It’s the planning time of year. Which, for me, means RFPs and lots of conversations with organizations and businesses attempting to change. Some people have their ducks in a row: they know who they are and where they’re going and have a strategy in place to get there. Others are looking for a solution from me that I can’t provide.
Some businesses think marketing is the fix for all their problems, but many issues go far deeper. A lot of companies combine business consulting and marketing, but the process always starts with consulting. And no consultant worth their salt would throw a marketing Band-Aid at a problem that marketing can’t fix. Here are five examples:
- Wishy-washy competitive advantage. Wishy-washy language frequently comes from new businesses, my pie in the sky-ers and those who’ve been around for a long time but haven’t taken an honest look at what’s kept them going. They tell me, “we’re just better.” Unfortunately, that’s not actually an advantage — it’s the outcome of an advantage. If you haven’t dug deep enough to discover what makes you better, how can you expect a marketer to represent you? Jaime Friedrichs, director of the Missouri Women’s Business Center, says: “Your business is not about what you want to do. It’s about solving your customer’s needs. Work to reframe your business idea through that lens.” Look to yourself for what you do well, learn to articulate it, and know why you do it that way.
- Poor sales process. Marketing drives business, but the sales process is your closer. The best marketing in the world can’t close a sale. Undereducated sales representatives, ones that love to hear their own voice, super smart sales reps talking down to prospects, or lazy employees who don’t want to interact with clients are a staffing and management problem — not a marketing problem. Cultivating leads for a sales crew who can’t field the opportunities doesn’t help your bottom line, and it ruins the positive reputation you currently have.
- Lack of vision. Marketing is not a pinch hitter for lack of vision. Start with strategic planning and goal setting, and then build a marketing plan to match it. If you’re not good at it or don’t know where to start, work with someone who is and does. We have so many local companies and services available in Columbia who know how to do this: SCORE, the Small Business and Technology Development Centers, and many consultants for hire. If you’re just getting started, the Missouri Women’s Business Center holds a six-week entrepreneurship class, LaunchU, directed towards guiding you through your business plan. Friedrichs explains: “A business plan is basically your strategic plan. It gives you something to refer back to when making decisions and benchmark performance against.” If you’re a DIY person, read a book — “The E-Myth” is a great one — or just Google it! Marketing is momentum helping you go where you plan to end up. It’s not a road map on how to get there.
- Inability to change. Just like my kids love their blankets unconditionally, some people love their logos unconditionally, no matter how frayed or worn down they are. I’m not suggesting you change your logo just to change your logo, and a full rebrand is a whole other can of worms. I’m suggesting, as a business or organization, it’s your responsibility to take an adult look at what you’re holding on to with an emotional attachment that could be holding you back. Jumping on Facebook isn’t going to reach the millennial audience you seek, but shedding your outdated beliefs about interacting with your customers just might. Doing it “just because it’s always been done that way” isn’t a good enough reason. You need a reason fueling the why — reasons you can back up with your values and vision.
- Cultural bankruptcy. People who work in a bad culture know what I’m talking about. Your officemates, your boss, even work itself can become your energy vampires, sucking the life out of you. There are many prescriptions for cultural problems within a company. None of them are quick, they’re not easy, and they’re certainly not included in your marketing plan. If you or your employees don’t believe in what you do and don’t have a passion for your jobs and respect for one another, it’s poison. Poison seeps out into your work and damages your business reputation in a way marketing can’t fix. Culture is healed from within, and you can dress it up in fancy marketing clothes, but any ugliness still shines through. Fix your culture first, and then move on to your marketing message and all the benefits it can hold.
Monica Pitts is the chief creative director of MayeCreate Design.