Tackling the 5 Major Strategic Marketing Challenges Facing Mid-Market Companies

strategic marketing challenges facing mid-market companiesIn my last post, I talked about a “solution” to the frustration that many mid-market CEOs and leadership teams feel when it comes to the marketing function.

Today, I’d like to take the next step and provide some actionable items that many of you can begin tackling right now and in 2015.

I’ll start with high-level marketing challenges that many CEOs experience, and in future posts I will address mid-level and tactical issues.

Challenge: Your growth has stagnated or stopped

This could be caused by internal or external issues. Take a step back and look at what’s happening with your market and look objectively at your product or service. Is your lack of growth caused by market stagnation? Or are you losing market share to the competition? Innovation is a part of every business. Have you innovated enough (evolving product offerings, providing what today’s market is asking for, etc.) to stay current, or have you fallen behind?

Audit your brand and evaluate the impression you’re giving the marketplace at all touchpoints – visually and operationally. Are you communicating a cohesive brand? Is it disjointed? What is your true differentiation? Why should the market care? If the answer is “Meh, we’re the same as everyone else,” then you have your answer. In that case, you have two options: increase your distribution to be more visible and gain more volume (in a linear fashion), or clarify your competitive advantages and create differentiation to make your offering more appealing to those who see it.

If your competitors have truly better offerings, then consider innovating. If your market is declining, consider re-segmenting your market to tighten your focus and try to deliver more value. Or, begin competing on price (but that signifies that the end is near for that market).

Challenge: Your market is growing faster than you are

This means that your competitors are beating you, and you need to analyze how they’re doing it. Are they more visible? Are their offerings more compelling? Do they have stronger brands? Are you executing poorly on the sales side?

A careful analysis of your competition should point you in the right direction for finding the solution.

Challenge: Revenues are decreasing because of churn

Churn kills many businesses. If you have a recurring revenue model and customers are leaving you too frequently, your entire business model could collapse. If you have a transactional business, you’ll have to view this differently, looking at the lifetime value of the customer, but it’s a similar concept.

Keeping existing customers is typically one of the most profitable places to focus your marketing budget. Talk to customers who have left to find out why. Did they leave because of poor service? Inattentiveness? Or price? You need to determine if your business model needs adjusting, if you need to improve your service (by restructuring your customer service people or approaches), or if you need to focus more effort on marketing to existing customers instead of chasing new ones.

Challenge: Your offering is being commoditized and you have to discount to earn sales

This is a common issue with mid-market companies. The problem typically occurs because there’s a disconnect between how the internal team views the offering and how the market views the offering. Internal teams often think their offering is far more differentiated than the market does. To determine if this is the case, survey your market to find out what they truly think of your offering and how it compares to their other choices. This will require more than just sending out a few surveys; take some time to craft a plan to get these answers, or hire a market research group to do it for you.

If you offering isn’t truly differentiated, focus on building some competitive advantages and communicate them clearly to the market. There are processes to help you do this, and from my experience, most companies can achieve the differentiation they need.

Challenge: You’ve invested in marketing but it’s not working

This creates the most frustration with CEOs, because they’ve identified their problem, have invested in what should be the solution, and nothing is working.

This can get tricky, and requires an evaluation of the current marketing efforts, what they’re intended to do, and the metrics from each. Then a higher level evaluation of the market and competition is required. The goal is to determine if a) you’re doing the wrong things, b) you’re doing the right things but focusing on the wrong people, or c) you’re doing the right things but executing poorly. All three can cause companies to fail to achieve results after significant investments.

For example, a B2B company wishing to increase sales may determine that their website is outdated and a new website is the solution, so they go to their local digital agency and get a shiny new website. After 6 months, sales are the same. A new marketing asset may or may not help – it depends on the role it needs to play in the entire brand’s communication and how well that’s executed. Too many companies think their agency can determine this, but not all can.

There’s also the possibility that you’ve invested in doing the right things with the right targets but are waiting to see measurable results. In this case, stay patient (it’s called an investment for a reason), because most strategic marketing projects require consistent time and effort to produce results. Don’t expect to see immediate ROI from strategic marketing investments and don’t view this in the same manner as an AdWords spend or a launch event; use a 1 to 3 year horizon. Focus on hitting the milestones related to your project.

Self-knowledge is the Key

As you can see from the challenges above, the key to solving most of them is to “know thyself.” Market research, focus groups, and surveys are all valuable tools that may have gone unused for far too long. If you take a long, hard look at your company, your market and your competition, the answers usually become clear. And don’t forget that a set of fresh eyes can be invaluable – if you need to bring someone in from the outside, then do so.