The Herald, October 2005
If there is one positive thing you can do about your marketing right now, it is to gather up all of those brochures, adverts, flyers, case studies and banners and have a good old bonfire.
You'll achieve far more by spending your time and effort on building a solid marketing foundation for your business.
Well-crafted promotional campaigns and materials are a crucial part of the marketing mix. But how often have you organised an advertisement or a brochure lately and had the uneasy feeling that you have no idea if it is going to help your business?
That's because promotion done without the context of a marketing foundation is like betting on a horse with no knowledge of its form. It may still be exciting, you may still win, but probability is against you.
Creating a marketing foundation is a back-to-basics approach. It is a series of building blocks that enable a business to understand and quantify its market, determine what is important to this market and how to express it powerfully, and how to go about securing and satisfying customers in this market.
Building this foundation means treating marketing as an integrated business function, not a bolt-on, once research, development and production have done their thing.
Effective marketing is about turning your thoughts to customer value long before the smart design idea has been prototyped. It is about applying the same discipline and intellectual rigour to marketing as you apply to other business problems.
As premier marketing thinker Philip Kotler says, "Marketing is not the art of finding clever ways to dispose of what you make. It is the art of creating genuine customer value."
So how do you build a solid marketing foundation?
Get focused, get intimate
The first step is doing the work to select your key markets and then sticking to them. You have scarce resources and they need to be focused on as specific a market segment as possible.
Once you have your target market, the challenge is to get intimately acquainted with the customers in that market.
"The key is to understand what your organisation can be best in the world at, and equally important, what it cannot be best at - not what it wants to be best at", says Jim Collins in his powerful study Good to Great: Why Companies Make the Leap and Others Don't.
The brand thing
The word "brand" is often invested with magical powers an average business person could not begin to understand. But a brand is not a mystery. It is intrinsic to your business and something you must understand and live every day.
It is not just about logos or fonts or clever taglines. It is about understanding that every interaction with a customer builds your brand.
Just do it
Putting in place a tightly focused, clearly measurable programme of attracting, securing and then building long-term relationships with customers.
Once you have built a marketing foundation - you have chosen your market, you know its shape and size, you know how it perceives value - using promotional tools such as advertising or brochures will no longer seem like such a punt. They will become powerful ways of reaching and connecting with new and existing customers.
Heat up your marketing - burn a brochure.