Put marketing at the centre of your sales strategy

Rob Gray
Monday, February 22, 2016

It has been said many times before, in many different ways, but it bears repetition all the same. Good marketing can make your business look credible and appealing – whereas great marketing persuades and reassures your customers that they’re making a brilliant decision in doing business with you.

Marketing is the engine that drives business growth. As such, investment in it is vital. Yet deciding how much to spend and where to spend it is far from easy. Even for businesses in the print sector that have (or certainly should have) a clear idea of their core target market. 

One school of thought has it that marketing expenditure should be calculated as a proportion of sales. A marketing budget equating to 4%-5% of company revenues is sometimes held up as being fairly typical. While it may be useful to keep this figure in mind as a rough ballpark, in truth there is no such thing as a ‘typical’ size so far as marketing budgets are concerned. 

Younger and smaller businesses may often spend a higher percentage as they seek to get themselves established. At the other end of the scale, it is said that retail colossus WalMart only spends around 0.5% of its revenues on marketing. However, as this comes to roughly $2bn it can hardly be claimed this is a business that fails to take marketing seriously.

Rather than getting overly hung up on a revenue-related formula, a sensible starting point is to build marketing activity around your business objectives. 

“Have the marketing come from what you want to achieve,” advises Justin Willett, owner of Buckinghamshire-based Business Marketing Company, which helps B2B businesses with their sales and marketing. 

“Is it part of the business plan? So often it gets thought about when the ad rep calls up and says, ‘I have a really good deal for you’. That can be so ad hoc, with nothing to do with the overall business direction. Be sure marketing is part of your business plan and have a marketing plan within that.”

Being an SME in print and related businesses is an undeniably tricky place to be in relation to marketing as generally speaking you will face competition from both bigger and smaller rivals. The key challenge is pinning down what will work for you.

 “It is not possible to answer the question of what will make marketing effective without knowing basically what are you competing on,” says Chris Airey, managing director of Umbrella Marketing Team. 

“If you were sitting with an external marketer and they ask you ‘why would I use you and not someone else?’, just answer the question simply and the rest flows from that. It may be price, speed, quality, locality, industry, materials, capability, capacity – whatever – just name it! The next step is working out where those clients are: geographically, digitally, socially and in terms of business circles.”

To get to the bottom of this requires market research and client research. 

“Find a way to have a friendly chat with those where you have lost deals,” adds Airey. “You may find out that you were wrong to bid or maybe it was more than just the functional issues, such as price, and a bit about how they felt about how your company came across.” In marketing terms, this kind of insight is gold dust. 

Great personality

Kingfisher Print & Design managing director Ross Bellotti is a firm believer in letting the personality of his business and employees shine through. One thing to be wary of, he warns, is overthinking marketing to the point of inaction.

“I have made the mistake before with marketing, and I know it’s a mistake many still make, by thinking about it too much,” says Bellotti. “Trying to get it perfect, you end up taking too much time thinking, tweaking and not doing stuff. You need to do stuff regularly and consistently.”

Bellotti says he tries to avoid “salesy marketing”. Instead the aim is to get people to think, ‘I like them’, ‘That seems like a nice place to work’, ‘I want to work with them’ or even ‘I’d like to work there’. The key, he feels, is to precipitate interaction with messages, encourage customers and social media followers to get involved, and have a bit of fun.

Kingfisher usually aims to run two big marketing campaigns per year, typically relating to Christmas and Easter. They are always interactive and cross-media campaigns, and often feature a competition. 

Examples include a ‘hangover box’ – people were asked to send in their hangover cures via social media – an Easter golden egg campaign, personalised Christmas crackers, and recently a free Valentine’s card offer to promote its web-to-print software.

“The ideas for these campaigns come from the staff,” says Bellotti. “We just ask everyone if they have got any ideas and stuff just happens. 

“I think the key is to get the communication going both ways. Don’t just shout at your customers and followers, get them to interact and get two-way communication going. Build up a relationship that way, get them to like you, then selling to them becomes easier.”

Kingfisher’s hangover campaign was highly commended in the Marketing Campaign category of last year’s PrintWeek Awards. The category winner was the Engage campaign by DST that used a travel theme to take customers on a “voyage of discovery of the world of communication.” 

The journey was built around the processes of communication planning, creation, production, delivery and response handling. Each area was given a country theme and characteristic: for example, creative formats mirrored the colour and vibrancy of Brazil; while production mirrored the efficiency and order of Japan.

The centrepiece of the campaign was an event at Canary Wharf at which participants could explore new ideas as part of a communication journey. Guests checked in and were ‘announced’ on an arrivals board, which simultaneously displayed their company logo. In addition to the live event, the key elements of the campaign were personalised microsites, a generic registration site, printed direct marketing, SMS, email, event collateral, interactive content, attendee event feedback using tablets and a post-event online survey.

Integrated approach

The travel theme featured in every piece of communication. The event drew 178 clients and prospects, 19% up on the target and generated £440,000 of committed spend on the day. There were 66 requests for meetings or follow-up information. On a £100,000 budget, DST generated in excess of £1m of attributable revenue – producing ROI of over 1,000%.

Another company taking its marketing seriously is PressOn. This large-format digital printing company based in Rochester has been working with marketing expert Shelley Nye for four years, during which time it has revamped its marketing strategy. The company budgets 5%-10% of its turnover for marketing and PR.

“We prepared a full three-year marketing strategy, competitor analysis, branding/positioning review and then a full marketing audit was conducted,” says Nye. “From that, a PR and marketing plan was agreed. We started this process in 2012 and are working to this plan following annual reviews, with tweaks and updates in 2016.” 

A lot of the research was based on knowledge already held in the business and its understanding of the markets it worked in. It was a case of someone with marketing experience helping the company gather this together and turn it into an actionable plan. Some third-party research was also undertaken and a list of key competitors was developed. The activities of these competitors are monitored fairly closely. 

“We rebranded and then tackled the website first and invested heavily in this long, expensive process,” says Nye. “We combined this with regular PR to broadcast our achievements and to change people’s perceptions of the PressOn brand. This was then followed by a social media presence and then a social media engagement plan. This took a lot of effort and time but has been very beneficial, we feel. If we had to give a ROI though we would struggle! We spent a lot of time on a calculator tool for our customers on the website to show complete transparency of pricing. Finally, we have developed a programme of regular email newsletters.”

Nye adds that PressOn is planning an increased presence on new social media channels while moving out of some channels and into new ones as its customer base shifts. The company has also found entering (and winning in) awards programmes to be very “valuable” to the business. Search engine optimisation and keeping up to date with business directory listings are also key aspects of the mix.

“We have a plan and focus on specific campaigns, as opposed to a more general approach,” says Nye. “We develop a theme every year and most marketing and PR activity ties in with this theme. We’re not sharing what our next theme is though!” 

Finally, for businesses looking to enlist external marketing support, Umbrella’s Airey has some useful advice. “Do treat your external marketer as a member of the team. If you don’t share objectives or client feedback, then they can’t help.” 


Planning and budgeting

Segment your customers and target the markets in which you want to expand. Awareness of any markets on which you are over-reliant will also help in putting together your marketing strategy.

Make sure the marketing you do is in line with what you want to achieve as a business. Scattergun marketing is a waste of money. You must have a clear focus.

Refresh your marketing plan every three months. Listening to a marketer’s perspective may help improve your overall business.

Set a sensible budget, do some marketing output and make a point of learning from it - if it works, do more. But don’t rush to judgment. It can take time for the effects to be felt. There is no point treating it like an extreme fad diet and giving up too soon.

Always bear in mind that marketing activity needs to be timely, relevant, meaningful, aligned to business objectives and relate to meeting customer needs.

Getting the execution right

Get your digital shop window tidy and update content on your website and social media channels frequently enough to interest your customers and show them your digital presence is important to you in the same way as what happens on your shopfloor.

Build an email database and newsletter over time. Keeping in touch without spamming is vital for awareness and a way to send promotions to those who have shown an interest. 

Blogging and even vlogging (video blogging) can be used to boost your profile and address issues that are of interest to your client base. But once you’ve started, remember to do it regularly.

Find the most appropriate medium for your message. There may be times when a video is the ideal way to get a message across in the most compelling way. But for a different kind of message, something like an eye-catching infographic could be the best means of conveying information.

As a printer you are perfectly positioned to showcase print’s strengths as a marketing medium, from a simple postcard promotion to clever mailers, or more complex executions using special substrates or finishes.. 

Make sure your business and the key individuals within it have a strong presence on LinkedIn. Keep profiles up to date and post interesting and relevant content. 

Although advertising is not as dominant as was once the case, its death has been over-stated. The most recent IPA Bellwether Report predicted a “steady” 3.9% growth in ad spend for 2016. But take care to advertise in media that reach your target audience.

Success in industry awards is a great way of boosting visibility and credibility. The amount of fuss the Oscars generate every year tells you all you need to know about how much of a boost award winners stand to gain.

Leverage the successes of your existing relationships. If you have customers who are thrilled with the service they get from you, sound them out to see if they will write a testimonial. Endorsements of this kind can be very persuasive for potential customers. 

Spend time thinking about the subject line of your promotional emails. Ideally you want to entice people to read on. With that in mind, make sure the content is up to scratch so that recipients don’t feel cheated. Also, include a clear call to action. If you can’t think of one, you shouldn’t be sending the email in the first place.

Things to watch out for 

Don’t take a feast or famine approach. It’s better to start small and be steady.

Beware of working with marketers who just want to plan, or just want to promote. Basically steer clear of the one-trick pony.

If you are working with an external marketing consultant or agency, trust and involve them as you would an internal member of your team. If they are not given access to key information on your objectives and market, it will make it very difficult for them to come up with marketing solutions that actually work. 

Don’t treat PR and social media activities as ‘fluffy’. Although measuring impact and effectiveness can be challenging, great coverage and online interaction can have a major bearing on perceptions of your brand and may play a part in delivering important business outcomes. 

Humour is a powerful means of capturing attention and standing out. But don’t do anything that could cause offence or make you appear unprofessional.

Communicate with customers in language they will understand, clearly explaining what you have to offer.

Social media is about sharing rather than selling, so don’t antagonise people by overdoing the commercial hard sell. Some social media experts recommend the ‘one in seven rule’, which has it that overt marketing should only feature in one in every seven of your posts if you want followers to stay interested. 

Track and evaluate 

Use Google Analytics to get a good grasp of activity on your website. For example, create goals relating to key completed activities such as visits to a specific page, filling in contact forms, downloads, etc. Setting goals gives you something to measure, from which you are then able to judge effectiveness.

You can also configure Google Analytics to send you email alerts when certain goals have been reached or there has been a significant change in the metrics. 

Don’t evaluate your email marketing on click-through rates alone. Aim to establish what actions an email blast drives – what do prospects do once they have landed on your website?

Give each link in your emails a campaign tag. Once a link is clicked, the tag information is passed to Google Analytics, thereby allowing you to evaluate the performance of individual links within your emails.


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