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Ask the Expert: Marketing Wisdom for those in scale-up mode

Based on what we see and the recently launched scale-up generator site: The scale-up ecosystem in Bristol and Bath is rich and vibrant. Just taking a brief look at the map confirms and cements this for certain.

Scaling-up is a topic very close to home. We are proud to be trusted by many scale-ups to help them through the challenges they face revolving around Talent and Skills and on the other hand, with 2018 shaping up to be ADLIB’s most progressive and ambitious year to date, we also know first hand the trials and tribulations of scaling-up a business at pace.

Scaling-up brings challenges. The Scale-Up Institute categorizes them into talent & skills (as mentioned), markets, leadership capacity, infrastructure and access to investment.

Another challenge can revolve around conveying their brand messages effectively when in scale-up mode. To gather some wisdom revolving around this, we caught up with Cheryl Crichton; Strategic Marketing Consultant at Solid Sources. Cheryl has a background in brand communications and now delivers marketing consultancy for SMEs. Cheryl focuses solely on working with what she would call ‘step-up’ businesses (her language for ‘scale-up’) – those who are just emerging from that ‘start-up’ pigeon hole, but not quite in the ‘milestone business’ camp yet (a business perhaps already on the other side of that growth curve).cheryl crichton

The transition from start-up to scale-up means that marketing goals may shift and change. The same goes for businesses in scale-up mode in general – re-thinking what’s worked before may be necessary, to adjust and evolve.

Cheryl, can you share three pieces of marketing wisdom specifically for those in scale-up mode?

Cheryl Crichton

The challenges I see and hear all the time are things like ‘How do I get my message out there?’, and ‘How do I know what my marketing priorities are?’, and also ‘How do I find the time to get my marketing done, and keep getting it done?’

At Watertight Marketing, where I am a master practitioner, we help businesses like this identify their marketing priorities, or more the areas of their marketing operation that are perhaps not as strong as others. We then pull together a marketing plan that supports long-term sales results and therefore growth.

For example, you may have a fantastically solid looking brand, but you struggle to keep a rhythm of ‘getting it out there’. Or, you have a great database of prospects and loyal customers, but you just don’t know where to start in getting the most from it.

And that list of questions goes on and on, but all are familiar to me. Of the dozens of businesses that I have worked with, I find the same issues coming up time and time again. Here’s three in particular that I would like to share as pearls of wisdom:

1. Don’t forget your customers

This may sound daft, especially if you’re a service provider, but in my overall analysis of all the companies that I have worked with I deduced that practically every single one was so busy trying to find new customers, they simply forget about the ones they already had.

Think of it another way… Is the only time you get in touch with a paying customer when you send them an invoice?

For some, that may be all they want from you, but not keeping in touch with your fan-base of loyal customers could mean you are missing a trick. Your happy customers are your biggest advocates, and they possess power to recommending you to others and sing your praises. Could your customer database be the invisible sales force you didn’t know you had?

By designing a regular ‘baseline’ marketing plan (the least amount marketing activity you can afford or have resources to implement) that aims to help you keep in touch with your customers is a good place to start. It can be a mix of online, offline, automated and in person activity that will help boost awareness of your brand in ways you hadn’t thought of.

Also, having a different marketing plan for customers versus ‘prospects’ will make your fan-base feel even more special and shout about you even more. I’m not talking about another annoying newsletter here, but a drip of valuable and unique content just for your loyal customers that they get before the rest of the world.

In addition, and GDPR permitting, this type of regular contact means you can generate content that can be used and reused time and time again and be kept front-of-mind. A kind of ‘light house’ effect (always rotating and flashing past people’s consciousness). This also means you get to squeeze every drop of value from your precious marketing spend.

To sum all this up, if you don’t stay in touch with customers, they are likely to forget about you. When it comes to buying again, your name may not come to mind. Is it not worth staying in touch to avoid that happening?

As a starting point: If you would like to see what regular activity you could be doing with your existing customers, try writing a list of current customers, then another who have bought of you in say the last 6-12 months, and then another of people who have ever bought off you. Then make another list of the reasons to get back in touch with them, or ideas for unique content that could be of interest just for them. This could be the start of your customer loyalty communications plan.

2. Have a great gateway product

What I’m talking about here is do you offer a way to ‘try before they buy’? A way of testing or trailing you out to help buyers make that final decision of working with you? This can be a low-cost or no-cost/free product, or perhaps a skinny version of a product or service.

Having said that, a lot of the businesses I work with struggle with giving away some of their best stuff for free, but I always say, well why would you give away your worst stuff?

Joking aside, giving someone a taster that helpfully leads people to buying the bigger version, or something else, makes sense. A ‘test drive’ can be a good way to get people to the next step in the buying decision-making process.

In other words, and especially if what you sell is a high-ticket price item or has a long decision-making process to purchase, the first step of buying from you can often feel like a really big or difficult decision. This can lead to people not making it over the hurdle of placing a first order with you. A stepping stone that enables a prospect to see what it’s like to be a customer before they are one is the right way to go here.

As a starting point: Make a list of everything you sell, or at the very least a list of the ‘categories’ of things that you sell. Then see if you can work out some kind of ‘product ladder’ that organises them into a progressive group of products and services that has one leading helpfully on to the next. Kind of like an upgrade system if you will.

3. Be unquestionably clear on what you’re talking about

“If you don’t say what you mean you won’t mean what you say”… Those of you that know me will know this is one of my favourite quotes from Peter O’Tool’s character in the epic film ‘The Last Emperor’. He was the English teacher to the Emperor.

In marketing terms, if you are not crystal clear about what you do, people may contact you for the things you don’t even offer, or rule you out for the things that you do. This could simply be because your messaging, or even company name and strapline are not totally clear. Or that you are simply creating the wrong kind of content for the wrong audience. I’ve seen both happen.

Going about addressing this one involves a bit of research and canvassing your team at the very least. If they can’t articulate your proposition, how on earth will a prospect understand it? Similarly, if you are just churning lots of content, that perhaps does not resonate with the issues your buyers have, then you may as well not bother.

I think this is a critical part of branding and messaging worth setting aside some substantial thinking time before you do anything. Also, whatever you do, don’t do it because you like it, do it because it’s another tiny step in helping that ever-elusive prospect (and the right kind of prospect) buy from you. There’s a difference, and it could help get rid of all those enquiries that get in touch for the wrong reason and simply waste your time.

As a starting point: Ask everyone on your organisation to give you a short description of what you do. Then do the same with your top customers, suppliers and anyone else that touches your business. If they all say something different, it’s time to do some thinking. Then have a look at the last 3 pieces of content you produced and see if independently it’s absolutely crystal clear what kind of people you are and what kind of product or service you offer. Any one of these pieces of content could in fact be the fort bit of content a prospect sees from you, so don’t waste the opportunity.

There are 10 more leaks that frequently crop-up as needing some marketing thinking and doing, including addressing the power of veto, designing the right amount of content to present at the right stage of the decision-making process, and getting the right amount of logic vs emotional sentiment in your content.

Thank you Cheryl for sharing!

© Watertight Marketing Ltd. The key concepts, frameworks, illustrations, and structure of Watertight Marketing as used by Cheryl remain the intellectual property of Watertight Marketing and are used with permission and under license. Cheryl has been a licenced practitioner at Watertight Marketing since 2014.