Round Table Debate: Marketing

Posted on the 5 February 2015

Round Table Debate: Marketing

Hedley McEwan’s ‘brain gym’ provided the ideal creative environment for our latest Round Table event, this time covering the subject of marketing.

Along with host Tom Hedley, the Forum’s chief executive Gillian Marshall, who posed the questions, and marketing manager Steve Gibson were joined by:

Neil Taylor – representing Fagron UK

Zoe Hartill – Taopix

Kari Owers – OPR

Mark Ions – Exclusive

Clare Stagg – Planit Design

Stephen Sadler – Intimation Creative

Q: What’s working in the world of marketing currently?

Tom Hedley:You wouldn't necessarily voice your opinions on most people's activities but as soon as you mention you're in marketing everybody has something to say. It's so easy to open up conversations. We’re actually in business development, and linking that with marketing is the single biggest mind shift you can put in a business. When we have conversations with potential new clients they start to silo off 'this is what we do in sales', 'this is what we do in marketing', but we ask 'where's your business development?'. We develop people's businesses by whatever forms, whatever means, whatever platforms. Whether it's advertising, brand development or design, literature, online or one or all of those things, we are developing people’s businesses. Marketing is not a superficial approach if it's done properly. It's about getting into the DNA of a company, finding the cultural mood and the good bits and getting that story out in the most effective way, which is usually linked to budgets of course. It doesn't have to be mega budgets any more, and it might not even be a paid for solution.

Kari Owers: What I want to know from a client is who their customers are. It's interesting when you ask that question. It helps us identify the customer personas for every campaign and helps us map the different media and social media that are appropriate to reach them. Very few businesses totally understand their customers or invest in research to find out their personal tastes, their lifestyle and so on. Nowadays you can't say a customer fits in this box or that box. A boy of 18 or a woman of 80 can listen to the same music and look at the same websites or media. You have to be clever in how you map out the channels to get to them. Also I find it amazing when people don’t know how they are going to measure how effective their marketing is going to be. You should know within a pretty short time frame nowadays if something is working or not because digital marketing is so traceable. You've got to be flexible and able to change, so measurement is vital.

Stephen Sadler: So is marketing giving the customer what they think they don't need? With all the smaller agencies spinning out of larger organisations, people are being given lots of different, subjective opinions. They may all be valid but it's difficult if they are getting all these different views to be able to decipher it. There is confusion and perhaps business owners don't really understand it themselves.

Steve Gibson: It's about the numbers. With campaigns, you start with numbers and end with the numbers when you come to measure the campaign’s effectiveness. It's in middle where you can be creative and there are a million different variables. 

Stephen: We've got so many different touch points with consumers. We will transact with someone at work and then at home. The complex nature of how we transact digitally makes it hard for a business to attribute what's successful. It's a very, very confusing space.

Kari: A lot of people think getting people to visit their website is the holy grail. It's crucial, but it's not your only homepage. They will find you on social media or Google first so you need to manage those touch points.

Neil Taylor: It's the wisdom of crowds against the wisdom of friends.

Kari: Sometimes people get embarrassed because they don't do much marketing and then say they've got most of their business from word of mouth. That's gold dust! The only question is how to get more of it, and that’s where clever PR comes in.

Stephen: It's the experience you give your clients that leads them to go on and talk about it.

Neil: you can influence people to influence, but if your product or service isn't good you’re going to get caught out anyway.

Q: How important is internal marketing, ie how you market an organisation to the people in it?

Tom: We do a lot of brand invention and now we're doing a lot of brand reinvention where companies have lost their mojo and don't know where their business development strategy is going to take them. As an example, we have worked with an established legal firm who hadn't paid any attention to how they outwardly communicated, or their feel internally. They were looking at high levels of growth but felt they couldn't compete on a like for like basis with other firms. They brought us in to look at their stationery and website. We had forensic conversations with everybody except those who run the business, from the admin staff to the cleaner to the junior partners. They all knew they had a really good product but because of the way they presented themselves they felt embarrassed about charging their fees. It came as a complete lightning bolt to the managing partners. They adapted much quicker and embraced the location where they're based. It was about making the most of their assets, changing the environment they work in and improving internal communications. From the reception to the board room, it's completely transformed how they feel about the company. It's the same for our business being in the Toffee Factory; three years in and people love coming to work. One of the best words of mouth is when you have people who want to work for you and then tell other people. You need root and branch change to rebrand a business and get its mojo back. You won't get that from changing the colour of your logo.

Clare Stagg: We're based in the former Ryhope Workingmen's Club, which now looks fantastic! We've created a great space that we’re very proud of. We're a small firm but proud of where we are and just travel to our clients.

Stephen: We suffer from that London-centric bias and some have to get over the fact that we're on Team Valley, but others like it because they want to get out of a humdrum corporate environment and appreciate the chance to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond.

Kari: We moved to Ouseburn eight years ago. There were only four of us then but I just thought I've got to be here. I knew an environment where I wanted to come would be one other people would want to be in; that would be more creative and where clients would want to come too. Marketing is every single touch point for every single person. We have a big industrial table where we've had press cuttings and examples of our work put under glass. It's a great talking point when clients visit; we could spend ages talking through it with them, it's one of the best ways of marketing ourselves.

Zoe Hartill: When I talked to people who'd worked there for a long time they said ours was a great company to work for but if you came into the building or looked at their website you weren't getting that vibe. We have an event twice a year, people come from all over the world, and we created a film where we asked them how they liked their job and the company and put it on Twitter and recruitment went through the roof.

Mark Ions: We work in a very, very competitive environment where the majority are city centre businesses. As a small business we had to work out how we attract the business. We moved to Prestwick Business Park, to a superb building with a mezzanine level and vaulted ceiling. If it's close between us and somebody else, that environment works because clients see living proof of the brand. If you get the environment correct not only does it mean you attract and retain the right people who come into work singing and dancing and want to be there, but you can also go out and win new clients with the right branding, so the cost is worth it. As a business owner it's sometimes confusing to see what works.

Tom: This is a productive workspace. If you're being paid to think and work then this is a good place to do it. It can come across as an indulgence very easily but clients need to know it's for them.

Clare: It's a careful balance between making staff feel happy and enjoying being there, so we have a pool table, but also keeping productivity up.

Zoe: We found the opposite. Good developers want the office and getting them to imagine we needed something like a chill-out room was as hard as getting them to talk to sales and marketing.

Q: If operations don't understand the activity that's happening in sales and marketing, how do you engender good team working?

Tom: Another client we worked with was an engineering company. Everyone had an inherent belief that they worked for a fantastic company and whatever it took to keep a client happy they would go there. They have great management. It was the best example I've come across in years of it all being about the collective energies of the team.

Neil: A company I worked for was based on a Dutch model, a flat structure where the people were there to have fun. Sitting in their boardroom talking about management was fantastic. We came to realise in the UK that not everybody can do this. If you try to go drag people along they would become more insular and lean towards silos. There will be some old school people who are very good at what they do but will never be part of that. People in finance, for example, will say I've got to concentrate and need an office on my own, or a young person who is very shy and inexperienced will think 'how can I engage in sales?'.

Tom: When a company is built in the image of the people who founded the business that usually cascades down as guiding principals and ethos. The engineering company have a very inspirational leader and people want to work for him. In some companies, when the managers go over the top, the troops will be going in the opposite direction. All you can do with ones like that is to give them your best advice because unless it's all joined up you are probably chucking money away.

Steven: Business failures are usually marketing failures. It's so ingrained in everything that, ultimately, it's all marketing's fault.

Tom: When I was at Robson Brown we had a client who suddenly decided to pay us on results. They had £20m turnover with us and 120 stores. I visited half of them. Remembering that advertising makes people want to buy but it doesn't sell anything, eventually they realised their sales people were rubbish and they couldn't expect to remunerate us on their results.

Clare: We’ve set up our office so you do see all of us when you visit. The first two people you meet are the business partners. Visitors sometimes think I'm the secretary, but I'd trust anyone in the office to answer the phone and greet visitors. It's encouraging to hear we're doing a lot of things right.

Kari: The Workingmen's Club is the story of your brand, then the expertise you have is invaluable. There's no risk to you by giving some of that away, whether it’s talking on the radio, blogging, LinkedIn... Be generous with that and it will start to pull people towards you. People think they have to have a big contract win before they find a voice but actually the stories are much simpler. It might even be someone in your business that sums up what you are about. It’s about not being afraid of what makes you different, because that's what gives you the edge. It's not always easy - it's even hard for me, although I’m in PR, to extract stories in my own business because I'm so close to it. But if you spend half an hour talking with your team you will find the stories, we've all got them.

Q: Reaching customers isn't enough these days. How can marketing really engage people to make a difference to bottom line?

Stephen: People want to buy into your success and be associated with it but they don't want a big message all the time. The boundaries of B2B and B2C are so blurred now. We are all consumers and that's how we’re seen from a contact marketing point of view.

Kari: It’s also blurred how people procure services. Everybody is part of the sales cycle. Customers don’t like to be ‘sold to’ any more; they want to be part of a real conversation with people and brands they like.

Zoe: It's why we call our sales people consultants. Although I'm using a lot of the principals I was using marketing B2C, our customers are now businesses and their customers are the consumers, so we are showing a lot more of our personality. LinkedIn is where we need to be, but actually a lot of customers come through Facebook.

Kari: The Trust Barometer report talks about who people trust and how trust is linked to purchasing. People trust the average Joe more than the CEO and the other people businesses would normally put out there. It's why people are putting pictures of their teams on their websites because trust is such a crucial area now.

Neil: You can be talking to someone on a commercial basis then you find out they watch Emmerdale and it all suddenly becomes more human.

Zoe: We might put something on our company page on Facebook but stick it on your personal profile and there's a much higher level of engagement.

Neil: I was shocked to see that Facebook is now a bigger search engine than Google, but unless you're authentic people see through it. Authenticity is key.

Kari: You don't earn people's attention without being totally authentic. Give it some personality, or don't bother.

Q: How do you integrate marketing into the bigger picture?

Kari: There are fewer traditional agencies now. The sector has become more fractured so you have specialist PR and communications, SEO, brand and advertising agencies. It's hard for businesses to navigate but really they should be talking to everybody to understand what’s right for their situation.

Neil: Everybody has their own channel now. It's so completely disparate and diverse that you have to have a product that's relevant, appropriate and accessible.

Kari: It's a partnership too. Gone are the days when you went to an external marketeer and say make it happen. Instead, you say 'let's have a conversation about what we need to achieve as a business'. A good marketing agency or consultant will tell you which proportion of your business marketing you can do yourself – like creating ambassadors in your workforce.

Clare: From the vanity point of view, you might say I want an article in this magazine because I have achieved something, but then you realise some of those articles are paid for. It can be difficult to know where to put your money wisely and not just because it's vanity.

Kari: People are making decisions and buying in their downtime, so marketing doesn’t stop in the workplace or during work hours – it’s a commitment.

Q: Does the message matter then if people are ultimately buying because of recommendation or other influences?

Kari: People tell me they get good feedback but when I ask they don't know exactly what it is – it’s often anecdotal. You need to know what people are saying about you on Facebook and Twitter or down the pub, because that's your sales message.

Tom: We did some work for a lawnmower company whose message was all about getting a professional, quality finish in your garden. They were working on the assumption that everyone wants stripey lawns and perfect edges to their borders because it was driven by accepted wisdom of the perfect English country garden. It's wrong, people just want to get the job done quickly. It was kind of what everybody thought but didn't want to believe. Now their message is it's ultra quick, ultra easy, by design.

Kari: It's emotional purchasing. People are buying a certain way because they want to get to the match at 3pm or they want builders who take six weeks not three months.

Mark: Surveys show 85 per cent of recruiters are pretty poor and we are tarred with that brush. It's one of the reasons I set up Exclusive, to disprove the theory. We've tried to establish ourselves as an authority, writing articles and information, being on social media, to try and demystify what we do. We've got to tick so many different boxes, recruiting across different sectors, then we come across clients who don't particularly like recruitment companies. It's where word of mouth becomes so important. For us, it's less about being on the phone and more about networking, sponsorship in the right marketplace - we don't have a huge budget so we have to cherry-pick. Winning the Culture for Success award showed that we aren't the same as every other recruiter. It's not about having the badge of membership but by being a member of NOF Energy and NEPIC, of example, says to clients that we understand your industry.

Clare: It's the same with us. We do what we do really well. We've got a great team who are very experienced. Residential extensions are a skill and a lot of people can't make them pay, but we do. We've got 200 clients a year but a lot of bigger firms would turn their noses up at that work.

Kari: The reason why I haven't used a recruitment company much is because few offered to come into my business, put boots on the ground and find out about us. If they did they'd effectively recruit for us 365 days a year because they would know our culture and we'd always be in the back of their mind. We ask everybody in our business, even new graduates, to map out who they know. We want everybody to understand they have a network of influence.

Q: How do you engage clients in a global marketplace where you may not be so well known?

Stephen: It comes back to employee engagement.

Zoe: The biggest challenge for us as that we're getting bigger and bigger, operating in 56 countries and across different channels. I do a lot of direct marketing here but in other territories I'm relying on distributors. It's very difficult to put out a marketing campaign that engages every customer in every different space in every country.

Tom: We work with a tyre company that distributes all over the world. I can control the way the brand looks and what it says but I can't control how it acts. All I can do is give the distribution network as high a quality collateral to work with as I can.

Neil: Culturally it's virtually impossible to carry a sustained message and getting the nuances wrong can be catastrophic. But if the brand values are consistent, the brand message will carry.