What executive marketers can do to get their brands off cruise control and adapt to a changing world.
The world of business is changing at digital speed, yet even today I see too many brands that are on cruise control, especially with respect to how they sell and market to SMBs. These companies are betting that sheer size and past performance will let them avoid changing speed or direction to account for marketplace transformations that they may clearly see. This rarely ends well.
In a recent podcast that inspired me to write this post, the speakers, Allen Adamson and Douglas Burdett, outline the challenges for companies that must anticipate the future while maintaining an edge on the competition and continuing to leverage on their own unique strengths. Some of their observations parallel many of my own, which I can summarize as follows:
- Relying on momentum
Big brands, because of their size, have strategies, tactics and assets that provide momentum for their businesses. These assets include large sales teams, an established brand synonymous with trust, and marketing practices that continue to produce sales. Momentum that comes with size is a huge advantage for big brands…until it isn’t. It becomes an obstacle whenever consumer preferences or buying behavior have changed or a disruptive competitor has crashed the party and the brand hasn’t evolved. Momentum marketing – stepping on the gas while headed in the wrong direction – is a recipe for disaster.
- Not empowering the team
We all know that change at a large organization is difficult. It is even harder when things seem like they are going well, such as when a legacy business has become a cash cow. Most executives that I speak with at large brands understand that changes in the way people buy mean that marketing must change and be more customer-centric. But then they fail to empower their teams to take calculated risks to change their go-to-market approach. The irony is that the real risk of trying something new is often smaller than the risk of not changing fast enough.
- Focusing on the wrong data
The most important KPI for brands is revenue. However, when you consider momentum, revenue can continue to show strength even while other key drivers are declining. The speakers also make the point that by the time revenue starts trending down, the seeds of destruction may already be sown. Here are a couple of other KPIs to put on your dashboard that are early indicators of issues:
- Cost-of-sales/marketing expense – are you spending more and working harder to produce $1 in sales then a year ago?
- Retention – are your customers sticking around and renewing?
What to Do
“OK Rob. I think you have made a point. How do I fix this?” As you would imagine, there is no magic bullet. That said, consider the following:
- Selling or helping?
Is your marketing designed to help the SMB buyer with their problems or challenges, or is it designed to push product? Today’s SMBs are aggressively searching for ideas and solutions to deal with disruption in every aspect of their business. Focusing on messaging (including paid media) that is about making today’s sale while most of your target market is not ready to buy is an easy way for brands to miss an opportunity to engage SMBs early in the buying process. It is critical to have strong, compelling initiatives that are designed to help the SMB better run his or her business (see the next paragraph).
Combined with strategic CTAs, you can drive today’s revenue while generating demand from tomorrow’s buyers.
- Great content
When it comes to content, make the primary focus to ensure that you have foundational content that changes the SMB buyer’s point-of-view (POV) with insights from actual experts. Content that doesn’t change the reader’s POV will not help, and often will hurt your brand by telling potential customers what they already know or wasting their time with useless (read: non-actionable) information.
- Know thy customer – really
Make sure your marketing teams really understand the customer. It is critical to go beyond your CRM data and the persona studies you have commissioned. You can do this with moderated round tables of existing customers and those using competitive products. There are many other techniques for getting face-to-face with customers, but the bottom line is you cannot rely on data alone.
In an environment where entire industries are being disrupted, the changes necessary to survive and thrive can be significant and may run counter to established corporate cultures and long-standing, often successful, business practices. These changes will not happen from within marketing departments that are not empowered to propose them, let alone to put them in place. It is the role of senior marketing leadership to provide the direction and, equally important, the support.