As any freelancer, entrepreneur, or startup knows, having a good product or service is great, but getting it out to the market is an entirely different kettle of fish. We’ve asked our marketing guru, Greg Atkinson, to share some of his insights in a series of in-depth interviews. A well-rounded marketer with over a decade of experience, Greg has led teams for household names like Carphone Warehouse, Best Buy, and the eBay owned StubHub. In this article, we chat to Greg about the basics of marketing.
Let’s start at the beginning. What is marketing? And what exactly does a marketer do?
Marketing is the promotion of your product or service to an audience. Basically, it’s serving the right message to the right person at the right time. That’s ultimately what the marketer is trying to do.
For me, personally, marketing is one of the most important parts of the business. It really starts and ends with marketing. You have an idea, you have a product or service that you think fills a gap in the market, and that’s all well and good. But unfortunately, just having a great product or service is not enough. You need to get that product or service to market, and you need to get it in front of a desired audience in a compelling way. That’s why your marketing should always speak to a universal truth, the reason your business is here, and the problem you’re trying to solve for your customer.
So, marketing is very important when introducing a service or product. But why isn’t it just a one-off exercise? Why is it important to have a continuous marketing strategy?
People sometimes think of marketing simply in terms of selling. But it’s really a 3-part exercise. First, you need to catch someone’s attention, then you’ve got to make them convert and become a customer, and the final step is to keep them engaging with you as a business and celebrating the relationship you have with them.
There’s plenty of research online on how much people spend on acquiring customers, but how little they spend on keeping them. But acquiring a customer is often expensive, while the cost of keeping them can be a lot cheaper. So, you really have to celebrate the relationship you have with customers. Make them a fan of your business and your brand. Because if you don’t, you’re in a position where you’re constantly trying to reacquire that same customer. That’s not good for anyone because it’s quite expensive, and it also manifests as a poor customer experience.
So, I think it’s important to develop a genuine relationship with customers, beyond just selling to them. Businesses often take for granted that the consumer has made a choice. At the very basic level they’ve asked themselves ‘Do I need this product or service or not?’, and then if they’ve decided that they do, they have a choice to make between many different competitors, and when it came right down to it, the customer chose you. If you’re a restaurant, they chose your restaurant for their anniversary or their birthday. And if it’s a considered purchase like a vehicle, that costs tens of thousands of people’s hard-earned money. And they chose your make and model over a vast sea of choices. So, consumers can’t just be viewed as numbers.
I mean, you look at a product like Kalido, with our many, many users. Those users aren’t just lemmings. They’re all individuals with their own individual experiences. It’s our job as a company to continuously celebrate each of those relationships.
You talk about the relationship with the customer. But how do you form that relationship? How do you reach your audience initially? Is there a science to marketing, or is it an art?
I think now, more than ever, marketing is a science. Especially in terms of delivering the right message to the right person at the right time. But there is a balance. Because getting the right content does require a bit of artistry.
Traditionally, you had your message, but you weren’t too sure that you had the right person. The data just wasn’t sophisticated enough to give you laser focused audience information. So, you would put an ad in some newspaper, or you’d put an ad on TV, and you would just hope that the net was broad enough to catch somebody relevant. You could get a little bit more specific in print perhaps. Let’s say, if you were a gunsmith. You would buy an ad in ‘Horse and Hound’ magazine because the propensity of that audience to be more akin to your market was higher. But generally, you could only hope that your message was finding the right audience.
Nowadays, access to data has completely changed marketing. You don’t just have to ringfence a group of people. You can target individuals with a laser sharp focus driven by known data. For example, I can launch a marketing campaign and see that you interacted with the ad and came to my website. I now know that you’re an interested party, so I can market to you, just you, online and deliver a tailored experience. Reaching the right person has become infinitely easier. But because of global content production, the trick is to stand out from the crowd. So, now, having the right message has become a lot more difficult.
The art part comes in when you’re thinking about the message — the actual content. This is where artistry and intuition come in. People are so saturated with content these days, bombarded with memes, videos, and ads. You have a limited amount of time to grab their attention and interest. How do you stand out from the crowd? So, there’s a balance to strike between the creativity and art involved in producing good content, and the pure science of pushing the message.
If you say that marketing is a science, that suggests most of the data is out there. So, can anyone do their own marketing?
Yes, I think so — to an extent. From an ideology point of view, I always say everyone can do marketing to an extent. And that’s really driven from the fact that we’re all consumers, and we’re all marketed to every day. I think to market effectively and deliver meaningful results, you’ll eventually need a professional, because marketing is hard, and it’s a constant. But starting out, you can do it yourself.
If you look at the barriers to entry these days, they’re a lot smaller than they were. If you look at platforms like Google or Facebook, it’s very easy to ringfence audiences based on the flags that you create. So you can say ‘I only want women’ or ‘I only want men’ or ‘I only want people who’re in this area’ or ‘I only want people who like this page or are interested in this topic’. You can also dictate how much you spend per day. If your budget is small, it doesn’t matter. They’ll just turn the ads off when your budget has expired. So, to start, anyone can use any of these platforms very easily. They also have user guides, and phone numbers that you can ring. You can pretty much call and get help 24 hours a day.
Having said all that though, while the barriers to entry on those platforms are relatively small, the costs are extremely competitive. So, you’ll reach a ceiling in terms of the audience you can reach very quickly. That’s why a platform like Kalido is so unique. Kalido is specifically designed to match you with your desired audience, and it’s completely free. There are no costs. I don’t think people realise just how rare it is to come by free marketing these days.
So, yes, to start, you can do the marketing yourself. However, I do think there comes a point in a business when specialist help is required. Of course, then there’s the opportunity costs of hiring. Again, that’s when having something like Kalido is crucial. You can get the necessary help and resources you need on a day rate. You can find advice on a short-term basis, such as using a freelancer one day a week. Or you could try to find someone full-time.
When it’s time to hire a marketing guru, either as a full-time team member, or for part-time or ad hoc projects, what should I be looking for? What are the characteristics of a good marketer?
On the most basic level, I think it comes down to both a backward and forward looking process: past success and future challenges. When I’m looking to recruit for any role, not just marketing, I’m looking for tangibles of success. So, recent and relevant examples of success for clients in the past is very important.
But you obviously have to be aware of freeloaders, so to speak. That’s where the individual might have been part of a very strong team, without having contributed very much personally. So, I need to be able to form an opinion in my mind about how this person would deal with future situations, based on their past handling of challenges. And for me, one of the most important things to pull out of their answer is whether they’re putting the customer at the heart of every situation. If I ask you a question, and in the first few sentences you don’t reference the customer. That raises a red flag. So, the first thing I’d look for is a good track record, and related to that is the ability to apply past experiences to future challenges. The second thing I want is customer-centric thinking. And the third is creativity. And that really speaks to what we said earlier about standing out from the crowd…The next thing I’d look for is analytical skills
So, in terms of characteristics, the first thing I’d look for is customer-centric thinking. The next thing I’d look for is creativity. And that really speaks to what we said earlier about standing out from the crowd. Is this individual going to help the business stand out, look different, and really appeal to our target audience? Can this person do the art side of marketing?
The third thing I’d look for is analytical skills. And that’s where we come back to the science aspect. These days, marketers are blessed with more access to data than they’ve ever had, and they’re going to have to interpret that data to make decisions. So, I’d be looking to see just how analytical this person is. How mathematical are they? Because these are the things that they’re going to be asked to do on weekly or even daily basis.
And lastly, I’d want someone with a great degree of confidence. For example, if I say to Ash [Kalido’s COO], ‘We’re doing well on our digital acquisition marketing, but I think we might want to do some brand marketing, I’m not sure, what do you think?’. Well, Ash is going to go, ‘You tell me, you’re the marketer’. So, I’d need someone with the confidence to say, ‘Ash, we’re saturated in our performance marketing, we’ve pretty much reached a ceiling with our online channels and to take us to the next level, we need to broaden the net. I’ve done my research and I recommend this kind of budget on these kinds of mediums. I think we need to launch a brand campaign in these markets, at this time’. That’s what we need in marketing — the confidence to make those decisions.
There’s no rule book, there’s no instruction manual. It’s just like surviving in the wilderness. If you’re marooned on a desert island, there’s no pamphlet on how to keep yourself alive. You just have to do it. Sure, there are white papers for marketing, but they might not be entirely relevant to your business, because each situation is unique. The marketer has to use all the quantitative and qualitative data around them and make a decision.
So, those are really the core things I’d look for: good track record, customer-centric, creative, analytical, and confident.
Most businesses think the marketer is working for them, but ‘customer-centric’ suggests the marketer should really be looking out for the customer?
Yes, definitely. Without the customer, the business is nothing. And without positive customer experiences, the business will have no future. I think sometimes you can get bogged down with practical issues and forget that.
Say there’s an issue with the product, and it’s a niggly issue that’s always been there. Some people might say, ‘Well, it’s just like that’ or ‘That’s just the way it is’. But I’d always be the first to question why. Why should it be like that? Because if it’s a pain point for me, it must be a pain point for the customer. It always starts and ends with the customer.
For example, if I had a marketer that reported to me, and I’d given them 10 tasks to complete in a week, and they didn’t complete any of them because they had to jump onto something customer-centric, something that benefitted the customer, I would never question that. And I would always foster an environment where that was the pure goal.
Moving on to a related subject, is there a rule of thumb on how much you should be spending on marketing? How much of a company’s budget should be allocated to it?
I don’t think there’s a simple answer to that actually. There could be a few different scenarios. For example, you might concentrate more resources now to making your product as seamless as possible, so in the future you’re just making incremental improvements. In this case, you’d be spending more on product than marketing. Or you might go the other way, and decide to come to market with a minimal viable product. In this case, you might be investing more on marketing at the outset. You might say, ‘Well, I have a particular niche in the market, so the product does not have to be particularly complex. I’ll just get the minimal viable experience out, and then we’ll have a big splash on marketing, and improve the product as we go along’.
So, I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits all philosophy on spend. It has to come back to the customer. Let’s give you an example. If you’re a new airline and you’re going to market, the planes, and staff, and fuel, are extremely expensive. So, there’s no point going to market without a big brand splash, because you need to raise mass awareness extremely quickly or you will die, as a business, within days. So, the percentage of your budget that needs to be spent on brand marketing needs to be astronomical. Whereas a business like ours, we have smaller overheads, we just have an app proposition to maintain, and it’s online only. So, we can afford to go to market on a much leaner budget, and put bigger percentages of that budget into performance marketing to acquire users, without having to raise massive brand awareness.
So, there’s no hard and fast rule. But the decision to adjust your budget will always be led by the customer. How are they interacting with your brand? Is the brand marketing working? Is it resonating? Are you getting good word of mouth? Is the performance marketing working, from basic metrics of click-throughs and conversions? Your budget needs to be optimised based on how the consumer is reacting, and the data that you’re seeing yourself.
Let’s talk about return on investment. How long does the average campaign need to run for you to gauge its success? And how do you measure success?
I think it’s important to understand what we mean by ‘campaign’ first. I consider something to be a campaign if it’s layered on what we call ‘always-on’. Always-on is the suite of marketing that you have every single day, that’s targeted at your core audience. With that kind of marketing, you should be able to see what’s working and what’s not within a couple of weeks, if not days.
To me, a campaign is a big push. It could be for a particular product or market launch, or it could be a brand awareness exercise. Those campaigns typically involve a short, sharp burst of marketing spend, perhaps in some mediums that you haven’t used in your always-on marketing, or it could be a particular suite of messages. Most businesses would run an above-the-line campaign [the term usually refers to traditional advertising like TV, radio, print, and billboards] for at least 8 weeks. Then you would hope to start seeing uplift within 2 weeks.
Also, when we say ‘uplift’, remember that we’re not just talking about sales. Often if it’s a brand campaign, it’s not about selling. Rather, you’re looking for many KPIs of success. Often it’s post-view activity, or spikes on brand search on Google, or spikes in traffic that’s direct to the domain. In any business, traffic direct to the domain is really a core KPI of how well your brand is doing. It says that the consumer has recognised who you are and what you do, and they’ve come straight to you. It’s a very good indication of brand health.
To conclude, can you give us a quick-and-dirty summary of the marketing fundamentals we’ve discussed today?
Just having a great product is not enough. You’ll need marketing, in any form, to drive success. In any business, to take yourself to the next level, marketing will have to play a part. Often larger rather than smaller.
Focus on putting the customer at the heart of every decision. This doesn’t just go for marketing, I would say that it should be the goal of every department. Focus on celebrating the relationship that you’ve created with the customer beyond just the first transaction.
And remember, in marketing, everything is measurable. You live or die by data. There’s an old saying that you know 50% of your marketing is working, you just don’t know which 50%. I don’t think that’s true now. Now, you know exactly what’s working and what’s not.