by Renee Fellows
March 7, 2006—With Spring Training underway, the Great American Past Time is once again secured into its rightful place in the hearts of fans everywhere. With all the media coverage about Spring Training, an interesting parallel presented itself. Baseball and business are intrinsically similar in their style and methods for achieving success.
And let’s take that concept one step further and say as a game plan is to baseball, an integrated marketing communications strategy is one of the key elements in ensuring a small business’ overall success or failure.
In business and in sports, anyone can look good when they’re doing well. When business is humming and the sales dollars are rolling in we’re all smiles – even if we’re stressed, we’re still happy about the bottom line. And let’s face it, it’s early in the year and everyone on the team looks good, is healthy, and is feeling confident about the upcoming season. Media interviews with the pros boast rigorous training in the off season and unbridled optimism for team’s chances to make it to the playoffs.
What is difficult is to prepare for the inevitable slump that always happens after the All-Star break. Businesses are no different. After a busy fourth quarter and crazy holiday selling season, the New Year brings with it that same optimism for forecasts of a record-breaking year of sales and new product marketing . What small business owners tend to overlook is the value of proper planning and implementation not only when it is first written but for the 11 months following.
The manager always has a plan
Any good team manager worth his seven-figure salary has a plan. And not just some fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants plan, but a real plan of attack against the opposing teams in his league, within his own club house and even more importantly, with the team’s fans to achieve a winning season. A business owner should have the same type of three-pronged approach (competitors, customers and partners, and the general public) for building their business.
As the adage goes, the enemy you know is better than the enemy you don’t. It’s crucial to your business’ success to really truly know your competition from every angle. Spend time analyzing their products, using them, understanding their pricing structures, distribution methods, and customer satisfaction levels. Then set up a comparison chart between your competitor’s products and your own.
How are your products similar or different? Do you have a deficiency in product offerings that would provide an opportunity for an increase in market share for your company? Do you have an idea for a new product that would stand alone in the current market as the product to have? One key to your integrated marketing communications plan is to have a full understanding of the competition and plan ways to meet and exceed your customer’s expectations of your company’s products and services.
Once you realize what you want to do with your business, the next step is to strategically plan how you will accomplish your goals. Many small businesses think that by placing a few ads in local papers or creating a brochure that business will come storming through the front door. But if your customers don’t fully understand what your organization is about – how you are different and bring value to the relationship – they will be just as likely to select the competition’s product as they are your product. And with added rivalry from the Internet, they may even go online if price is their only differentiator. What any business needs to be successful is brand definition.
To build a brand by any other name
Like baseball, the real challenge comes in when the hitting streak ends and you’re facing a pitcher with an ERA under three in the bottom of the ninth. How you handle the chaos, the stress and the multitudes of clients is a true indicator of what type of business person you really are and what type of organization you run – it separates the rookies from the pros, if you will.
If you think for a minute about your favorite brands, the ones that truly stand out in your mind as successful and unique, what is it about them that makes them so successful? By definition alone, a brand is a unique set of values that a product or service brings to the marketplace.
Take Southwest Airlines for example. They have fought from their very inception to be the successful underdog of low-cost airlines. For over 20 years, they have built their entire organization on not only providing low fares but doing so by creating a fun departure from the big airlines in how they get you from Point A to Point B. While they’ve eliminated the frills from air travel, they’ve added in a sense of humor, a lighthearted atmosphere, friendly staff (a complete diversion from other airlines!), and of course, low fares.
They’ve taken steps such as streamlining the entire fleet to two types of planes to reduce maintenance costs and crew training. If you’re looking for reclining seats in first class, you’ll want to rethink your carrier, but if you’re like the millions of others that fly Southwest each year, you know what you’re getting and you’re happy about it. Why? Because they have done a solid job of educating you on their brand.
Step slowly to the plate
How often do you see the batter running up to the plate to hit a ball? Never, right? The batter sets his pace to the pitcher. Try making business decisions in the same way. It’s never good to make a spontaneous business decision that hasn’t had its options and consequences completely vetted. When in doubt, revert back to the plan that was created in the beginning of the year. Does the decision you are about to make agree with the direction and goals established for the organization? Will the decision require you to divert critical resources or deplete cash reserves in order to make the change? Take the time you need to make sound business decisions. Remember, a batter also knows when to step back out of the box and break the pitcher’s momentum long enough to regain his position.
Amazingly, follow through is one of the most difficult aspects in sports, business and life. Follow through on the pitch, on the swing that connects in the bat’s sweet spot, on the sprint straight through first base – follow through is what separates the little leaguers from the majors – and what defines a true business success.
Follow through in business can mean many things. How well does your customer service follow through with clients? Do you regularly distribute client surveys to learn more about what makes your clients happy or which products are the must have items? Are distribution times as tight as they could be? Are your internal customers (i.e., your employees) happy in their work environment and with their benefits? Just as there are many ways to throw a pitch, a business owner needs to have many options up her sleeve in order to keep the batter backed off the plate.
While these may seem like small details – when you put them all together they add up to a solid performance and a career-long series of successes. Developing and implementing a strategic plan of action is what defines a truly solid brand.
If you would like to know more about utilizing an integrated marketing communications work plan as part of your overall business’ strategy, contact Renee Fellows at ClearPoint Marketing Communications by calling (603) 434-9433 or email her at Rfellows@oneclearpoint.com.
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