Marketing isn’t a race to the finish. It’s a race without a finish. Think of marketing your product or service as a marathon that doesn’t really end.
If that makes you tired just thinking about it, let’s put this concept in perspective.
Like competing in any race, success is about Preparation, Perspective, and Persistence. Put together, these three elements together form endurance — the ability to compete at a very high level, consistently.
Today, very few companies can break out in a new market category the way a Microsoft, Google, or Amazon did. These now iconic companies didn’t just enter a current race, they started a new race in a field/category with no competition.
And, as I’ve discussed in a previous post on positioning, once a company sets a leadership pace (which is relatively easy to do in a race with no early competitors), it is very difficult for any other company who enters the category to take a leadership position.
Here’s a look at the three P’s of endurance marketing.
I recently spoke to the head developer of a company who is launching a unique new product into a relatively cluttered market category. The company has spent months and months in development; the product works flawlessly; the spreadsheets showed promising sales projections; the logo was beautiful, and the website state-of-the-art and appealing.
After five minutes speaking with this owner, I knew they were going to have problems. Why? After hearing how unique and groundbreaking the product was, I asked about plans for marketing the product. “We’ve hired XYZ to distribute the product, and they’re going to handle the marketing,” was the reply. This is too bad, because rarely does a distributor have the same passion and desire to see your product succeed as you do. Many distributors apply a “one size fits all” marketing template to the products they distribute (if they create a marketing plan at all), and for a groundbreaking new product, this approach will surely diminish the impact of the product launch.
The first step in successful marketing is preparation — putting together a marketing plan that outlines goals, strategies and tactics. It should identify the target audience(s). The value proposition. Objectives (what measurable goals are you trying to achieve?). Strategies (what resources do you need to achieve those goals?). Tactics (tools, services, etc. will you use to support your strategies).
Way too many companies get far into the race — post development and pre-launch — and don’t prepare for the inevitable hills, potholes and other challenges that are coming. In many ways, preparing your written marketing plan — one that will keep you in the race for a long time — is really just the beginning of the race.
A successful competitor, in any type of race, always knows where he/she is in the field. Some athletes use an energy preservation strategy, also known as pacing, to win. Others start out of the gate fast and hope that their early lead will create enough space for them to keep ahead. (Note that in a crowded market, this particular strategy is a recipe for burn-out. The leader is already in the field, so your marketing strategy should recognize and address this).
A good marketing plan will include a SWOT analysis. A SWOT analysis is a deep look at your company’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. A SWOT analysis will lend perspective to the realities and challenges ahead. Strengths: What benefit or feature do we have that competitors don’t? Weaknesses: What part of our design or approach leaves us vulnerable to competitors? Opportunities: Where can we focus our strategy in a way that we are pursuing a Brand Relevance strategy over a Brand Preference strategy? Threats: What marketing or competitive conditions exist, or could crop up, that will challenge our current plan?
With this holistic perspective on the market, and what — and who — you are dealing with, you’re in a much better position to stay in the race longer.
Even the most detailed SWOT analysis or market perspective plans have once common flaw: we cannot predict the future. Market conditions will change, and sometimes dramatically and drastically.
Imagine how detailed and rosy marketing plans for a bookstore chain like Barnes and Noble must have been while Amazon was quietly planning its launch.
Persistence in marketing is a matter of not staying the course necessarily, but adapting as the market shifts. Generally, this means re-evaluating your marketing plan’s strategies and tactics.
If you find yourself shifting objectives in the middle of a market shift or disruption, you probably didn’t set realistic objectives.
One mistake companies make at this stage in their marketing is to equate effort with success. Steven Covey, creator of the groundbreaking Seven Habits of Successful People franchise, relates the “Sharpening the Saw” analogy as an example of this effort-based approach. A man passes another man in the woods furiously sawing away at a large tree. It’s clear the man is not making much progress because the cut is thin and his saw is dull. The passerby suggests, “why don’t you stop and sharpen your blade?” The reply: “Are you kidding? I don’t have time to stop and sharpen the blade!”
The point: working hard in the wrong direction will simply lead to burn out. Just writing a marketing plan is not enough — you must also refer to it often, follow it, and adapt when needed. Many times, after putting lots of effort into a plan that is not working, companies will continue sawing away by abandoning objectives and strategies and focusing only on tactics because it conveys the sense that they are doing something.
This is like the old saying, “If you don’t know where you’re going, all roads will lead you there.” Failure is not far behind when it gets to this stage.
Staying the course by learning from what doesn’t work and adapting (and repeating this as necessary) is at the heart of persistence and success in marketing.
No one gets into a race believing they’re going to lose. New product developers don’t spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars expecting that their product will not go anywhere.
But, in today’s competitive marketplace, a great product, savvy developers and a rock-solid financial plan are not enough to compete in the long run. You will need a solid but adaptable marketing plan, one that reflects the realities of the current market and competitive environment. One that can be tweaked as market dynamics require. One that inspires persistence in the face of adversity.
That’s how you stay in the race.
Bill Threlkeld is the president of Threlkeld Communications, a marketing communications and public relations firm that helps businesses develop the right marketing strategies to grow their businesses and meet financial goals. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org