Marketing as a discipline has an ever expanding tool kit with some tools requiring the support of specialists. They can be used in a variety of ways and some can provide a wealth of feedback statistics to assist with calculating return on investment.
There is always a need to justify expenditure, which can be tricky in some areas of marketing, and this pressure on evaluation has led some down a path of only concentrating on activities that can be measured. This can lead to un-balanced marketing output and ultimately can result in less return on investment. In this maze of tools, techniques and evaluation methodology the whole process can appear very mechanical. This is dangerous given that marketing needs to be a creative process, not just in the design of on-line or print output, but also in terms of campaign initiatives. Marketing needs a sprinkle of ‘magic’ to bring the highest rewards. However, the start point of any effective marketing is planning.
Defining Marketing Objectives
Without a set of clearly determined marketing objectives – that would normally be linked to some form of wider business plan – marketing efforts will at best be hit and miss, at worst a waste of time money and effort. Setting objectives seems to be a logical place to start, yet it is surprising how many organisations simply replicate activity from previous years with a bit of updating.
Use of strategy tools will help an organisation of any type determine its focus going forward. These tools can appear a little abstract and in some instances hard to understand. Marketing, like other professions, tends to surround itself with acronyms, and a language that others find it hard to penetrate. That said, with a little bit of guidance, strategy tools are relatively easily understood and can be used to help focus activity.
The most well known of these tools is SWOT analysis. A simple tool whereby the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of an organisation are identified. Many organisations do this through pro-forma documentation, group working or a combination of both. A very useful addition to this is to ask clients and/or referral bodies, to take part. This gives an external perspective that is very helpful when setting marketing objectives. Having identified the issues it is then a case of building an action plan to address the issues. This is where many organisations fail. Agreeing a plan is one thing, but it needs to be implemented! Collegiate bodies such as Chambers or Partnerships find this particularly difficult, perhaps because there is very little line management sanction for failing to implement initiatives.
Another tool that is very helpful at this stage is PESTLE. This tool allows users to take a good look at the environment in which they are operating and then to implement objectives to maximise opportunities and respond to changes in a market place. In the legal sector there have been some earth shattering changes and the pace of change has accelerated significantly over the last few years. A Chambers would be well placed to adapt to a changing environment if it were to make use of PESTLE on a regular basis.
PESTLE is similar to SWOT in that it is largely a way at looking at an organisation. The letters stand for the following key headings. Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal, and Environmental. By looking at these factors in the context of the organisation it is then possible to begin identifying a strategic path for an organisation. It helps organisations act ahead of changes in a market place. Sadly many organisations are slow to react to change. There are many reasons for this. They could relate to culture, leadership, decision making structure, absence of team work etc. No matter what the reason, an organisation that fails to embrace change and respond accordingly may well have a limited life span.
There are many other tools that can be deployed, some of the more well-known are Porters’ Forces model and the BCG matrix. Another useful tool for Chambers is segmentation analysis. The basic principle here is that different segments or sectors have different dynamics and these need to be considered when attempting to market an organisation. Decision makers may be different, routes to market may be different and the organisation may have a stronger presence in some areas, weaker in others. This of course needs to be reflected in any marketing activity.
Building the Marketing Plan
As mentioned at the outset the marketing tool kit is a big one, with some of the tools, notably web and digital, requiring the support of specialists. A major difficulty for inexperienced marketers is knowing which cocktail of tools to deploy to achieve a particular objective.
Many organisations fight hard to dominate search engines, either by paid campaigns or by convincing Google to rank their site above others. However, in some sectors (and this includes parts of the wider legal market) web sites may be used principally for ‘verification’ purposes to support a referral. In such a situation ‘click to client’ as a result of a one off visit to a web site is unrealistic.
Marketing plan section headings that are useful in structuring a plan are listed below. Against each heading a list of activities should be provided, with responsibilities allocated and a budget set.
- Marketing Communications
- Direct marketing e.g. e-mail updates
- Referral Stimulation
- Corporate Social Responsibility
- Social media
- Customer care/advocacy
- Market research
The activities planned in each area need to support a particular objective. Realistically for many small organisations they will have a very limited budget and it is important to be realistic about what can be achieved.
It is therefore worth remembering that for many business to business, high value professional services organisations the linked issues of ‘reputation and referral’ still generate more work than anything else. As such it is reasonable to focus on activities that will help stimulate further referrals or enhance reputations.
What about the Magic?
Mechanical marketing can leave people uninspired. What does this look like? In the law sector it can mean, taking referral sources for granted, uninspiring or no on-going communications, tired looking web sites (no more scales of justice and wigs please!), the same old summer party, an advert (on-line or in print) where there is no professional design on view and so on.
Magic in the form of creative thinking could mean truly engaging stunningly designed communications, innovative memorable events or even changing the way clients are served to make life easier for them. It is often hard to visualise what this could mean when you are working within an organisation. Examples from other sectors may help. For example, adding coffee cup holders to cars probably did not come from a complaint and technology companies regularly have to upgrade their products arguably turning a want into a perceived need e.g. adding a camera to a phone!
Marketing then is a combination of solid strategic thinking, good informed planning and a liberal sprinkling of creativity.
Author details: Steve has been working in the law sector for many years in his capacity as MD of the marketing outsource & consultancy business Conical. He is a Fellow and Course Director for the Chartered Institute of Marketing. He has authored reports on Barrister Marketing, Law Firm Marketing and Accountancy Marketing and has presented at conferences in the UK, Sweden, Germany, Turkey and Belgium.
By Steve Bedford, MD of the marketing outsource & consultancy business Conical. He is Course Director for the Chartered Institute of Marketing and has authored reports on Barrister Chambers Marketing