Skillful marketing key to business success

Published in Philippine Daily Inquirer, Business Friday, September 21, 2007

EVER WONDERED where the all-time favorite Filipino brands of your childhood and your parents’ or even grandparents’ generations are?

Ask any person driven by ambition and he aspires to have his own business. No doubt his desire is moreover fired by the inspirational stories of successful entrepreneurs and business owners. When asked what the secrets to success of these icons are, many venture to say – hard work, perseverance, luck, a good product and extensive distribution even Divine Intervention. Very few cite skillful marketing in growing and sustaining a business as key to success. Yet marketing is recognized as the business process meant to create demand for products and services.

Myths and truths in business and marketing

Most business owners view marketing as an unnecessary expense. Not too many see it as a means to generate business. Or a guarantee to protecting one’s ground in the future when more players come in, sleeping competitors wake up or when a brand crisis strikes. Here are some myths associated with marketing.

Marketing communications, often associated with advertising, can be deferred or done away with as long as the products and services are massively available in trade. The truth is, without investments in awareness-building marketing activities, it may take time for end-users to know the product or service exists and in many cases, they may not know it at all. Time is very precious these days. Fewer consumers have the leisure time to shop around. Thus, it is to the advantage of the product or service when consumers are informed of its benefits even before they reach the trade area.

Having a wide distribution has its advantage and tremendous costs in the form of listing fees and/or retail margins. But manufacturers and service providers must realize that while listing fees and substantial trade margins are part of marketing expense, these are meant to guarantee a space in the retailers’ shelves and not the customers mind space.

As long as the product or service sells, there is no real need to fortify with image-building and sustaining marketing activities. Not true, marketing aims to optimize and sustain the brand for generations to come. What a business owner must assess is what segment of the universe of the potential market one wishes to serve and for how long will the market be served. Is the product meant to outlive the present generation of owners and users into the next generation or is it meant to simply sustain the owners’ present needs? For this, it is imperative that the present and future generations of consumers must come to know the brand through effective marketing.

Having good advertising is enough to compel consumers to buy a product or service. Not true – successful marketing is the sum of complementary marketing activities that include having a good product, right pricing, wide distribution and awareness programs that reach the intended market with a unique, differentiated and compelling benefit. Not one of the marketing mix can be disassociated from the rest and not one can singularly claim as the reason for the success of any product or service. Marketing is like a spoke to a wheel and vice versa. Having great advertising copy that stimulates demand is a plus to getting the product and the brand name into the consciousness of the target market much faster. This means that the advertising copy must do what a foot salesman is unlikely to accomplish – be a salesperson simultaneously to thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of targeted people for every commercial exposure be it on print, outdoor or broadcast media.

Being on the trade shelf is a guarantee of a product’s movement. Not always true. Here comes the special relationship of trade accounts and marketing people with retailers. The trade marketing people must make sure that the branch or area manager, category-in-charge, customer service people are aware of the product’s existence on the shelf. A call to the customer service counter or a query with the floor sales attendant can be a lost sales opportunity if the response is in the negative when in fact the product has been sitting on the shelf.

Customer feedback is often negative. Not true. If the customer is satisfied with the product or service delivery, then positive feedback comes unsolicited. On the other hand, if the product or service meets a need, but potential customers were disheartened during the sales process, they are likely to provide constructive feedback that will enable the provider to deliver the product or service in a better way.

Franchisees need not do marketing. If you are a franchisee, demand that the franchisor engage in substantial and effective marketing. After all, a percentage of the franchise fees go to marketing expense. But this does not prevent the franchisee to engage in incremental marketing activities at local store level, with the permission of the franchisor, to create demand for one’s own store. The same principle applies to malls and their tenants. Malls must help create the right foot traffic for its tenants. Tenants, on the other hand, can engage in additional marketing activities that will ensure that foot traffic that goes into the mall also leads into the tenant’s shop.

Business owners can chart and do the marketing themselves. True – but they need to understand what marketing and creating demand for products and services entails. Or they can avail themselves of expert skills. Still, they must ascertain the skill and know-how of the marketer or consultant they are getting on board. If marketing is not done well, it can be a costly and self-destructive exercise.