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Recruiting for unicorns gets you donkeys in dress-ups (p2)

LESSONS FROM 20 YEARS IN MARKETING (THAT WILL HELP SME BUSINESSES!)



I almost didn’t write this second article. Why? Because in the first article, I’d promised 10 lessons, and when it came down to it, I've learned so much over the last 20 years -- things that have vastly changed my practice, approach and thinking -- that choosing only five more felt a bit impossible.


But staying on trend with the last article, I’ve selected five more of the lessons I've learned that offer the simplest takeaways – the simplest actions – that any business can apply themselves to improve your outcomes and build your own success.


So, let's get on with lesson six!


Erratic leaders are dangerous

A little truth-bomb I’m often too nervous to drop with clients (I admit it), is just because a person founded a business or led it during its early stages, doesn't mean they're still the right person to keep leading it successfully and effectively during this next stage of its life.


In fact, sometimes having that same leader or that same team in place, can be detrimental.


Some of the businesses I’ve seen grow most successfully are those that see this, move their founder back into the role they are truly most passionate about, and source a new leader who can objectively direct the next stage of growth.


There are so many different types of business leaders and founders — the creative ones, the strategic ones, the methodical ones — just to name a few, so this advice obviously doesn’t apply to everyone. But, from what I've seen over twenty years, leadership can make or break a business.


If a leader is not a strong decision maker, if they delay key decisions or actions, change their mind all the time, fail to deliver clear direction, fail to inspire, fail to listen, if they are too subjective, too tied to their original plan, ‘their baby’, the business tends to take two steps forward and ten backwards, often ending in a major fall, and loss of major dollars.


Leadership is crucial to success, sometimes the best thing you can do as a founder or owner, is step aside, re-find your specific area of passion and let someone else run the business.


Marketing changes fast — strategic thinking is a stayer

Don’t get me wrong, strategic thinking evolves based on what channels, tech, practices etc become available to us, but the basic principles of marketing strategy have remained the same for a really long time.


Why? Because they are about the audience, the people, and developing a robust understanding of them and their needs and motivations; the need for which, will never change!


I learned to develop strategy from incredible mentors (you know who you are!) more than two decades ago, and much of what I picked up then, I still successfully apply today, albeit, with new channels and tech.


I still investigate and segment audiences, analyse competitors and landscape, assess strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, explore influential environmental factors — and I use all of this to inform the unique approach I’ll take to building a brand and leads for a business.


As a small or medium business owner, gaining a solid grounding in marketing strategy will serve you for the long term, even as channels, fads, and new tactics come and go.


Value adding is so important

A white paper or a thought piece should not be a sales piece, or at least not directly. It should be a way of sharing information, insights, and creating authority and credibility for your brand.


Giant brands have been built on this principle.


Over the years, I've worked with clients who deeply understand the concept of value-adding and how it can translate into brand awareness, leads and sales.


I've also worked with clients who can’t see that, refuse to do it, or when they agree, turn whatever it is they’re creating, into a blatant sales piece, despite best intentions.


Businesses are like people, and our consumers – well, they really are people.


When people relate to each other, respect each other, help each other, they form beautiful, trusting and often loyal relationships.


For your business to be the kind of ‘person’ consumers want to build relationships with, it needs to be generous, smart, and share what it knows without seemingly expecting much in return.


It needs to value-add rather than sell, sell, sell ALL-THE-TIME!


Culture is king

As I was coming up in marketing, various tactics and channels have been called ‘king’, probably the longest word to hold that title is ‘content’.


When it comes to business though, I have to disagree — it’s not content that most drives our success, it's actually culture.


I've worked with businesses with poor cultures — leaders who instil only fear, people who undermine rather than support each other. I've also been fortunate to work with businesses that invest in a good culture — strong leaders, inclusivity, transparency and open comms, happy, driven people.


Guess who does better?


The ones with good culture!


Why?


Because it’s not just a line used by most big brands -- people really are our biggest assets -- and the more fulfilled they are, the more respected, the more they know what part they play and that they are truly appreciated, the more productive they are — the more they inherently and passionately want the business they work for, 'their' business, to succeed.


Invest in culture — the return will absolutely be worth it!

 

Walking the walk is critical

Regardless of their size, all companies make promises, position and project in a certain way, want to build a rep for being something specific.


I love that, it's a marketing 101 and it makes my job so much easier that they get that!


But, where some of them have gone wrong is in trying to be something they just aren’t; trying to promote a persona, a voice, a set of values that are not authentically reflected in their people and their culture, and therefore, aren't consistently achievable.


No matter how hard we try, it’s impossible to flawlessly and convincingly present as something we aren’t.


Customers see that.


They see when a health company says it cares about people but pushes addictive drugs at them (we all watched that doco right?); they see when a mental health company says it's invested in everyone’s wellbeing but unnecessary increases its pricing so only the rich can afford care; they see when a property agency positions as a pillar in the community but its agents act in unscrupulous ways.


In contrast, consumers also really see when you do walk the walk. When a charity spends funds well and the vulnerable benefit; when your brand commits to going green and independent audits confirm your efforts; when you claim to be an employer of choice and any employee stopped on the streets genuinely sings your praises.


Consumers see that authenticity, and they reward it with their trust, loyalty and purchases.


How we project and present as a brand needs to be something we can live up to. If what’s real is something we don’t want the public to see, it’s probably something that needs to be worked on inside, before being presented externally.


Bonus:

Marketing is just one piece of the puzzle

Honest confession again... For a long time, I’d come across a client or two that no matter how hard I worked, researched, optimised, I just couldn’t achieve for them all I wanted to achieve.


Don’t get me wrong, they still got good results, but I felt there was room for so much more.


Years later, I first partnered with a group that offered operational consulting — they worked to get systems, teams, people, leadership etc right, within a business, because without it, everything else just wasn’t performing to its full potential.


For me, this was a light bulb moment. I looked back on those clients of the past, and sure enough, poor systems had led to losses of leads or failure to capitalise on them properly; ill-equipped leadership and processes had delayed decisions that led to campaigns rolling out at times that weren’t optimal; simple things like a lack of clear integration between sales and marketing had affected conversions.


Getting ops right as a starting point, makes for better marketing and ROI. It makes for better sales, better customer support and experience, fewer complaints, easier account management and minimised financial errors.


Despite this, so often, it’s a last priority.

 

With this in mind, last year, I introduced a specialty ops consulting team to our network. Now every one of our clients can benefit from a solid business and operational foundation upon which we build marketing that has a greater chance of producing the returns we know are possible.


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My last twenty-something years in marketing have been a hell of a lot of fun. I've had the absolute pleasure of working with sensational people, generous people, genius people!


And while every successful campaign, happy client, grateful email or call has been really motivating and rewarding, my biggest reward has been the opportunity to learn from some amazingly open, clever and giving people from all walks of life, and I look forward to doing many more years of just that!

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