How do you change an SMEs mindset when it comes to marketing?

Reports
James Langan

Written by James Langan, commercial director at Natures Menu

You’re a successful, entrepreneurial business with big ambitions. You’re growing at pace, and while you know you should be spending more on marketing, you’re doing really well regardless. Why eat into your profits?

That said, you also know that it’s dangerous to stand still, especially if you operate in a sector where disruptive start-ups are challenging the status quo with NPD that threaten to eat into your audience share. Business owners can focus so much on the day-to-day that they forget to think about the future.

But…marketing? Well, it just feels like your time and money could be much better spent elsewhere and in any case you have other priorities.

This can be the mindset of some scaling SMEs. And while it’s a dangerous one, it’s a pattern of behaviour that’s all too common from smaller, entrepreneurial brands and businesses.

But actually, marketing can mean the difference between success and failure. It is one of the most valuable tools in helping to build a business.

I have seen first-hand what a well-executed marketing plan can do for a company. I joined premium pet food brand Natures Menu – providers of raw, meat based pet products – two years ago. At the time, the brand had been going for over 35 years, and business was ticking along nicely.

Natures Menu had built a loyal customer base, and the business was growing organically on the back of word of mouth recommendations. However, in spite of the quality of the product and high levels of customer loyalty, we recognised that we ran the risk of falling behind our competitors if we failed to pay real attention to the marketing and branding side of the business.

Marketing can help identify problems you didn’t realise you had with your brand

There were issues with the brand – ones we didn’t fully appreciate until we started thinking about a marketing strategy that would speak to audiences outside our existing client base. We realised there needed to be more cohesion in the messaging across the product range, and we knew that we had to find a way of championing our raw food credentials in the face of new competition.

There had to be a change in company mindset from the top of the business – one that would trickle down through to the rest of the organisation. We knew we needed to give the brand a refresh, and understood that the involvement of the senior team was crucial.

You need to bring in a team who reflect and understand your entrepreneurial mindset

Once you’ve decided to lead on the front foot marketing-wise, the tricky part begins. Namely, you need to choose your marketing partners wisely.

When you’re a small team, you’re likely to need marketing support from outside experts. You should choose one that has skin in the game and is culturally aligned so that you can work together well.

For SMEs, it’s important to work with experts that not only embrace your entrepreneurial mindset, but also understand how best to speak to your existing audience as well as any new ones you are targeting. We found what we were looking for in behavioural communications agency, HeyHuman.

The agency understood that we needed to develop a marketing and branding approach that was more evolutionary than revolutionary. While we needed a relatively major brand overhaul, it needed to be done in a way that wouldn’t disenfranchise our loyal consumers who we’d nurtured for several decades.

In addition HeyHuman offered a powerful set of neuroscience tools that they used to both develop and test what we were doing, seeing how people were reacting emotionally to our new packaging and redesign. It also enabled us to develop communications which would bring in new customers, without alienating our existing client base.

Over the past eighteen months, we have delivered a range of marketing campaigns which have helped to boost the brand and sales. This culminated with a bold sampling activation at Crufts, led by HeyHuman, which saw a 4m tall ‘poo bag’ at the centre of our stand, driving home the message that feeding dogs Natures Menu leads to more ‘manageble’ poo. The activation was a real success for the brand, and saw us get 12k people to sign up for a week long product trial.

Stop winking at the dark

Steuart Henderson Britt observed that ‘Doing business without advertising is like winking at someone in the dark – you know what you’re doing, but nobody else does.’

SMEs can often spend too much time winking into darkness. It can be easy to get immersed in the other areas of the business, and to keep putting your marketing and comms strategy on the back burner.

Nor should you introduce a knee-jerk marketing strategy when it’s too late for it to do any meaningful good for your business.  Fix the roof while the sun is shining. Think about it now, make sure the marketing-led approach trickles down from the top of the business, and align with the right partner.

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