Have you ever wondered why when you visit a website, an info booth or simply register for a free webinar/seminar, you’re somehow made to give your basic (contact) details?
For most, the answer to the question is pretty easy to figure. They do it so that some business can be extracted out of us later — and it’s pretty much right as well.
What we don’t understand is the complexity of the process that the guy at the other end has set up to make sure he does get some business out of you; and if not, figure out why.
That’s marketing in a nutshell guys; that’s just one aspect of it.
When you ask anyone what is marketing, you’re bound to get very generic answers, especially if you ask someone who’s not directly involved in the marketing process of the product/service he is working for.
While we all know that advertising, branding, social media management, customer engagement etc all are the various branches of the tree called marketing; I am going to explore the most important aspect of marketing in this post.
There’s no particular name I may give to it. But as you read on, you will realise what is the most important job of a “marketeer” and how the process of end to end marketing works. Before we begin, let’s consider this random scenario.
Let’s suppose that you enter a contest in a fest where you are given 10 pens of a particular brand and you’re given 2 hours time to find buyers for these pens, being sold at very nominal prices.
Sounds like a very simple task right?
All you have to do is randomly talk to people, use your communication skills and convince them to buy the pen. Let’s up the game a little. You’re given the same 2 hours time, but now you have to sell 50 pens instead.
The task, though becomes slightly challenging now, is not very difficult to handle as you’re still selling pens at nominal prices. Using your creativity, you might take some sheets of paper and draw up a message talking about the benefits of using this pen, in order to attract people in bulk. Now, assume all or some of the following additions to this task.
- The target is 100 pens now
- The time allotted is 1.5 hours instead
- The pen is a special type, which comes without a click button or a cap and hence you have to explain the buyer that it won’t leave a stain
- In order to sell more pens, you need to set up stalls at various hotspots of the fest area, thereby increasing expenses and hence the net cost of your pen.
- For people willing to buy in bulk, you’re releasing offers which need to be communicated.
The list can go on and on. Bottom line is; what starts with a simple task of completing a small sales target has the potential of evolving into something humongous as a business scales up.
The process involves understanding the buyer and getting under their skin to cater to their needs, provide existing users with your alternative and even creating need where it doesn’t exist.
Coca-cola, a company excelling purely because of its marketing brilliance, spends barely 20-50 cents to manufacture a bottle of coke.
After all these years, most of its marketing money still goes into creating a need for a drink that might not add any value to the consumer. That’s the power of marketing; if done effectively, it can create a successful business in any industry.
The main aspect of marketing that I am going to explore here is the one that directly results in increase of sales, which is the key to growth of any business. As seen in the example mentioned above, sales start with the hands on process of approaching a prospective customer.
Bringing those prospects to the business is an important aspect of marketing called as lead-generation. Keeping that aspect in mind, any effective marketing process follows a step-wise cycle.
Below I shall discuss those steps which might or might not be followed in sequence and shall vary from industry to industry.
Let’s assume that you are a budding entrepreneur and you need to know how to market your product which you have just launched.
You have developed an e-Learning App for students. So the core product is a Virtual Learning Platform and the industry is Education.
Probably in every industry, one of the initial and most important steps is market research. This involves doing a basic pro/con analysis of your business, finding out who is your immediate competition, identifying what problem your product solves and who is your exact ideal customer.
In the example taken, one example of your ideal customer might be a student who is preparing for an exam while working and doesn’t find enough time to accommodate the hectic routine of classroom coaching. The task of finding your ideal customer goes a long way in teaching you how to beat your competition.
With that question solved, you understand what your niche in the market is and it gives you a specific message that you may communicate to an audience that hundreds of other businesses are trying to leverage from.
So, if you want to beat your competition , in this case regular classroom coaching, you not only need to target the busy guy not having time for classrooms, you also need to start communicating the cons of regular classroom coaching to other potential customers so that you not only cater to but also create a need for your product.
Identifying Marketing Channels
Now that you have figured what is your niche and who is your ideal customer, you need to figure out what is the best medium to find those customers. In the layman’s terms, a marketing channel is simply a place where your customers “hang out”. It might be virtual or physical.
If I am selling pens in fest, I am already in the zone where my customers are. But if I am selling an E learning platform, I need to find my customers mainly online.
Further analysis shows me that social media channels are good for building a brand but to find serious candidates hunting for coaching solutions, Google is the ideal channel.
One great reason why Google is a great way to generate leads (potential customers) is that it connects your business to a customer instantly when he searches for a solution that you might be providing.
For example, if I search for “online coaching for GMAT exam“, Google will instantly show results of various e-learning platforms and if you have set your campaigns right, your product will definitely show up in the result.
Remember this. It is important to not be dependent on just one channel.
Your business should always have an inflow of leads from different sources so that it survives in case a problem happens in one channel. Also, from a brand visibility point of view, it is important to have your presence on multiple channels.
So while I am advertising my learning solutions online, I might also distribute pamphlets or put up hoardings or give radio ads to attract customers from all walks of life; but only if my budget allows so, which brings us to our next step.
This step might be the first step for some businesses where capital is not abundant as a resource. Yes, you analysed your market and identified the right channels for your business.
But before you start with campaigns on those channels, it is very important to identify what are the budget limits that you shall be working with. (That’s why they say a CMO should never mess with the CFO of his company!).
Budgeting is important for two main reasons.
One — It helps you define your scope of operation as a marketeer.
Two –It helps you measure your marketing campaigns, which becomes a very difficult task over time and is often ignored by campaign managers.
As a beginner in the marketing field, you will never be able to limit your ideas. You will ask yourself “Why should I?” And though you’re right in not trying to put any limits on your creative thought flow, it’s important to think in terms of ROI and understand the most important reason why anyone markets anything — To generate more income for the business.
Remember, too much money spent on marketing might increase the effective cost of your product which in turn might push your sales targets and this can turn into a vicious circle.
Once you’re done with the above three steps, you may start with design and execution of your marketing campaigns. This is a task which requires continuous monitoring as with changing times and seasons; you need to change your campaign.
Because of the dynamic nature of this step, often companies outsource campaign managers, even if campaigns have been designed in house. With respect to campaigning, it’s important to be able identify the lifecycle of any campaign.
For example, the ideal time to campaign heavily for your e-Learning App (made for school students) might be right when the final exams of most of the schools are over and students have started looking for coaching solutions, which is typically in the months of March-April in India.
Since you would have already done your market research by this time, it will be easy for you to deal with the dynamic nature of this step and year by year, you shall be optimizing your campaigns to provide maximum outputs with minimum results.
One interesting technique to be used while campaigning is Split-Testing, which involves creation and execution of two different ads/ad-sets with the same theme and allowing them to compete with each other to eliminate the less-performing one. However, this technique is mainly useful for digital channels only. More on that later.
Taking your marketing plan to the next level
The next few steps involved in marketing are more of Level-2 steps, since that’s where marketing gets slightly more complex.
Now that you have generated leads using the right channels while staying in your budget, you need to reach out to those leads. This is where the complexity starts, as for different products and industries, this step varies phenomenally. To cut it short, you can reach out to the leads in the following manners, depending on how the product might be purchased
- Setting up meetings
- Conducting large/small group seminars
- Organizing an event
- Providing a free trial of your product
- Customer Referrals
And the list goes on.
Sometimes you need to just be out there and wait for the customer to come, which is the key difference between the concepts of push marketing and pull marketing.
For example, an e-commerce company mainly reaches out to their customers through ads, inviting them to come to their website or download their app.
On the other hand, a real estate company tries to reach out through fairs and events. Some companies even set up sales teams which call the leads, explaining their product and its benefits.
Branding, PR and Engagement
These are activities which are needed more for retaining and satisfying the existing customers than for acquiring new ones.
When a company/product grows, it develops into a brand which needs to be build and maintained. For at-least the past 10 years, most of the branding activities have been happening online, often through social media channels.
Even customer support activities now happen through open channels like twitter and facebook rather than closed ones like emails and phone, which requires the marketing team to be all the more vigilant of their decisions. Therefore social media is a necessary evil for any brand, which needs to be used creatively and carefully.
While branding and PR are more for reputation building, engagement plays the role of generating goodwill for your brand.
Even if you’re handling a product which involves a small percentage of repeat users (for example, the e-learning app compared to an e-commerce app), it’s important to keep them positively engaged , purely to generate more referrals, which is one source of lead every business needs irrespective of the industry.
Adding more Marketing Channels
Any business needs to be in sync with changing trends and therefore it needs to be on the look-out for adding channels which are more relevant. The biggest example of the same is mobile-apps.
Just how every business needed a website to be significant enough back in the late 90s, most of the consumer businesses now need to have an app to penetrate the ever growing bubble of Smartphone users.
Any business needs to understand that technology will keep evolving and with that, the number of channels through which they may reach their customers. If this step is ignored or misunderstood, any business faces the threat to be completely wiped out of the market,
This self explanatory step is an add-on responsibility of the marketing team for some businesses. Since the marketing team is the one which communicates with the audience most often, it’s always healthy to slip in a feedback survey through one or more channels.
This ensures that the communication between a business and the market is not unidirectional and enables a lot of businesses to be completely aware of their customers’ honest perception of themselves.
It needn’t be explained that it can take one bad decision for a business to completely annoy their customers and lose their loyalty. So better keep a check on what the guy at the other end wants before you give it to him.
Understanding every step of the marketing process isn’t necessary for anyone to begin a career in marketing. It’s just important to have an overview of what all steps exist. To find a job in marketing, one first needs to understand what part of marketing his skill-set can cater to.
As he undergoes growth in a marketing career, he shall be involved in multiple steps mentioned above. The best way to excel then is to have a solid on the job training plan for you.
Only when you push yourself to move from the step that you’re good at to the step that you want to be good at is when you’ll have a holistic training in the marketing vertical.
Related article(s): How I got a sales job without a marketing degree or experience.