Volume 16, August 2008
Top 5 Marketing Mistakes to Avoid - Like Plague...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In our interactions with IT companies, big and small, we have found some common misconceptions about the role and impact of marketing, as well as flawed thinking on the applicability to companies in various stages of evolution. This article attempts to abstract the top five mistakes that technology marketers make, and suggest ways to avoid these pitfalls.

1. Equating Sales with Marketing

Probably the most common mistake committed by emerging companies, in particular, is their inability to differentiate between the function of sales and marketing. Nine out of ten companies we meet believe that lead generation is marketing, and the only relevant initiative for a small company. Wrong on both counts! Lead generation is a sales support activity and there is lot more that an emerging company can do in marketing.

Symptoms-

  • You measure all programs against one metric - how much is sold, especially in the short term.
  • You overemphasize the impact of price in your customer's buying decision.
Problem

Lack of focus on creating market pull through branding programs, and using only push tactics will neither give the "desired" increase in sales nor build company or product recall. Pressure to increase sales without the accompanying brand programs invariably leads to overuse of price as a differentiator, which results in commoditization of your product or service.

Focusing solely on sales also puts blinkers in your thinking and there is no focus on market building activity. Also, a few quick wins may not necessarily imply long-term predictability and business success.

Remedies

  • Make a conscious effort to design and implement marketing programs that -
    • will help your brand two years down the line
    • will highlight/showcase your differentiators and set you apart from competition
    • are in line with the long-term plans that you have for your brand.
  • Allocate a sizable percentage of resources (time, effort and money), while drawing up your annual marketing plan, to programs that have long-term impact. These will necessarily be marketing programs rather than sales initiatives.
2. Under Estimating Competition

Strangely, some companies we meet derive a false sense of security by remaining internally focused and believing that their product or service is beyond compare in the market. This is seldom the case, and such an outlook can leave you unprepared when you hit the market.

Symptoms

  • At prospect meetings, you find out that your competitors have better recall, or have been there before you.
  • Internally, your reviews on product or service performance do not consider competition analysis; technical teams assert that the product is peerless.
Problem

Unpleasant surprises are dangerous as they may trigger unplanned off-the-cuff reactions from you. Since competition is a factor outside your circle of influence, the importance of keeping an accurate tab on them cannot be overemphasized. Finding out in the eleventh hour, for example, in the final stages of a prospecting cycle, about a competitor you do not understand well enough can lead to knee-jerk reactions from your end.

Mapping and tracking competition is also a good way to stay in touch with customer needs, as one can assume that product and service innovations and improvements happen in consonance with market needs. Thus, a lack of knowledge of competition activity is also indicative of incomplete customer and marketing understanding.


Remedies

  • Have a pulse of the market, track competition continuously (and stealthily of course).
  • Pretend to be your main competitor for half an hour daily. Think from his perspective.
  • Do a SWOT of your company and rivals quarterly. Share it with your sales/market- facing team (This team has the highest propensity to inflate competitor strengths and hence is suited to this exercise).
  • Convince your sales team to feedback field information into the competition tracking process.
3. Over Estimating Competition

This thinking, also equally prevalent, is equally unnecessary. Typically owing to lack of confidence in their own product, and the wrong notion that an established product is the "perfect" product, some companies view market activities with needless trepidation that reflects in the defensive strategies they carve out.

Symptoms

  • Your sales team adduces that the reason they are unable to make headway is because the "other" company is way too strong.
  • Your sales and marketing teams show lack of confidence in your product or service and are unable to convince themselves of why your customer should like your product.
Problem

While caution is important, paranoia is avoidable. If you are looking over your shoulder all the time while planning or implementing marketing programs, you are bound to lose confidence. Being wary of the competition all the time can make you insensitive to your customer's needs.
Overestimating the competition can also negatively impact the morale of you and your team and will lead to paralysis.

Remedies

  • Talk to your customers and prospects to get a balanced opinion on your rivals' strengths and weaknesses.
  • Do a SWOT of your company and your rivals every quarter. Share it with your ideation/R&D team (This team has the highest propensity to deflate competitor strengths and hence is suited to this exercise).
  • Do a Google search of key people working at the rival companies. Or try Linked In. An understanding of the profiles of people running your rival company will help you in getting a true picture.
  • Assess the addressable market and ascertain the market yet to be captured (in the IT services / product context, demand is typically far ahead of supply) and convince yourself that there is space for you to occupy .
  • Come out with a focused and relevant marketing campaign that targets your prospects directly- this will help you create awareness of your company and its services or products.
4. Equating Budgets with Effectiveness

At an implementation level, this is a common syndrome. Emerging companies, especially, rarely have a marketing function owing to the mistaken notion that this requires big dollars, and it is only meant therefore for larger companies.

Symptoms
  • You think marketing is not for your company; you do not have big budgets to spare.
  • You Criticize simple, yet potentially effective ideas as they may not lead to big bang results (and are not backed by a big spend).
Problem

By thinking that effective marketing programs cost the earth, you postpone any focus on marketing in the early years.

Effectiveness of a program depends on timeliness, targeting and the thought process behind it as much as it requires some investment of dollars. Investing big bucks without considering these factors is a pitfall you could well avoid.

Remedies
  • Remember that marketing is a long-term exercise and hence start it as early as possible.
  • To start with, choose vehicles that are low to medium cost with high impact and carry out programs continuously. Over time, the incremental benefits add up and lead to substantial results.
  • Also choose no-cost vehicles - sending useful reading material that you come across to your hot prospects and customers.
  • Choose campaigns and programs that complement each other and time them well to get maximum impact.
5. Ad hoc, knee-jerk Activities instead of a Sustained Marketing Plan

We cannot begin to count the number of times we get calls from our customers or prospects asking for help in executing a last minute program. This eleventh hour approach limits effectiveness, and many times results in more expensive programs owing to lack of prior planning.

Symptoms

  • You are constantly deciding at the last minute about initiating a program because of which the activities do not yield desired results.
  • Your end of the year evaluation shows that you have not focused on all stakeholders and markets.
Problem

Bursts of activity followed by periods of silence do not augur well for brand building, as your customers and prospects will not hear from you for long stretches at times. You also lose out on the complementary effect that one activity will have on another, if a plan is followed.

Remedies
  • Allocate a month in the year to plan for the coming year. Make a calendar of events and initiatives relevant to your industry.
  • Remember, however, the plan is more to set your thinking going. It never happens that your execution will be exactly according to plan. And that is alright.
  • Plan for the unplanned: earmark a portion of the budget for activities that may not be planned, but could be interesting avenues to explore.
In conclusion

  • Marketing is about creating a brand that results in a pull for your product or services and it is a long-term exercise.
  • It is important to have healthy respect for your competition- you should neither under estimate their impact, nor get paralyzed by their seeming superiority.
  • Marketing is relevant for all companies, at all stages of their evolution- so, invest quality time upfront in envisaging some activities you will carry out during the year and evaluate their appropriateness before executing.
  • Marketing does not always require big budgets; there is no correlation between budgets and effectiveness.
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