Imagine your company is doing almost zero marketing. That’s not hard for some, because for countless companies, it’s surprisingly close to the truth. But really, here’s what happens when a company fails to market itself:
- Business usually slows down. As customers drop off over time, they are not replaced. Slowly, staff are laid off, and the better ones will leave on their own.
- Prices, and profits go down. The business will tend to lower prices to make sales, and many projects will lose money. This leads to the cutting of maintenance and a reduction in new research and development too.
- Projects are a mismatch. The business will say yes to anything to stay busy. This means projects or sales that are not even remotely a good fit are accepted, because it’s better than nothing,
- Customers can become bullies. Customers have an instinct for their own importance. Some will start bargaining prices down or asking for extras, because they know you can’t afford to walk away.
So, by not marketing, a company is merely staying alive by “reacting” to whatever opportunities happened to knock on their door.
In ten years, if it is still alive, a company in this situation will become whatever the random customers happened to ask for. A professional recruitment firm might end up just churning out job ads. A beautiful stationery store might end up selling cheap pens in bulk. An industrial machine shop might end up simply repairing poorly made equipment. In other words, take the smallest, cheapest, least satisfying aspect of what you do, and that’s the trap you can fall into if you fail to market yourself.
But by marketing, a company is determining its own future. It is actively choosing what it wishes to be known for, the clients it serves, the services it offers, and the prices it charges. It is being proactive about getting what it wants.
This is why, before marketing, a company should understand what its vision is: in other words, what it wants to become. More specifically, a vision is an ideal picture of where you want your business to be in the future.
Now, this can seem like a really daunting task, but really it is not.
A vision is determined in two ways:
- By looking at your mission, and figuring out what you need to become to accomplish it. Is your mission to help young people make money through better investing? If so, how could this be accomplished? Maybe there are many ways (classes, selling products, real estate, brokering). Whatever will work best should be a serious consideration for your vision.
- By looking around (and, yes, really researching) at other companies, and forming a picture of what aspects you’d like, or not like, for your company, plus inventing some new things too. Use competitors, but also use exemplary businesses from other industries.
For example, perhaps you’d like a financial consultancy that is as large as some of the major investment brokerages, but instead of selling only in-house financial products, you want objective financial planners who work on a performance basis. You envision a national firm. But you’re starting as just a one-person show. How can you project this vision through your marketing?
- Speak about your firm’s overall vision as offering services “across the country” instead of just your region.
- Create a brand (Name, logo, tagline, photographic imagery, etc.) that matches the quality and feel of the big brokerages.
- Decide the capabilities your firm will offer, and find people who can deliver on these, whether in-house employees, contractors, or strategic alliances.
- Describe your vision, and position your advantages against your largest competitors, not the small ones.
- If you’re raising money, the vision is what sells the investors to get on board. They want to be a part of something bold and great, not stale and hazy.
Contrast this approach to most start-up firms without a vision:
- One person with a business card in their personal name that says “Freelancer.”
- A limited scope of services that only one person can accomplish.
- A website with services all written in the first person, i.e. “Here is what I do…”
- Operating without an office address in a single location.
The first firm might land a large contract to offer courses through schools, for example, while the second will likely only get a piece of a larger firm’s business. It’s very much like the old adage of “dressing for the job you want, not the job you have,” but applied at the corporate level.
The lesson is this: there is a big difference between a small vision that will remain small and a bigger vision that is in its start-up phase. Decide what yours will be, and market actively to get it there from the outset. Remember, success is whatever you define it to be, but you need to define it first.