Three questions to help you get your marketing priorities right, from Grant Leboff

Three questions to help you get your marketing priorities right, from Grant Leboff

To gain entry into the City of Troy the Greeks constructed a hollowed-out horse. They then pretended to sail away. Persuaded that the horse was a victory trophy, an offering to Athena, the goddess of war, the Trojans brought the horse into the City. That night Greek soldiers emerged from the horse, opened the City gates to the returning Greek army and Troy was defeated.

Of course, the story of the horse captures the imagination. It was a brilliant tactic that delivered the desired result; defeat of Troy. However, what is not written about is the strategic thinking that led to this tactic. Having besieged Troy for ten years, the Greeks decided on a different strategy. The only way to defeat Troy was from inside the City not from the outside. Once this new strategic direction was decided upon, a tactic could be devised to execute the strategy.

When people think about marketing, they immediately consider communication tactics such as: What shall we post on social media? How should our website look? Is it worth sending out a direct mail offer? It is all too easy to put success down to a brilliant advert, social media post or video. As with the horse, a good execution of strategy can capture the imagination.

Weak strategic thinking is often the cause of failure

Ultimately though, tactics should be the actions that are taken to execute the strategy. All too often this is not the case. Tactics are employed randomly on the hunch that a particular idea just might work.

Marketing fails less because the tactical execution isn’t good, and more because there is an absence of robust strategic thinking.

The marketing priorities for any business should be to ensure that it has a solid marketing strategy. While how to put together an entire strategy is beyond the scope of this article, there are three key questions that every business has to be able to answer to ensure that its strategic thinking is clear.

  1. What are the problems that we solve for our customers?
  2. Who is my audience?
  3. What is the emotional deliverable of my offer?

Thinking in terms of problems that customers have, facilitates a business to think in terms of ‘buying motivations’ of a customer.

For example, while a top-class restaurant may offer the benefits of a delightful culinary experience and exquisite food in a wonderful atmosphere; the problems that it solves will be issues such as, ‘how do I express to someone that they are important to me and/or loved?’, ‘how do I mark a special occasion?’ and ‘how can I create lasting memories?’.

The benefits, of course, are answers to these challenges, but thinking in this way makes it more likely that a company’s communications will resonate with its market. A lot of marketing fails because people do not answer this question properly.

For example, our top-class restaurant is expensive. So, firstly, it decides that it is only going to target top earners. There is also a limit to how far people will travel to go out to eat. Therefore, it might decide to keep its communications to within a 50-mile radius of its premises. In many situations a business will stop defining its audience at this juncture.

What it has done thus far is delineated who could utilise its offering. What we now have is a restaurant promoting itself to wealthy individuals, within a defined geographical location with an offer of great food and wonderful ambience. Targeting in this way makes it difficult to stand out from any other high-class establishment.

The smallest viable market

What organisations need to ask is who is my smallest viable market? In other words, on a sensible market share (which might be as little as 1 or 2%) how small can we go to ensure we hit the commercial targets that we have? So, a restaurant within a major urban area in the UK, such as Greater Manchester or the West Midlands, might have a general population of close to 3 million within its target radius.

Therefore, it is still likely to have a large enough audience if it targets wealthy individuals within a business context, couples on a romantic night out or positions itself as the perfect birthday venue.

If it concentrated on business it might offer screens on every table for presentations, charging points for laptops, tablets and phones, excellent WIFI and it may be designed so that conversations can be private and not overheard. If the audience is couples on a romantic night, it may offer complimentary flowers, pre-ordering of exclusive drinks, have a focus on dishes to be shared and the option of a violinist playing a tune for that special someone. A restaurant specialising in birthdays may create a menu of tunes and singers to serenade the person with ‘happy birthday’, have a list of special cakes and deserts with sparklers and other options for marking the birthday and have secret gifts for the person celebrating.

This focus on a smaller (but viable) market will make the offer better defined, enable the establishment to be more distinctive and, ultimately, provides a greater chance of the outlet being successful.

Smallest viable markets can always evolve as businesses do. For example, Amazon started only selling books, expanded to CDs and today offers almost every product imaginable.

Systems of thinking

People have two systems of thinking – system 1 and system 2. System 1 is the subconscious mind, while system 2 is the conscious mind. System 1 is overwhelmingly responsible for the decisions we make leading to the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s statement, in his book The Righteous Mind, ‘the rational mind thinks it is the oval office when really it is the press office’.

We don’t value things, we value their meaning. Is it the restaurant or the way it makes us feel that is special? Is it the accountant or the reassurance that they provide that keeps us a loyal customer? Is it the expensive cufflinks left by a grandfather or the memories they evoke?

The failure of a business to understand the emotional deliverable of its product or service will result in its communications being far less powerful than they would otherwise be if it understood its emotional proposition to its audience.

In his famous book, ‘The Art of War’ the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu wrote, ‘tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat’. Fundamentally, marketing is a strategic discipline. Answering the questions above will certainly assist in ensuring that your marketing strategy is as effective as possible.