CASE STUDY OF ONE COMPANY UNDERSTANDING THE IMPORTANCE OF: KNOW THYSELF
By Brian Giuffrida
When our company was founded, it quietly set out to solve a very specific set of problems for one type of organization in a single market. Not surprisingly, with a single mission, market, and focus the company was very successful. With the expertise, technology, and services needed to solve the problem and a business model that allowed customers to take advantage of these resources with no upfront investment or risk, the company became the leading provider of the technologies and services required to bring continuing legal education online. To the outside, it looked like this was accomplished without marketing, but the Four Ps – product, price, place, and promotion – were hard at work, albeit in a narrowly-focused way.
Expanding Out of the Comfort Zone
Because we were operating solely in the legal market, the company initially focused on expanding sales within the installed base. Eventually, growth needed to come from new markets. The technology, services, and expertise translated easily, so the company expanded. Unfortunately that expansion was not isolated to sales. The company undertook a branding effort to create a new identity in each new market. Over time, it became obvious that this was not a scalable model. The decision to use a different identity for each vertical was weighing the effort down. The inefficiencies – and costs – inherent in the strategy were bound to increase with each subsequent vertical.
To compound matters, the company was sold. Growth expectations reached new heights and the need to expand into new markets became that much greater. In short, it was time to take a hard look at marketing strategy.
Socrates had to be a marketing guy, because this simple suggestion makes perfect sense when it comes to marketing strategy. We need to understand customer needs, this goes without saying, but we also need to understand the real value we provide and how it fits into the needs we are planning to meet. Understanding the common value points across the variety of markets we were serving – through the eyes of our customers and prospects – was the starting point for defining the company’s true identity. This was where our new team started.
After a hard look at the market needs and the nuts and bolts of what we had to offer, our value proposition began to surface. We were not a loose confederation of “stuff.” We were a coherent set of technologies, services, and expertise that allowed customers delivering continuing education through traditional in-person seminars to expand online, to remove the constraints of space (i.e., proximity) and time that limited the performance of the programs. We had a very complete solution, a complementary business model, and a large, reference-able customer base that clearly supported the emerging perspective of who we were, how we provided value, and why. Our product was already designed to deliver on this value proposition across markets. Our pricing was all about reducing upfront costs for the customer and eliminating risk of expanding their business online. And our expertise provided added-value no matter which vertical the customer fit into. All of this defined an opportunity to coalesce our messaging, positioning, and branding into a single identity and eliminate the distractions, dilution, and encumbrances we had introduced over time.
Firing up the Marketing Machine
With a fresh understanding of the market need and our value proposition, developing a single name, identity, and messaging platform was a remarkably straightforward and rewarding exercise.
Once brand and messaging directions were set, it was time to develop and execute a tactical plan. This undertaking, which included all supporting materials from website and collateral to product graphics and business cards, could have been daunting, but with a clear marketing strategy the tactical plan quickly fell into place. Product roadmaps and pricing strategies benefited equally from a clear strategy, and now we have a clear litmus test for future decisions across the operation.
Another key element of the plan was stakeholder communication. We leveraged our long-term business relationships with customers to identify and test our key value points. The investment our customers made in the development of a new marketing strategy not only improved the strategy, it eliminated many of the issues that are inherent in making changes that affect a customer base.
Growing New Customers and Helping Existing Customers to Grow
Although we were laying the groundwork for expanding into new markets, our existing customers benefitted from our streamlined approach. Our renewed focus has yielded better results with less waste. That’s faster time to market for us, and the customers we serve. As a result we have had a chance to identify and pursue new services that have a real and positive impact on our customers’ businesses.
As tempting as it is to jump right into marketing initiatives, the planning phase is critical to success. It took months to research, test, and finalize our strategy (which can be difficult for a fast moving company to swallow); but it saved a tremendous amount of time in the implementation phase, strengthened the decision making process, helped ensure consistency across activities and messaging, protected our marketing investment, strengthened existing customer relationships, positively impacted our customers’ bottom line, and set the stage for future growth. You can’t ask much more from a marketing initiative than that.
Brian Giuffrida is the VP of Corporate Strategy for Austin based InReach
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