Functional business: Marketing

In the competitive world of business, strategic marketing isn’t just a luxury – it’s the very heartbeat that sustains and propels success

At the most basic level, if you don’t market your business, how can you expect to get customers through the door? This is a stark reality underscored by Andrew Metcalf, managing director of Maxim. Established in 1995 and serving businesses across Kent, Maxim specialises in marketing, as well as media relations, crisis communications, public affairs, community engagement and corporate communications.

According to Andrew, marketing serves as the vital conduit through which you can communicate crucial aspects of your business – be it new products, services, special offers or the core values that define your company. This communication isn’t limited to customers alone; it extends to stakeholders and industry peers. He emphasises the importance of developing a distinctive tone of voice and compelling brand identity, which not only allows you to inform people about your organisation, but also elucidates why they should choose to do business with you.

Andrew Metcalf

Today’s business environment is tough; people are feeling the strain and money is being spent more carefully. Andrew acknowledges that there tends to be a temptation to cut PR and marketing budgets as soon as business becomes difficult, but that’s the last thing that you should be doing. “Even in challenging times, you need to ensure there is a pipeline for new business and that your existing loyal customers don’t look for a better deal elsewhere,” he states. “That said, there is no harm in reviewing how you’re spending your marketing budget – something that often gets overlooked once a strategy is in place. Evaluate what’s giving you the best return on investment, and if something isn’t working, then don’t be afraid to revise the activity or even cut it from your plan.”

Andrew notes that there are plenty of things you can do that will take time, but not necessarily money. He proposes: “For instance, when was the last time you reviewed the content on your website or looked at the SEO? Are you using your social media profiles in the best way possible? Are there more networking events you could be attending? Further still, perhaps there are speaking opportunities you can take up or thought-leadership pieces to be written? Use your social channels, make the most of the free tools available and ask for advice when you need it. Many SMEs don’t have the luxury of an in-house marketing expert so talk to fellow business owners, pool your knowledge and share expertise.”

Becky Simms, CEO and founder of Reflect Digital, trusts that the foundation of marketing is storytelling – knowing who your brand is, what you stand for, why you are different and why the audience you want to reach would care. “The connection between brand and audience is of the utmost importance,” she says. “I always advise businesses to ensure their marketing strategy is ‘outside in’. By this, I mean your strategy is informed by the world outside your business. It involves actively listening to your audience, comprehending their needs, identifying their habits and understanding their motivations. Armed with this comprehensive knowledge, you can construct an audience-first strategy, steering clear of an ‘inside out’ approach where businesses simply dictate what they think is right without considering the external perspective.”

Reflect Digital’s core services include search engine optimisation (SEO), digital PR, paid media incorporating PPC, paid social, programmatic and remarketing, customer experience (CX), creative copy and visuals, and human behaviour research. Clients have the flexibility to work with the agency across various services or opt for a singular focus. “We have recently supported a well-known charity to re-vamp their regular supporter email communications to drive more donations and loyalty,” Becky shares. “The work is currently being implemented so we don’t have the results just yet, but the process was absolutely eye-opening for the client and has culminated in a communication playbook and training sessions to upskill their team.”

Becky Simms

Another recent project saw Reflect Digital run a multi-channel digital campaign for a B2B food wholesaler and overachieve their revenue target by 60%. “This was a fantastic result,” says Becky. “The campaign straddled organic search, digital PR and paid media – focusing on a very specific audience with a clear call to action. The client was understandably thrilled.”

In the face of mounting business costs, the anticipated financial constraints for firms in 2024 underpin the critical need to make the most out of marketing budgets. The starting point, Becky advises, is to ensure you know what success looks like. “It sounds obvious, but we often see businesses feeling like they need to engage in a bit of everything due to the multitude of available channels,” she explains. “Unfortunately, this often results in a lack of understanding of how each channel or campaign contributes to the customer journey. When a business truly understands its customer journey and how that varies for different persona types, then it can start to prioritise activity to be in the right place, at the right time, but most importantly, with the right message. Establishing a clear strategy, coupled with transparency on defining success and its measurement, ensures you remain in control of your business endeavours.”

The past few years have been especially turbulent for businesses. Amidst the challenges posed by economic fluctuations and environmental pressures, many enterprises have found themselves navigating the landscape in survival mode. Kent-based branding agency Oak Creative is collaborating with business owners who understand they need to prioritise their marketing and their brand. “It is crucial to set clear marketing objectives and plans for delivery to maximise impact,” stresses studio director Laura Bevan. “This includes putting tracking in place to measure success at every level and using data to monitor progress – which will drive business forward.”

Oak Creative believes your brand is your most valuable asset. “At the heart of every business is a brand,” says Laura. “Communicating your story effectively across all brand touchpoints has never been more important. Know what’s important to your customers and allow your brand personality to shine, drawing in more of your tribe. Both B2B and B2C buyers place a premium on authenticity and transparency, offering businesses the chance to engage directly with their customers through such communication. This is the most powerful way to cut through the noise.”

So, what about the evolving technology available to support marketing? Should SMEs be utilising artificial intelligence (AI) or is a human approach always best? For Laura and the team, education and embracing change is the first step. “AI can be used to make your customers’ experiences unforgettable and to help your business run smoothly. Whether it is used to respond to customers as live chat on your website, to generate new product descriptions or to assess spending habits and send out targeted emails, it can really elevate your offering.”

Whilst Oak Creative encourages organisations to try using various AI platforms, from a marketing and design angle, they have found some limitations. “There are amazing tools which can help generate ideas, but they lack the human qualities that drive the creation of art, storytelling and innovative concepts. While AI may enhance the efficiency of certain processes within creative agencies, it is unlikely to replicate the authentic and distinct creativity that humans bring to the table. It is an exciting time for marketing as we all learn to embrace the possibilities of AI. For businesses, it may seem unnerving but as with everything, there are pros and cons to consider.”

Laura Bevan

Founded by former journalist Sarah Hawes, Izzy PR provides bespoke PR and marketing support to Kent SMEs. Sarah strives to “keep things simple” for clients by identifying what they do and who they do it for, then sharing their messages through storytelling (never straying far from Izzy PR’s journalism roots) and ensuring these messages are in the right places, at the right time. “We work with businesses that want to define or refine their marketing, offering marketing strategy, target audience/ key messages work, content planning and content writing. We also partner with trusted associates to provide a full creative service so that everything is project managed through us – including photography, printing, graphic design, website build/refresh, events planning and execution, video production and media planning.”

Sarah draws a parallel between marketing and the process of moving. “Not having marketing is like relocating to a new area and seeking new friends yet confining yourself indoors where nobody is aware of who you are, what you offer or why they should connect with you. Marketing is the catalyst that propels you and your company into visibility – reaching the right audience, with a compelling message, through the appropriate channels, at the right time. It allows them to find out about you, understand what you do and become intrigued by what you bring to the table.”

Sarah’s advice is to take the time to know how your product or service meets the needs of those it’s intended for and prioritise customer retention. “There is plenty of competition out there, so you have to fight for every customer. They all come with a cost – once you have them, don’t lose them,” she urges. “Be consistent and ensure you track your marketing so you know what response you are getting from each channel. If it isn’t working (and give it a fair chance), then assess, tweak or ditch and go in a different direction. Marketing has two purposes – brand awareness and sales. Don’t try to do everything at once. Choose carefully and link the channels together.”

There are many tools out there to support businesses on their marketing journey – from images, videos, templates and graphics to scheduling software and content creators. Sarah, however, points out that AI should assist, rather than generate the finished product. She explains: “AI is still missing one major thing that we humans have – empathy. You know your customers whereas AI is totally reliant on what it has been told. It has no human approach, but you do. Use AI tools as a framework that you edit and tailor.”

Sarah goes on to explain that Izzy PR has been using AI tools for some time now, experiencing notable efficiency gains without compromising quality. “We recently wrote a speech for a client for a charity ball using Chat GPT. By providing detailed information about what, why, who and when, a three-minute speech was churned out, edited by us and sent to the client for their own edits. This isn’t what we usually do but it was a last-minute request. A task that typically would have taken us two hours took just 45 minutes.”

Sarah Hawes

Juggling various roles as a business owner can be overwhelming. If you don’t have an in-house marketing lead, consider outsourcing, which offers access to specialised expertise, cost-effective solutions and flexible scalability. Tabitha Beasley is an award-winning strategic marketing consultant and founder of The Marketing Associates. She started the business with a vision to support B2B companies with their marketing strategy and rolling out marketing activity. 

Tabitha collaborates with companies that need an experienced external professional to review and recommend a marketing strategy for achieving their business objectives. In addition to providing strategic services such as campaign planning, marketing plan writing and public speaking, she partners with associates to offer services such as copywriting, SEO, branding and design, and social media management. So, what are Tabitha’s top tips and trend predictions for 2024?

Tabitha Beasley
  1. Get your marketing basics aligned: Ensure what you are currently doing works, get rid of waste, have a marketing plan in place and appoint responsibility. Marketing doesn’t happen on its own; it needs research, insight and strategy. 
  2. Real-time response: Gone are the days of waiting for a response – customers want immediate answers. AI chatbots and virtual assistants have strengthened this, and it will only continue to grow.
  3. Technological advancements: You may not have ever imagined that virtual reality and augmented reality could be used in your business, but these technologies are increasingly being incorporated into marketing campaigns. Thomas Cook launched its ‘Try Before You Fly’ campaign, allowing users to virtually experience a holiday in select locations around the world. Using the Samsung Gear VR, potential customers were able to virtually try snorkelling in Sharm-El-Sheik, visit the pyramids in Egypt or have a helicopter tour of New York.

4. Sustainability and ethical consideration: The tide is starting to turn. Fast fashion brands are being named and shamed, and consumers are starting to demand credentials. What are your brand values? Do you live by them? If it is an example of ‘pinkwashing’, consumers will find out. Climate change pledges, social injustice statements and sustainability practices need to be considered. It’s time to stand up and take responsibility.

5. Hyper-personalised communication: What is the point in gathering data on your customer and target audience if you don’t use it? Well, 2024 is the time to ensure your data is working. Customers don’t want to be just a number; they want hyper-personalised communications to show that you care about them, you know their likes and dislikes, what they want and what they need. How can you use the data you currently have and what else do you need to know?

6. Video: No surprise here, but video content will continue to grow in popularity and social platforms will continue to support, engage and evolve this. Ensure your content plan includes video and your engagement will increase.

There you have it – the experts have spoken. In 2024, the fate of your business lies in your hands, and strategic marketing is the compass guiding you through the ever-changing business landscape. Whether it’s prioritising brand communication, engaging customers through compelling storytelling or staying ahead with cutting-edge technologies like AI, the call to adapt, optimise and consistently refine your marketing strategies is loud and clear.

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