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Cash is King, But Marketing is Everything!

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Categories: For the SME, Business Strategy, Management, Marketing

A few years ago I brought a CFO into a regional financial organization.  Pete was a bright fiscal manager that I had mentored in a previous company, and he was the right solution for my client during a time of fast growth in the business (and faster growth of spending by the principals).  During a particularly heated conversation among the leaders after four months of self-inflicted negative cash flow, Pete pounded his fist on a table and loudly stated, “Don’t you know that Cash is King?!!!”   This comment stunned the room until the Marketing Vice President, responded; Cash is King, but Marketing is EVERYTHING!”

This was no small statement.  The VP had won four New York Art Director Awards.  This is the equivalent of having Martin Scorsese directing the movie you are producing.  What did he mean when he said “Marketing is Everything”?

The simplest way to understand this is found in the definition of Capitalism.  Capitalism is “an economic system of barter in which each party in the trade believes they have received equal or greater value in exchange for what they gave up”.  The key word here is “believe”, for without a belief in the value of the trade, no one will engage in the barter.  The greatest obstacle business owners face with professional advisors is their fear of whether they can trust you.  After all, you are telling them that you understand how to manage their money, security, and future better than they do.  They must believe in you and what you are offering before you can serve them.  This is a tall order during this time of survival in a very difficult economy. 

How does this relate to marketing?  I know many of us have Dilbert’s view of marketing: “there are liars, born liars, and marketing directors”, but this is only true in organizations that do not have core moral and ethical principles guiding their lives.   Marketing is the sum of all the parts of what we communicate, whom we communicate with, and how we do it. 

Without solid moral and ethical foundations a company is no better than a traveling carnival show with marketing as the ringleader.  Just as human beings are unique as creatures because of the levels and methods in which we communicate, and communications are the basis for our existence, the VP felt very comfortable stating that “marketing is everything”.  He saw that the needs and issues in the company may have revolved around fiscal management, but the underlying cause of the problem was one of communications, the “marketing” of the solutions and strategies facing the organization internally. 

Now that we know that “Marketing is Everything”, what is marketing?  Most people believe that marketing is made up of Advertising, Public Relations, and perhaps Direct (mass) Mail, but in the words of Marlene Dietrich, “is that all there is, my friend?” 

The answer is an emphatic NO!

Several years ago I was assisting a company that was facing many hard issues in corporate image and branding.  The CEO was an “Initiating Fact Finder®” in Kolbe Corporation terms, which means they love detail to avoid risks, but suffer from paralysis by analysis. He was not capturing what we were telling him needed to happen in his marketing strategies. 

Being such an analyst, I came to the conclusion that the only way to help him was to document all the disciplines of marketing and use the descriptions as talking points for helping him recognize the gaps that were causing their problems. 

The results after following the strategy? Thirty-five percent growth in revenue by the end of the fiscal year. 

What was in the document that persuaded the CEO?  There are actually twelve disciplines in marketing!

The Twelve Disciplines of Marketing:

  1. Market Research and Competitive Analysis
  2. Competitive Advantage
  3. Differentiation
  4. Branding, & Image
  5. Messaging: Elevator Statements, Compelling Story, Mission-Vision-Values
  6. Public Relations
  7. Advertising
  8. Pricing
  9. Sales Strategies: Push, Pull, Direct Marketing, Relationship
  10. Promotion
  11. Merchandising
  12.  Event Management

What do each of them mean and why might they be important to your business? 

Market Research and Competitive Analysis

Knowing more about your potential business clients is the first step to understanding their wants, needs, hopes, dreams and fears.  The foundation for any marketing effort is in first understanding the people and organizations you wish to serve and the value they believe you provide.  Once you “know” your clients you must understand who are your competitors.  What are their advantages and strengths?  What are their limitations and faulty assumptions?  These and other elements make up market research and competitive analysis.

Competitive Advantage

Once you know your clients and competitors you need to document “who are you?”  By honestly listing your strengths, limitations, opportunities, hurdles and faulty assumptions you can plot a course to differentiating yourself from the competition. 

Messaging

If someone asked you “what do you do professionally” is your answer “I am a CPA…”  If the flaming extrovert that would intrude on your contemplative solidute continued to ask “What does your practice do?”, do you answer with that look in your eye that says “how dumb can you be?” and a statement of “We do tax and audit”?  Messaging is perhaps the most important part of everything; after all is shown, graphed, visualized, texted, and sung about, it is verbal communications still triumphs. 

Let’s face it.  Few individuals in accountancy are extroverts, let alone great communicators.  The “silence of our voices” becomes a safe place when combined with a personal knowledge of “how bright we are, and how little everyone else understands about how the world of money really works…”.  What we really need is a the type of pithy comments that breaks this destructive cycle in our communications.  That is where elevator statements and compelling stories woven around the mission-vision-value statements of our practices comes in.

Elevator statements are simple to understand.  What can I say about who I am and what I do in the brief time it takes to ride down an elevator?  The basics of it are easy to understand.  The components are...

  1. “I am the luckiest person in the world!  I get to (fill in the services) to (fill in the ideal customer/client), to help them (fill in the desired results and benefits).
  2. “(Name of your practice) works with (industry sector, types of businesses) in the greater (name your location and reach of services) area.
  3. We have been fortunate to help our clients over the past (period of time).
  4. Thanks for asking!  What do you do?

Notice what the structure of the elevator statement does.  First it...

  • Establishes your presense as something positive to be around
  • Defines what you do for your clients
  • Defines your ideal clients
  • Explains the benefits to your ideal clients
  • Names your company or practice
  • Let’s the person you are talking to figure out if they or their company fit into whom you work with
  • Establishes credibility with the company’s history (whether it is long, [stable], or short [energetic and making it during a tough economic time])
  • Turns the attention back on them.

Compelling stories are expanded elevator statements that focus on actual results with your clients.  Compelling stories should be shared if

  • The elevator statement results in a response of “that is very interesting, tell me more” or
  • You are giving a presentation to a prospect (or group of prospects at an event)

Look for an upcoming blog on how to craft these with elegance!

Branding & Image

Next comes defining your brand and image and building a logo, color scheme, tag lines, and other elements that clarify who you are and what is different about your practice.  Think of the line “when it absolutely, positively needs to be there the next morning…” Who do you think of?  Federal Express, of course.  Does this mean that UPS, or the US Postal Service doesn’t provide overnight delivery?  Of course not, but FedEx has establish their brand and image as the one to trust when it has to happen.

Public Relations

Public Relations is best understood by thinking about what your best friend would say about you and then thinking about what your worst enemy would say about you.  The common ground between them is the “ground zero” that your market believes about you.  How do we get them to believe what your best friend says?  By letting them hear those same thoughts from people they already trust that have no hidden agenda for saying wonderful things about you. 

Public Relations is the structured process of confirming your brand and image to your market from third parties potential customers trust.  Public Relations is so powerful that every dollar spent in PR requires ten to twenty spent in advertising.  Why?  Advertising is you saying, “It is so”.  PR is someone your market believes saying “It is so”.

Advertising

Advertising is letting your audience know who you are, what you offer, why they should “trade” with you, and what differentiates you.  Most small businesses tend to focus on how to “save money” on their advertising. Research shows there is up to a five hundred times difference in effectiveness between well-produced ads and graphical images and those that are not. This is the “creative” effort of advertising.  Production (actually producing the ads) is the next discipline.  Great creative does not assure great production.  On top of this, great creative and perfect product does not guarantee success in advertising.  Is the media selected for exposure the right one?  How many targets customers does the media reach?  How many hits will there be from each ad print?  Marketing is responsible for analyzing media choices.

Products & Services

At first blush, a financial advisor might ask, ”What’s the big deal here?  I sell advice and strategies.”  In fact, it is important that you package what you offer around your differentiation and brand/image issues.  Most prospects do not understand the difference between a CPA and a CFO-For-Hire, or a broker from Merrill Lynch and a CFP. 

Do your clients understand why personal tax planning is different than corporate tax planning.    Have you matched your products to your identified market niches?  What is the difference between accrued cash flow and cash flow that accounts for aging receivables, aging payables and balance sheet issues? The product and service mix we offer must be clearly defined, with the benefits of each clearly detailed for each market segment.  

Pricing

Pricing is more than just stating, “we bill by the hour”, or “we bill our efforts by project”, or “we work on a monthly retainer”.  Pricing is what your client is offering you in trade for your services, and by this, it is a definition of what they perceive the value of working with you represents.

Yes, you may receive money for your services, but what is the value of your services and how is it defined?  Do you offer newsletters?  Does the client get an annual review?  Is the review in-person?  Do you have workshops or seminars?  If you do are they for prospective clients only, or are they offered for existing clients as well?  All of these issues and more make up the “value statement” of your practice, and define the role Pricing plays in your marketing strategy.

Sales Strategies

I have lectured to, consulted for, and held workshops with thousands of individuals in financial services.  Every high-producing practice had one thing in common: they had a well-defined sales strategy and stuck to it.  What is your sales strategy? Do you hold client events? Do you take your top clients out for a round of golf each year? Do you offer dinner workshops, or does the practice generate new clients through referrals only?  Clearly defined sales strategies are a critical element in the success of your practice.

Promotion

Promotion is the art of offering “something for nothing”.  Promotion can be a part of public relations efforts (sponsoring a hole or a reward at a charity golf tournament), or offering an educational dinner seminar to existing clients and their friends or associates who are not your clients.  Promotion plays an important role in establishing and confirming your brand and image.

Direct Marketing

Direct Marketing is clearly identifying your audience and targeting your message to them.  This can be done through mass or drip mailing campaigns or broadcast email.  Which is it right for you?  Many factors come into play in the decision, including how long your practice has been open, what are the other elements of your overall marketing strategies, and how does it fit into a coordinated marketing campaign.

Merchandising

Merchandising is telling others of your accomplishments and securing the brand.  It is more than giving out “stuff”.  Merchandising is done through ad specialties, items that are given to prospects and customer that keep our name and image in front of them.  Ad specialties are not worthless trinkets.  They must be items that are lasting, memorable and reflect your image. Benefit –– a 52% increase in the effectiveness of direct mail has been shown with proper use of ad specialties. It also includes newsletters, trade shows and events. Each must build the brand and remind audiences of the value you bring.

In Summary:

Cash is King. Whether it is in our own practices, or the financial reports of our business clients, Cash and Cash Flow determines survival and stability.  Despite this, without a clear understanding of Marketing and how it defines the company and builds the path to its future, Cash is not enough. 

Cash is King...

Marketing is EVERYTHING

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