We wanted to know what makes a difference to that. As a result we have developed a whitepaper that we offer at our website at no charge to help professional firms get the best value from their marketing spend.
The survey explored a range of areas including planning, targeting, use of expertise, types of activity and opinions of effectiveness. The results were interesting – predictable in some areas and not in others. It was no surprise to find that overall, respondents considered paid media (newspapers, radio, television) advertising to be least effective. Perhaps more surprising was that the number was twice that of the next ‘least effective’ category – being tradeshows.
On the other hand, the overwhelmingly most effective method of advertising was considered to be ‘word-of-mouth’.
The survey explored marketing as a whole though, and not just the advertising aspect. We explored whether respondents had a strategic plan that directed their marketing effort, and whether or not they used marketing expertise. In most cases those with a plan also used marketing expertise, although the data was not able to tell us whether they had a plan because of a marketing presence in the firm, or whether the developing of the plan had resulted in recognition and acquisition of marketing skills.
Nonetheless, there were three key differences in those firms that had a strategic plan in place. They were:
- Twice as many respondents who had a strategic plan reported that inviting prospective clients to events, lunch etc was cost-effective, as compared to the respondents overall.
- Three times as many respondents from firms with a strategic plan reported that providing informative copy, press releases or articles for mainstream media was cost-effective compared to the respondents overall.
- Those with a strategic plan had a larger quantity of effective methods than those without.
Most activities are more likely to be effective where they are well-targeted, whether that’s marketing, investment, human resources or production. Logically, it must be easier to achieve with a clear plan.
As a result of this survey we have produced a white paper titled ‘Find More Clients With Less Effort, and Get Better Value from Your Marketing Budget’. This whitepaper is available at no cost from our website – http://www.strategies-direct.com. It sets out how to target your marketing activity with a clear strategy, so that your firm can be sure you are gaining new clients from your marketing spend. The whitepaper is available now for a limited time.
Some weeks pass fairly routinely. Some weeks are full of LEARNING. Learning can be painful. Literally. Last week was a week of learning for me. Here’s what I learnt –
On Monday I learnt that just because I’m up early and wanting to start my week productively, it does not automatically follow that the tween off-spring are similarly motivated. I also learnt that I probably do too much for them!
On Tuesday I re-learned the value of spending time with like-minded colleagues. I travelled between Hamilton and Auckland with Richard Francis from Bruntwood Consulting, a colleague I often conduct strategic thinking and planning seminars with. Great to expand ideas, and share concepts with someone on the same page!
On Wednesday I learnt how good it feels to achieve goals even if they are past your desired deadlines. I finally finished a project that has gone on for months longer than I had wanted it to. I also reached one of my personal 2013 goals- finally!
Thursday was a day of massive learning. On Thursday I learnt several things in the space of about 1 – 2 seconds. Firstly, I learnt that steam burns – really burns. Secondly I learnt not to reach over the top of a boiling kettle even if you are about to drop the lid of a canister. Thirdly I learnt that all the cold water in the world won’t stop blistered skin from hurting. And over the next few days I learnt how to dress and change bandages on burnt skin. Youch! Won’t do that again.
On Thursday I also remembered the value of networking and how business people are great company, when I attended the Waikato Networking Group monthly café meeting (that was before I burnt myself). I learnt at that meeting about two local businesses that will really help me and some of my clients. I hope some others learnt a bit more about what I do.
On Friday I re-learnt how important it is to have adaptable presentation styles when I spoke in quick succession to a group of blue collar workers, some of whom are illiterate, and then a group of professionals. Same topic, very different ways of communicating required. I also learnt that when you have a painful injury, kids, mortgages and a business to run, Valentine’s Day can pass you by. Luckily I also re-learnt how romantic my hubby is – a lovely red rose and ‘marriage joke book’. I particularly like the joke that ‘A married woman spends most of her time dealing with problems she wouldn’t have had if she wasn’t married.’ I’m sure that wasn’t his favourite!
On Saturday, I learnt again that being in business is not a Monday – Friday 9 – 5 job. I also remembered how fortunate I am to be in a business where I can really help other businesses, and have the personal flexibility of working times that I enjoy!
On Sunday I remembered what a beautiful country New Zealand is when I arrived in Taupo to work for the next three days. The Lake looked gorgeous in the fading sun with three swans catching supper, right outside my hotel window.
Have a good week and hope you learn something!
Find out more about Jenni at http://www.strategies-direct.com
That’s discrete, not discreet. Of course you should be discreet, when the situation requires. But I regularly see business owners and professionals being discrete, and therefore failing to think strategically or creatively.
What do I mean by that? I mean absorbing a piece of information as a discrete issue, and not seeing linkages, risks and opportunities for themselves, their clients (communities, etc etc) that might be related to it. For instance, one of my clients belonged to a national professional association that changed its name to a more modern version of the old one. My client had close competitors in their city, and upon discovering this name change, we organized for them to register the same name but with their city name in front. One of their competitors had the largest market share, and some months later announced to its customers that it was changing its name to the name my client had registered. Of course, they were unable to do that, and when they were ready, my client began using the new name, gaining the prestige of the national linkage and building market share.
We did not see the information about the national name change as a discrete issue. We predicted the likely trend from that information, understood it was an opportunity and acted, stealing the march on the dominant industry player. Had we seen the information discretely, we would have simply voiced our view of how the new name sounded and left it at that, until we noticed others around the country changing their names as well. Like my client’s competitor, that may have been too late.
Whenever I am absorbing information – whether it is news or other’s opinions, whether from print media, tv or online – I am asking myself how this might link to or impact on my business, or those of my clients. Sometimes it doesn’t, in any significant way. Often it might do, and then I explore those ideas further.
Strategic and creative thinkers see opportunities everywhere. Anyone can learn to do that, simply by asking a few questions of yourself about where, when and how that information might impact on your business or industry. Don’t be discrete in your thinking. Find the connection!
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There’s a new Wendy’s opened not too far from where I live. I suppose eventually we’ll check it out. What made me think of it was that last night we drove past and there weren’t that many people in there. Hardly surprising, given the huge number of fast food outlets in the area. Which brings me to my point in writing this – is it such a good strategy, all the fast food outlets congregating in the same area of a city?
There’s an obvious benefit to doing so. Customers get to know where to head to find food. Once there, they pick from the selection. If the other outlets are in one area, and your outlet is not there, you won’t be selected. A bit like Lotto – you can’t win if you don’t have a ticket, but it’s a game of chance. Maybe the customer will pick you today, and maybe they won’t.
On the other hand, if your fast food outlet is in a different area, and the only one there, the majority of customers in that vicinity are probably going to pick you, rather than travel further. As long as they know you are there. And if they are anything like my family, everyone wants something different, so going to a ‘cluster’ works well for take out, even if we have to travel a bit further.
Using a unique location seems to work well for ‘destination’ businesses, where customers seek out the unique products or services – examples include children’s specialty stores, wedding outlets, ‘hobby’ related stores eg art supplies, dance/music stores,specific sports specialty stores and so on. If your customers or clients are specifically seeking you out, then you might be based anywhere reasonably accessible, and in some cases, issues like free parking can be more important than location.
Locating close to competitors seems to work well where customers are likely to see you as similar to others, and choose the specifics once they get to the location, or are likely to choose while at a location eg shopping malls. This is likely to apply to food outlets including fast food, cafes etc, general clothing stores, stationery store, and so on.
Professional services firms tend to ‘cluster’ around a CBD area in cities and towns. This gives them a physical presence with signage in the area where many other businesses are located. There is also an aura of prestige and success associated with inhabiting expensive inner city real estate! Would you be any worse off locating your professional services in the suburbs? That might depend on the segment of the market you are targeting, where they are located, and how far some would have to travel. Some boutique firms do locate in the suburbs and they can provide at-the-door free parking for clients and staff, and reduce overheads through cheaper rents.
So what about your on-line presence? In essence, the same principle is likely to apply. If your customers are likely to choose between you and your competitors by comparing benefits, you probably need to be where they are. Take hotels for instance, that list on sites like Hotel Club, Trip Advisor, Expedia and so on. Professional services firms often list under their categories on Green Frog, Yellow Pages and other on-line directories. It’s again like Lotto, you can’t get picked if you are not there. However, some boutique hotels do very well without listing on such sites. Some professional services firms rely on promotion that is targeted to their client base rather than general directories. These firms aim to be known within their market segment, and promote in other places that their more specific customer base are likely to see. So where you serve a niche market or specific market segment, it might be more effective to target that segment differently to most of your competitors.
School holidays are nearly over and I’m looking forward to focusing on my clients and future clients. My goal this year is to help as many people as possible to see the possibilities – ie think strategically!
Without the motivation and ability to think about opportunities, risks and possible consequences of elements outside our own control, it is impossible to prepare your business (or career) adequately for the future. Experience tells me that many people process information as discrete data, unrelated to other information. I sometimes wonder if this is because of the way we chunk topics through school and university – learning about each in its own silo and not necessarily thinking about how that topic is part of a whole, influencing and being influenced by all the other topics being studied in other departments. This discrete way of viewing information inhibits managers and professionals from engaging in systems and strategic thinking, needed for preparing and planning ahead.
I have some favorite methods of increasing your capacity to think more strategically. Here’s three of them:
- When you read or hear news items, ask yourself how this could impact on you or your business, on your suppliers and on your clients. Think through 2 – 3 levels of impact. For instance, in my daily today, there was an article about how my city’s river might have to supply water to a larger city. I wondered how it will affect manufacturing, farming and other local businesses dependent on water supply (my level 1 thinking). And if they are affected, how might that flow on to my clients (service firms) – my level 2. Level 3 would be the impact on my business. I also wondered what benefits my city might gain from this – what would we want in return? I thought about how that would affect everyone here in our typical ‘drought’ months, when we already have restricted water use. These are just some of the many aspects that I could relate to this topic. But you get the idea.
- Deliberately access a wide variety of information. Read about topics unrelated to your normal reading. Ask yourself how you can use the ideas in the articles in your own business, and how trends in these other areas could affect you or your clients. It’s easy to access a wide variety of topics on-line, and off-line the magazines in cafes, doctors and dentists waiting rooms are good ways to extend your exposure to new ideas.
- Mix and mingle with professionals and specialists in areas other than your own. A scary idea, I know, but you’ll be amazed at their different world view, and also their predictions for the near future. Just as you know lots about your area or industry, they know what’s happening in theirs. And what happens in one place, sooner or later impacts in others.
In business, thinking about a range of scenarios and preparing for new risks and opportunities always beats out being forced to respond with no forewarning or preparation. You can’t predict everything, but you can be regularly thinking about possible impacts and be ready to respond to change, whatever that change may turn out to be.
While ‘beliebers’ fret over the fate of their idol, the rest of us have more strategic matters to consider as we head to the last week of the first month of 2014. Things like:
- It’s election year (in New Zealand). How active is your business in relevant associations that could influence legislation? And should you be, or not? (This actually applies even if it’s not election year where you are).
- How do you think the economy is going to trend this year in countries that impact your business? Here in New Zealand commentators are saying we have a ‘Rockstar’ economy, but what does that mean for you? And why is unemployment remaining high, with more layoffs still occurring? How could that affect you if you need to recruit?
- Now that the holidays are pretty much over, have you clarified your goals for this year, or have you fallen into the New Year resolution trap, and already lost your way on your key priorities? (It’s not too late – get to and set them now, with actionable steps).
- What are your clients’ priorities this year? Do you know? How can you help them achieve their goals?
Finally, are we having fun yet??? If you’re not loving your business or career, and we are only in January, it’s time to review. Make 2014 the year you can’t wait to get out of bed in the morning and keep making a difference!
Jenni Murphy-Scanlon is the owner of Strategies Direct, and loves helping her clients find fame, fortune and future-fit in their chosen markets. She offers you a free report ‘How to think strategically’ at http://www.strategies-direct.com
If you could produce items you currently use on site, right when you needed them, how would that improve your efficiency and customer service? And if your clients could do the same, how would that affect the services you provide to them? This is the looming reality of 3D printers.
If you haven’t yet got your head around 3D printers, it’s time you did. While they are not affordable for most businesses, yet, it’s only a matter of time. And once the market for them picks up, there will be a raft of adaptations and improvements that widen their use. So while some might ‘print’ (but manufacture is perhaps a more accurate term) in plastic, others might do so in metal, and yet others in polystyrene and so forth. The idea is that when, for instance, you go to get your car serviced, rather than wait overnight for the relevant part, your mechanic will ‘print’ it to order on site. Apply this to any scenario where you need a reasonably common item. Logically then, businesses, and the relevant people within them, who currently serve a purpose in the process of manufacture, ordering and transporting – are required much less (the end user will still need material supplies for the printer). It’s the ultimate ‘just-in-time’ process!
And while this sounds amazingly efficient and customer-centric, the bad news for SMEs is that this may be yet another investment many are forced to make to compete. And the cost of maintenance and replacement is likely to sit with the end-user business, where at present, manufacturing businesses spread that cost across a larger number of items and customers.
Like other impacts that your business has little control over, the advent of 3D printers is not so much a question of ‘if’, but rather of ‘how are preparing for that?’
Jenni works in the services and professional sectors helping clients develop unique and workable strategies that ensure they are ‘famous and future-fit’ in their chosen markets. You can access free resources at her website http://www.strategies-direct.com