Stick to the plan

The number one marketing mistake mid-sized companies make - and how to avoid it.

Read time 5min 10sec

I see it time and again. A mid-sized company, say 20-30 staff, decides it wants to start doing some marketing, or it would like to refresh its current activities. It gets all excited about it and has a lot of fun doing the cool things, like rebranding, or launching a new Web site. It may even have put a great strategy and implementation plan in place. But after a few of months, it's all fizzled out.

The biggest mistake these companies make is that they don't stick to their marketing plan.

By doing this, companies effectively waste a great deal of their initial marketing investment. If that fantastic new Web site hasn't been updated in months, clients might wonder if the company is still in business. That wonderful new branding is lovely, but not particularly effective if correspondence is still going out with the old logo on it.

Effective marketing is consistent, regular and ongoing. Sporadic bursts of activity are likely to be a waste of time - and may end up doing the company more harm than good. It's not a great impression when the company doesn't even follow up the first of its new 'monthly' e-mail newsletters.

Why does this happen?

Times get tough. A company may have thought it had R50K/month for its marketing, but out of the blue, the economy tanks or the exchange rate plummets, and it is scrambling to pay salaries, let alone SEO bills.

Times get good. Conversely, companies that are very busy tend to (naturally) prioritise servicing their clients, and updating their blog or issuing a press release takes a back seat to paid work.

Companies lose interest. The glamorous part is the new brand identity, the funky Web site or the launch event. It's harder to get excited about finding something to write regular press releases about, or content for the newsletter. It's harder still when the company's expertise is in tech, medicine or finance - where marketing is practically a different language.

Nobody is assigned accountable ownership. The reality is that unless a company has a dedicated staff member whose performance is judged on whether this gets done, it probably won't happen.

Resources weren't properly allocated. The assigned staff member may not actually have the time or skills to devote to getting everything done. And if the work is outsourced, there's usually not enough awareness that someone internally still needs to allocate time to sourcing rough materials or checking and signing off work.

There are no instant results. Building a brand takes time and when sales don't spike immediately, companies can be quick to dismiss their marketing efforts as ineffective.

How to avoid marketing meltdown

Effective marketing is consistent, regular and ongoing.

Jo Duxbury is a marketing consultant and founder of Freelancentral.

Budget for a 'bare basics' plan. Identify an absolute minimum, core level of marketing activity that has to be sustained and make its budget untouchable. Suspending this should never be an option, as it's essentially cutting off the pipeline. A company might stop active SEO on its site, but continue adding two blog posts a week, properly tagged and titled for the search engines. On top of this core activity, overlay the second tier ('nice to have') and third tier ('if we have a bumper year') activities to enhance and complement the core projects.

Plan ahead. A company buys a press office on ITWeb and is good about using it for the first few months - then... tumbleweeds. All of a sudden its contract's nearly up and it still has three press releases to use. Cramming them into a month means people might start recognising its name, but this can be undone when the company decides not to renew because, well, it didn't get them any results. If it had been more disciplined about planning for a monthly press release, I suspect the results would have been a lot better. You get the idea.

Slow and steady wins the race. Accept that while it's not all glamorous, marketing must be consistent in order to work. One way of keeping motivated to do the grind work is to benchmark and measure as many indicators as possible. Even seeing a steady increase in the company's Twitter followers or Facebook page fans can be motivating and proof that people are reading the updates.

Make someone accountable. While the marketing plan needs to be committed to from the very top, ensuring it all happens needs to be built into the KPAs of whoever owns it internally. Or pay a marketing coach a retainer to keep the company in line. Whether the team handles the work themselves, or outsources it, it needs to be someone's focus. Outsourcing provides the extra reassurance that if the work doesn't get done, the agency or consultant doesn't get paid.

Allocate sufficient resources. Make sure the company fully understands what support the marketing point person needs, in terms of time, budget and headcount. It will soon see whether it has the capacity to handle it all in-house, or whether elements must be outsourced.

And finally, be patient.

Results will come. Search engine optimisation usually takes six months to have an effect. And marketers generally agree that it takes seven exposures to a brand before a customer is likely to engage with it. In particular, if a company is a new entrant into a market saturated with big brands, remember that it's taken it a long time (and a lot of money!) to get where it is. So give it time. And factor in quarterly or bi-annual marketing reviews to assess what's working and what isn't.

Jo Duxbury
founder of strategy agency Peppermint Source.

Jo Duxbury spent nine years as a freelance and full-time ‘suit’ in various communications agencies in London. She returned to Cape Town in 2004, and after freelancing at an ad agency, spotted a gap in the market for an online space for freelancers and clients to find each other. She took the plunge into entrepreneurship and launched www.freelancentral.co.za in early 2006. January 2010 saw Duxbury launching Peppermint Source, a spin-off of Freelancentral that offers full-service outsourced marketing to companies that don’t have the time, skills or staff to handle their marketing in-house. Duxbury is inspired by simplicity, clever and beautiful design, and optimistic people who work to make their dreams happen. Find out more at her blog or follow her on Twitter.

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