New Year Resolutions for SMEs

January 2009

The recent monthly comments on this site have been rather more to do with large businesses – though smaller businesses can always learn from what’s happening with the bigger boys of course (and visa-versa for that matter) – so to start the New Year the focus is very much on SMEs.

New Year resolutions are things most of us at least give some thought to in our personal lives, but probably rarely carry them through. Mine is to drink rather less wine each evening, but I’m not actually that confident I can carry it through – and, thinking about a half-legitimate excuse already, helping to drive lower wine sales wouldn’t of course be good for the global economy…

For the year ahead in business though, making some resolutions now, and sticking to them, might be the difference to staying solvent and still being so the next time the calendar ticks over to another year.

So with the scene set, here are three suggested brand and marketing New Year resolutions for SMEs:

1. Is your brand relevant to the new economy?

I met up with my newest client between Christmas and New Year to finalise a marketing strategy with him, and he was certainly worried about the months ahead. Not though about a lack of business, but just how the hell he was going to cope with the deluge of orders he had piled up on his desk. In fact on the 23rd of December his problems deepened with the confirmation of a huge order emailed through from Saudi Arabia (nice problem to have, eh…).

So how has this all happened when doom and gloom surrounds us and is added to daily by the ever-pessimistic media? Well there is an element of good fortune: he manufactures in the UK (and who would have thought those words would be used in the context of success in the same sentence just one year ago). His main competitors are in China, Portugal, Poland and Germany. The latter three all want paying in Euros, so right now his products are typically better priced because of the weak pound. That said, he can currently even out-price the Chinese.

But price isn’t everything – he’s quickly established a strong brand which includes competitive pricing. And when I compare what his brand stands for with that of his competitors, his brand is more relevant to the new economy – e.g. genuine sustainability and ethical sourcing credentials, highly flexible approach (so to fit in with customers – not the other way around…), and an internal culture which ensures great levels of customer service.

Going back to the price issue, of course this is only relevant if your brand is positioned within a market where this is important – or indeed that’s the nature of the whole market (so DVD’s via the web versus a vintage car showroom). If you are at the luxury end of a market or luxury is the market, then cutting prices probably isn’t the thing to do – many luxury brands are currently doing relatively well and it’s more mid-market which is really suffering. What you absolutely must do though is make sure that your house is in order in every other respect. So perhaps fine to keep your prices high if that’s what you’re all about, but absolutely make sure you jump through hoops for your customers – anything less and they’ll simply go elsewhere.

So resolution number one: review your brand strategy and on the basis of how relevant it now is to the new economy.

2. The best marketing plan you’ve ever had

The start of any New Year should include an updated marketing plan but, this year, it’s clearly even more important. And the added importance isn’t just because of the downturn, but also because marketing itself is changing at an astonishing pace. The web has ensured this but not always in a direct and obvious way – it’s more about how the web has changed perceptions, attitudes and behaviours.

So if you’re ahead of the game and took this all into account last year, then updating and refreshing is probably all you need to do now. If you aren’t ahead of the game then a blank sheet of paper (well, digitally on your PC or laptop) is where you need to start. Either way, resolution number two needs to be the best marketing plan you’ve ever had.

3. People shape brands

If I had to say what the single most common failing was in SMEs when it comes to them not fully delivering their brand promises, it’s usually people related. Occasionally at or near to the top, but more probably in the middle or towards the bottom of the internal structure. But towards the bottom is often critical from a brand delivery point of view, as these are the very people your customers often have the most day-to-day contact with.

Now is not the time to continue that long-standing sympathetic and forgiving line with the sales person who doesn’t understand your brand values (or even the concept of brand values), or the often-grumpy PA who forgets to pass on messages (perhaps from potential customers…). If you can realistically develop and save them then do so, but, if the answer is no (and deep down you’ll know the answer to that one), then move them on and employ someone twice as good – there’ll be plenty out there given the current job situation. It might sound mercenary, but it’s your business at stake here and carrying people for largely charitable reasons isn’t how you’ll get through the next few tricky years.

So three New Year resolutions for SME’s:

Review how relevant your brand is to the new economy – change it if it isn’t but be careful how you do this

Make sure your marketing plan is the best you’ve ever had

If someone in your business isn’t delivering your brand promise, move them on and get someone who will

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