Small Firms Need Long-Term Strategy To Help Build Brand

Small┬ábusinesses dominate the Northern Ireland business lansdscape, and for the CIM, many of our community are entrepreneurs, small businesses and independent consultants – so it’s an important area for us.

We recognise that the needs of a start-up will vary drastically to an established small business, and drastically further from a major international corporate. We also recognise that SMEs are not one homogenous group, and cannot be treated as such. Entrepreneurs, business owners and advisers to both have different challenges, attitudes and motivations.

I remember once meeting a high-street butcher who said to me: “We don’t do marketing, I know all my customers by name”.

So evidently he developed customer relations and had a CRM system, even if it was in his head.

I asked if he had his name above the shop. “Yes of course” he replied. “Do you price your goods?” Again yes was the answer from a small-business owner who increasingly thought I was stupid. “And do you have a shop window?” I asked. The point, of course, was that when he said “I don’t do marketing” he meant that he didn’t spend money on advertising and so on. Clearly he was heavily into marketing because he ticked the four Ps of product, price, place and promotion. Okay, he wasn’t heavily into traditional ‘promotion’, but for him promotion was in effect brand development – the trust between him and his customer.

He clearly had defined his ‘value proposition’ even if he didn’t call it that. He engaged with his customers, even if he thought it was simple courtesy. He probably actively explored and analysed customer needs (by not just talking to his customers but more importantly, listening to them).

He was probably like the 51 per cent of respondents to a recent CIM survey who said that they just wanted to generate sufficient revenue/ funding/profit to sustain their business.

In the same survey 78 per cent said they engaged in activities designed to build long-term relations with their customers.

What strikes me about that statistic is that some 22 per cent aren’t engaged in activities to build long-term relations with their customers. If that’s so, do you think their customers will be loyal, or will they be ‘fickle’ and make purchase decisions based almost exclusively on price?

So for our high-street butcher, what happens when a great big low-cost supermarket opens up round the corner? Whatever the nature of your business, a small firm needs a long-term strategy and needs to build its brand just as much as do larger companies. On the face of it, small companies are ill-equipped to handle the marketing function. Some 30 per cent of respondents said they had no marketing experience, only 24 per cent had formal marketing qualifications and 13 per cent said they had a marketing expert on the staff. Actually I’m impressed with the 13 per cent figure. I don’t know many people who would define themselves as ‘marketing experts’ unless of course they were a chartered marketer.

So small businesses need to buy in advice, and even that’s a problem. Asking the right question, or writing a comprehensive brief, can save you a lot of money down the line.

To help small businesses, CIM with Ulster University Business School held an event at which delegates who were not members of CIM could sign up for three months’ free affiliate professional membership, giving them access to our marketing expert web site where they could find thousands of pages of advice and perhaps equally important, hundreds of templates to download such as how to brief a photographer or PR agency. For many small businesses the challenge when trying to close a deal is competing directly with the credentials, scale and experience of larger firms. They’re frustrated that often their business size works against them when their ability to work closer to projects and deliver best quality should be their stand-out feature. This is the challenge to your marketing department, whether in-house or outsourced.

Think big, act big.