Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart…but help is at hand!

Sometimes the idea is the easy part.  And for scientists and technologists it’s just the beginning of a very long road.

For 2018 Swim with the Sharks winner Sumedh Surwade of SAS Nanotechnologies it began with PhD research which led to a proprietary, patent pending anticorrosive coating technology that not only prevents corrosion but also heals and protects metals from corrosion in the cause of surface scratches or damage.  Next came an NSF SBIR grant for further development, and conversations with potential strategic partners for technology testing and licensing. Today, Dr. Surwade is evaluating additional applications and routes to market, including manufacturing in Delaware.  That’s the short version.

Sharron Cirillo of SC Associates presents Sumedh Surwade with an SC Associates Business Starter Backpack as they discuss his short- and long-term accounting needs.

You would think it ends once the technology is developed, proven and accepted.  Not quite.  Then comes the day to day blocking and tackling of running a business which requires just as critical a foundation.  Fortunately, the EEC and its partners are here to help.  Having won the EEC’s Swim with the Sharks Pitch Competition, Dr. Surwade will be receiving a New Castle County Government NCC Innovates $10,000 award that he will be using to purchase vital testing equipment.  This equipment will speed up product commercialization by reducing the time (and associated cost) of testing from 10 days to 3 hours.  And last week, Dr. Surwade met with Rich Roux of Info Solutions, LLC and Sharron Cirillo of SC Associates, SWTS sponsors, and both of whom donated services to the winning company.  Info Solutions, LLC have discussed what Dr. Surwade’s IT needs will look like as he seeks to scale SAS Nanotechnologies, and SC Associates will be working with him to ensure that the financial processes he has in place can adapt and grow as his business grows.   As for the Emerging Enterprise Center…. Dr. Surwade is all set to hold his first Advisory Board meeting at his new Riverfront Conference Room!

Richard Roux of Info Solutions talks to Dr. Surwade about IT considerations as his business grows.

SAS Nanotechnologies Wins This Year’s Swim with the Sharks Pitch Competition

Written by Dora Cheatham, Program Manager, Emerging Enterprise Center

Beating out eleven other startup companies, and despite tough competition, SAS Nanotechnologies cruised into the no. 1 position to win the Emerging Enterprise Center’s Swim with the Sharks Pitch Competition—now in its 6th year and with a Grand Prize totaling over $16,000 in cash and services.

Dr. Sumedh Surwade from SAS Nanotechnologies responds to questions from the judges following his pitch. Photos courtesy of Bob Horton, Creative Image Associates

SAS Nanotechnologies won this year’s award with their proprietary, patent pending anticorrosive coating technology that not only prevents corrosion but also heals and protects metals from corrosion in the case of surface scratch or damage. Founded by Sumedh Surwade, and growing out of his PhD research, the technology was recently awarded an NSF  SBIR  grant to further develop the technology. Dr. Surwade is already in conversations with potential strategic partners for technology testing and licensing and is considering additional routes to market, including manufacturing in Delaware.  Dr. Surwade plans on using his winnings to purchase testing equipment that will speed up product commercialization by reducing the time and cost of testing from 10 days to 3 hours.

For the second time this year, the Emerging Enterprise Center, Delaware’s first small business incubator located at the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce, partnered with New Castle County Government, as well as multiple sponsors, to offer the prize package which included:

  • Cash prize of $10,000 from the New Castle County NCC Innovates Program
  • $2,000 business startup and bookkeeping package from SC Associates
  • $1,400 in IT services from Info Solutions
  • 6 month membership in the Emerging Enterprise Center Virtual Incubation Program (valued at $1,800)
  • New Castle County Chamber of Commerce Marketing Package (valued at $1,400)
  • One year membership in World Trade Center Delaware (valued at $395)
  • One year membership in New Castle County Chamber of Commerce (valued at $350)

Each applicant was judged based on a combined score of both their written application and oral pitch.  Judging criteria included business feasibility, understanding of market need and opportunity, clear articulation of value proposition, go-to-market strategy and soft skills.  Three finalists were then selected to pitch before a live audience and a new panel of judges at the Emerging Enterprise Center Luncheon which was held at the Grand Opera House in Wilmington.  The three finalists included SAS Nanotechnologies, D150 Fueling and Smart Kidz Club.

The Grand Prize winner was selected based on a combined judge/audience vote (85%/15%).  The judges included former Swim with the Sharks winner Amira Idris (Thera-V), Dr. Daniel Young (Goldey Beacom College), Sam Waltz (Strategic Capital & Business Counsel) and Dr. Janet Reed (Potter Anderson Corroon, LLP).

Above: Dr. Sumedh Surwade from SAS Nanotechnologies accepts his award from New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer
Back left to right: Dr. Daniel Young (Goldey-Beacom College), Bob Chadwick (New Castle County Chamber of Commerce), Sam Waltz (Strategic Capital & Counsel), Dr. Janet Reed (Potter Anderson Corroon, LLP).
Front left to right: Amira Idris (Thera-V), Dora Cheatham (Emerging Enterprise Center), Matt Meyer (New Castle County Executive), Dr. Sumedh Surwade (SAS Nanotechnologies), Tamarra Morris (New Castle County Government).
Photos courtesy of Bob Horton, Creative Image Associates

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going Global – One Size Doesn’t Always Fit All

Written by Dora Cheatham, Program Manager, Emerging Enterprise Center

With the ever increasing influence of the universal language of social media, technology and electronics in our day-to-day world it’s easy to forget about individual cultural attitudes reflected in values, language, religion, aesthetics, behavior, even food.

 

Even after living in the US for some 20 years, as a British ex-pat I still believe that tea is best when drunk out of china cup (and quite possibly the answer to all ills), that manners maketh man, and that gas is something that comes out of my stove and should not go into my car.

Why do languages have words that are practically untranslatable in other languages? Greek “filotimo”, Portuguese “saudade”, French “dépaysement”, Spanish “duende”, German “extrawunsch”.

My point is – certain cultural behaviors and beliefs are ingrained: we may adapt but do we really change?

Today’s technology is making international business faster and easier. We’ve all heard the “think global act local” refrain but what does this really mean? Certainly from an operational standpoint you can leverage economies of scale by standardizing wherever possible, but if you truly want to succeed in the global arena, you need to be ready to adjust to those individual cultural attitudes that are ingrained within the country you are trying to enter. Indeed, this is the approach Electrolux took as they tracked market trends and realized that they could maximize value by standardizing basic chassis and components to leverage efficiencies then localize brands to meet the needs of individual customer groups (check out this great HBR read by Christopher Bartlett and Sumantra Ghoshal)

So How DO You Act Local?

As you look to adapt your products and marketing to individual markets, research ahead of time to see what does and doesn’t work in the market(s) you are seeking to enter. Do not assume that a market strategy that worked for your products at home will automatically work in other countries.

Differing approaches to sales by distributors or representatives from region to region could impact how you market and promote your product; consumer perceptions in different regions will affect how you position your product; in some cases, you may even wish to consider localized branding (let’s face it – we’re not all Coke or Nike).

Here are some items to take into consideration as you go global with your small business:

Language – Simply translating your marketing materials from one language to another can open a Pandora’s box of problems – even more so when the nuances of local jargon, idiom
or puns are used as part of the slogan. For example, Qantas’ great slogan “Don’t be a Wallaby, Fly Qantas”, would lose much of its national flavor in any translation and, there is a slew of examples where poor translations resulted in a less than effective marketing campaign – even for some of the best multi-national corporations. Avoid using online translation tools and make sure the cultural “flavor” of your marketing is relevant to your target customer!

Education – a high vs low literacy rate within a culture may impact how you package, deliver and market your final product. For example, countries with a low literacy rate have a tendency to feature a picture of what’s inside a particular package, while usage information is presented in easy-to-understand icon format rather than step-by-step written instructions.

Religion – while religion is often considered a taboo subject, it is smart business to be aware of religious beliefs that may cause offense in your promotional efforts or even your package design; one should also be aware that some religions prohibit the use of certain

goods and services while at the same time creating potential opportunities for markets in alternative products. For example, if you are entering a market where certain foods are taboo or avoided during specific religious periods, is there a potential for offering alternatives?

Aesthetics – designs, forms, colors, shapes, sounds, fragrances, music. Colors have different connotations in different countries, music tastes vary across countries, and different fragrances appeal to different regions as any fragrance manufacturer can tell you. Did you know that…

  • Campbell alters its recipe of tomato soup to suit palates in England, France and Italy;
  • the color red is considered good luck by ethnic Chinese while in the west the color is more often associated with danger or love. What message are you trying to get across and where?
  • in some cultures, black is considered the color of mourning, while others consider white or purple to be the color of mourning;
  • in Japan, products are rarely – if ever – sold in fours since the pronunciation of the Japanese word for four sounds like the word for death.

Do your research and make sure you are aware of the consumer preferences in your target market ahead of time – it’s a lot cheaper than a failed marketing campaign!

Social Organization, Social Behaviors and Material Culture – how people relate to each other (while it’s acceptable to refuse refreshments in most Western European cultures, to do so in the Middle East or Asia is usually considered offensive), the roles of men and women, social classes, family and extended family, marriage, attitudes. Any of these things can contribute to the psychology of a purchasing decision – from the most basic consumer buy to a B2B purchasing process.

Regulatory Requirements – make sure you are aware of the regulatory requirements of the markets you are entering. Protectionist markets such as Brazil have specific requirements regarding the import of certain goods into their country; certain countries prohibit the use of components that are commonly used in others. Find the right experts to help you navigate these areas.

Growing Globally

As your company grows in your chosen global market(s), make sure your ongoing marketing decisions are made with the benefit of local input and ensure that you leverage local strengths. One of the fatal flaws of a global strategy is to assume that “we know it all” based on a single experience or pure economic analysis, but your local representatives – if well chosen – should act as a resource for local opportunities as well as potential threats. In today’s highly connected world – an opportunity or threat can easily extend to other markets so these should be assessed and acted upon quickly and effectively.

As always, the final word goes to the expert:

“Any communication or marketing professional needs cross-cultural research and communications skills to be able to succeed in the future”

 Marye Tharp

4 Key Steps to Entering New Markets

Written by Dora Cheatham, Program Manager, Emerging Enterprise Center

 

As we move closer and closer to 2016, everyone’s checking budget numbers and beginning to think about growth for the new year. Your boss just walked into your office and told you the company wants to take your top products into a new market. Somewhere along the line, someone had the idea that your heavy duty industrial cleaners can be sold into the retail consumer market; or your jan san disinfectants should be extended to the aviation industry (planes are dirty, right?)  How hard can it be?

The truth is, preparing to enter a new market does not need to be a tough process, but it does need to be thorough, and expectations need to be set at realistic levels before even beginning to look at the 4Ps (or 5Ps depending on your approach).

Here are 4 key considerations you should take into account as you look to taking your products into a new market.

Size of the market vs market potential – in order to assess the size of the market you need to have a thorough understanding of the specific application of your product. A product that is used several times a day in one type of market, may only be used once a day in a different market, which radically changes the size of the market. In addition, if the market leader holds 20% market share in the new market, then your total potential in the early stages of commercialization is likely to be just a small portion of that 20% share. Be realistic in your expectations.

Product attributes – Attributes and benefits of a product that are valued by one market are not necessarily valued in a different market. Make sure you have a clear understanding of what your new target market values as well as their specific needs, and ensure that the products you are offering are designed – and positioned – to meet those specific needs. In many cases, relabeling or repackaging a product may not be enough. The product itself may need to be re-engineered to accommodate the needs of your new market.

Regulatory environment – Different markets have different regulatory requirements – for example, a product that can be used to clean your kitchen or bathroom cannot be used to clean surfaces in an aircraft without meeting stringent aviation material safety requirements. Make sure you are fully aware of any industry, state and federal requirements necessary to market your product in an alternative market. Use a consultant if you have to. It’s cheaper than the alternative.

Sales cycle – make sure you understand the sales cycle and method of the market or industry you intend to enter and not just the sales channels. In some cases, the sales cycle can be relatively brief and straightforward, in other cases, the sales cycle could be long and require a consultative approach. This will greatly impact your marketing plan and materials.

Once you have a clear understanding of the market size and potential you can then start thinking about potential strategies. Here are just some alternatives used by different companies:

  • Focus on targeting non-users of the product rather than trying to switch customers from using an existing competitive product.
  • Focus on offering additional attributes not offered by any competitive products
  • Focus on attacking competitive products by offering superior products OR lower pricing.
  • If marketing dollars are available, focus on outspending competition in advertising and promotion, although according to literature, this approach only makes sense if the market leader is in a seriously weaker position and you can outspend the leader at 3:1.
  • Target efforts in a specific geographic area or an area not currently served by current competitors.

Then and only then should you start putting together your Marketing Mix or 5Ps. These are the decisions that surround the Product (performance, features, design, presentations, name, etc), Pricing (direct, distributor, geographical, etc), Promotion (PR, marketing collateral, advertising), Place (distribution channels), and People (tasks, sales, support). In other words, you have gained an understanding of the new market and its customers, you now need to ensure that you have the right products, that they are correctly positioned for that market and that your communications correctly reflect that positioning.

General Eisenhower once said “Plans are nothing, planning is everything.”The purpose of planning is to ensure that all the right questions are asked. Too often we “make it up as we go along” which may yield short term benefits, but more often than not can be harmful in the longer term, often resulting in unintended consequences and incurring unexpected costs. While planning does not necessarily eliminate all of these, it does provide a sense of direction and empowerment that permits effectiveness at all levels of the organization and optimizes strategy execution. In brief, planning x strategy x execution = success.

 

The (Internal) Marketing Plan: Bridging the Gap Between Product Development & Sales

Written by Dora Cheatham, Program Manager, Emerging Enterprise Center

 

How often has a new product been launched and the Sales Team been tasked with the “simple” directive to “go sell” it, armed with little more than a data sheet and price list? One year later, everyone wonders why the sales figures never quite match the numbers projected by Marketing.

An ideal product launch should not only focus on marketing the product to the customer, but also on “marketing” the product internally to assist the Sales Team optimize its sales efforts. Too often, focus is placed on selling to the customer, without effectively training the sales team in the nuances of a product that requires more than just the presentation of features and benefits.

As technologies develop and products become more complex, the more information the Sales Team has on the product, the better they will be able to answer questions knowledgeably and overcome obstacles when working with their customers. Similarly, data gathered by the Sales Team should be cycled back to Marketing to ensure that product is being received and is performing as expected, and any potential issues or improvements can immediately be fed back to the Product Development Team.

 

 

Remember that the sales team is on the front line, so a Marketing Plan or Commercialization Plan should include an element that arms the sales team with as many preemptive answers as possible so that he or she can present the company’s expertise effectively and deliver a consistent product message. So what should be included in this Plan?

Product Positioning

Make sure your sales team understands how and why your product is positioned the way it is. If the product was developed as the result of a recurring problem expressed by several customers, make sure the whole team is aware of it. Just because a customer hasn’t expressed the particular problem, doesn’t mean they haven’t experienced it! If it was developed as the result of a new technology that makes the customer’s job easier, make sure they know it.

If you want your sales team to sell on value rather than price, then you need to make sure they understand the intrinsic value of the product and its benefit to the customer, not just its features and price. What problem does it solve? Will it make the customer more effective? Will it save time or labor?

Target Market

Make sure everyone is on board with precisely which customer segment(s) constitutes the target market, and that the sales team understands the criteria on which the potential market size was developed. If the numbers were developed based on a specific application, and a particular customer ends up using the product differently (it has been known to happen), this is critical information that should be fed back to Marketing and Product Development for further evaluation. Was the original data based on a false premise (hopefully this is never the case), or is this a viable alternative application? If so, can this application be extended across the entire market in which case the potential market has just increased and the information should be distributed to the entire sales team!

Competitive Landscape

What competitive products is your sales team likely to come up against? How does the product perform against these products? How are competitive products used versus pricing? Having spent many years in the chemical industry, I have learned that one of the first things to check for is the dilution rates of chemicals: if a product costs $10.00/litre and needs to be diluted at 1:2, it is NOT cheaper than a $50.00/litre product that can be diluted at 1:12 and offers comparable performance!

Sales Tools

 

 

Don’t just send the sales team off with a data sheet and price list. Testimonials, value calculators, editable presentations, how-to’s and trial protocols (if applicable) all help the sales team present a professional, polished image of a company that understands its market and is working with their customer to help them make an informed purchase.

Product Availability

If the product or service you are offering has customization options, make sure your sales team is fully aware of the criteria for customization: options, minimums, lead times and other requirements. As Carla O’Dell once said, “If you don’t give people information, they’ll make something up to fill the void”, and too often it’s something along the lines of “Of course you can have that in 2 weeks!” This not only creates chaos for the Product Development and Operations teams but can set unrealistic expectations as far as the customer is concerned. Most customers would rather have a realistic 6 week lead time, than constantly be given reasons why an unrealistic 2 week lead time could not be met!

As a final note, while many companies focus on training upon recruitment, they fail to continue this training as products and markets evolve, yet studies have shown that proper training can boost a salesperson’s productivity by 20% and profit margins by much more!

How does Your Business Grow?

Written by Dora Cheatham, Program Manager, Emerging Enterprise Center

 

INNOVATE OR DIE has become a 21st century mantra, and rightly so. Today’s globe is smaller than ever, communications are instantaneous, competition is fierce and market expectations are high and ever-changing. Innovation is therefore a prerequisite for survival.

But what is this seeming “answer to all ills” that we call innovation? How do we make it succeed? And how do we do so while simultaneously meeting various business and ROI criteria that may be imposed upon us and are often at odds with a long term innovation strategy?

When we speak of innovation, many people immediately think of breakthrough developments that changed the course of the marketplace, industry or even history: the automobile, the telephone, the microchip, iTunes. However, innovation can be as simple as changing packaging, repositioning a product, or moving into an adjacent business space. Just yesterday, we saw the release of the 6th version of the iPhone together with the Apple watch: earth shattering? Maybe not, but people were standing in line for the new version of the phone and analysts are expecting a bullish next few months for Apple.

Some may think that this dilutes the concept of innovation, but a successful – and cost-effective – innovation strategy should incorporate a range of development projects that not only works towards breakthrough products and technologies, but also allocates resources to the improvement of existing products, the expansion of existing products into new markets, and the development of existing technologies into new products.

One of the best illustrations of this concept is Bansi Nagji and Geoff Tuff’s “Innovation Ambition Matrix”. Following a review of a number of high performing firms, Nagji and Tuff noted that on average, these firms allocated investments in similar ratios: 70% on the improvement of existing products or core, 20% on the expansion or existing products into new areas, 10% on breakthrough innovation. Their findings also showed that the return ratios were the direct inverse to the investment percentages. While breakthrough innovations yielded a greater return, core innovations required less time and money to develop, and as a rule were more readily accepted by the end user.

By understanding and defining innovation in terms of all of these elements – and not just breakthrough products – creating a growth strategy and implementing a new product development process that fits in with a firm’s core competences makes the entire concept of innovation, while no less daunting, certainly far more manageable and sustainable.

This also makes the concept of innovation far easier to disseminate throughout the organization so that it becomes a part of the organizational culture. When employees understand that innovation need not necessarily be limited to R&D or Engineering, they are more likely to contribute ideas that – while they may not lead to breakthrough products – could certainly lead to product improvements or cost reductions.

Redefining Profit Drivers

Additional routes to growth and innovation should also involve taking an objective view of your business model to clearly understand your profit drivers as they relate to your customers’ needs. This can prove a valuable tool and may lead to a reassessment of your market metrics and a redefinition of how you position your product and/or services and better align your offering to customer needs. We are seeing this more and more as businesses strive to offer insights and solutions rather than individual products.

 Free up Resources by Controlling Hidden Costs

While all of this is going on, there is one more important element that should be incorporated in the innovation process – and that is the regular and consistent review and maintenance of the existing product portfolio. Are the products still relevant and in demand? Are there any weak or inefficient products that could or should be repositioned, improved, or even removed to make way for newer products? Maintenance of inefficient products is a hidden cost and resource drain in many organizations. To allow innovation to function at its most effective, these resources should be freed up in order to be allocated to efforts that add greater long term value.

Strategy x Execution = Success

 

Of course – as with all strategies and my own personal mantra – it’s not just about the strategy but about the implementation and execution of that strategy. Often strategies fail – be they innovation, business, market or product strategies – not necessarily because the strategy itself is flawed but because the implementation and execution is flawed. As the entrepreneur Naveen Jain once said

“Success doesn’t necessarily come from breakthrough innovation but from flawless execution. A great strategy alone won’t win a game or battle; the win comes from basic blocking and tackling.”

Market Segmentation: Understanding Your Customers

Written by Dora Cheatham, Program Manager, Emerging Enterprise Center

“Any color-so long as it’s black.”  Why Henry Ford’s famous quote is no longer relevant.

When we utter Ford’s words today, they are often said in jest. Ford lived in a time of limited competition and his goal was straightforward:  minimize costs through mass production.  And the consumer was more than happy with the deal.  Today’s consumer is different:  he wants choice, lots of it, and with the proliferation of brands and channels, it’s there for the taking.  Whether you are a business or non-profit organization, selling a product or a service,  by segmenting  your market and customers into groups with similar needs and buying criteria, then adjusting your marketing mix to meet the needs of each group,  you enhance 

THE 5 CRITERIA FOR EFFECTIVE SEGMENTATION

  1. HOMOGENOUS—the needs within each segment should be               homogeneous within the segment and different from the other        segments.
  2. IDENTIFIABLE– the customers within the segment must be identifiable and specific.
  3. PROFITABLE—The more segments identified, the greater the opportunity to offer a targeted high value offer.  However, the number of segments identified should be balanced against the cost to serve those segments.
  4. ACCESSIBLE—the customers in the segments should be readily accessible in order to be able to serve effectively.
  5. ACTIONABLE—the segmentation should be such that the company can act on the segmentation to implement appropriate programs for each segment.

Once segmented, the business can then determine its business and marketing strategy on the segments themselves—their size, growth and profitability—the competition and the capabilities of the business.  Which segment(s) will you focus on?  Which segment(s) offer the greatest growth/profitability/maximum barriers to entry? Will your marketing mix (product, price, distribution, marketing message, processes, people) be the same for each segment or will they differ? The chart below shows the various marketing strategy options for business development based on market segmentation.

The KISS Principle: From Innovation to Communication

Written by Dora Cheatham, Program Manager, Emerging Enterprise Center

KISS – alternately known “keep it simple, stupid”, “keep it short and simple” and “keep it simple and straightforward” – is an acronym reportedly coined by Kelly Johnson in the early 20th century, a lead engineer at Lockheed Skunk Works who created the Lockheed US and SR-71 Blackbird spy planes. It’s also a design principle noted by the US Navy in 1960 believing that most systems work best when you avoid unnecessary complexity.

The concept is nothing new and has been embraced by innovators throughout the centuries, from Leonardo da Vinci “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” to Steve Jobs “That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Lean and Six Sigma were both based on the simplification and optimization of processes to increase productivity and reduce the potential for error. Alan Turing – considered the father of computing and artificial intelligence – built the stunningly simple Turing Machine which is today the basis of all modern computers. The same applies in the business world. Whether it’s a go-to-market plan, the design of a new process, or implementing cultural change the key to success is simplicity.

By simplifying and communicating sometimes complex organizational strategies and discussions, it makes them accessible to the entire organization which in turn enables the entire organization to embrace them. So the concept of QA in manufacturing can be viewed less as a system of forms and check marks and more as a fundamental belief in manufacturing products of the highest quality possible. Innovation can be viewed less as a function of R&D or Engineering, divorced from the rest of the organization, and more an overriding vision that is integrated into the mainstream of the organization, engendering commitment at all levels.

Similarly, the communication of complex, technical products needs to be broken down into language understood by anyone involved in the purchase process, with clear explanations of the pros and cons surrounding their purchase decision and based on trustworthy information. Too often, marketing of complex products – especially at a B2B level – is communicated in language and concepts which may hold great value to some in the decision making process, but may hold little value to others. Ensure that the communication is clear enough to be understand by all involved in the purchasing decision.

In their excellent article published in Harvard Business Review, Patrick Spenner and Karen Freeman discussed their findings after a 3-month long study on what drives consumers to opt for, or stick with, a specific brand. They found that “the single biggest driver of stickiness, by far, was “decision simplicity” – the ease with which consumers can gather trustworthy information about a product confidently and efficiently weigh their purchase options. What consumers want from marketers is, simply, simplicity.”

So how do you go about simplifying communication? The steps are simple (pun intended):

DECONSTRUCT: Break down the idea to its basic elements.

SIMPLIFY: Simplify the premise by taking out excess information that does not directly contribute to the value expected by the end user(s).

RECONSTRUCT: Reconstruct by focusing strictly on the value, bearing in mind that value may represent different things to the various members of your audience.

COMMUNICATE: Communicate in a language that is accessible to a wider audience. Use clear language, avoid the use of jargon and acronyms that only a limited audience would understand.

I’ll leave the final word to that great genius Einstein:

“If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”

Marketing for Small Businesses – 3 Steps to Success

Written by Dora Cheatham, Program Manager, Emerging Enterprise Center

We often hear of the failure rates of start-ups and new businesses, or even longer term firms going out of business for one reason or another.The US Census Bureau’s statistics certainly bear this out, with as many as 44% of businesses failing by their 3rd year and 71% failing by Year 10.

While this depends greatly on the industry, the chart below from Statistic Brain, shows just how fragile some industries can be:

While the final cause of death is usually financial collapse, the symptoms most likely started much earlier with failed strategies and operational inefficiencies. While no-one has a crystal ball into the future, you can certainly try to preempt as many obstacles as possible with careful planning and preparation; as Alan Lakein once said “failing to plan, is planning to fail”.

So if you’re thinking of starting your own business, or you’re beginning to see fissures in your business, there are definitely steps you can take ahead of time. Here are a few from a marketing perspective to ensure that your business survives and succeeds.

  1. MARKET ANALYSIS │ THE LAY OF THE LAND

Understanding the lay of the land is critical in helping you determine what actions you will need to take to grow—or in some cases—survive. An excellent tool for establishing the lay of the land is Michael Porter’s Five Forces Model. This popular model forces you to look at your industry within a specific framework that takes into consideration competition between existing firms, the threat of new entrants, the strength of buyers and suppliers and the threat of substitute products. Another simple but frequently used framework: the SWOT analysis that assesses strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats—use it to assess not only your own business but also that of your competition.

How do you fit in these frameworks? What are your core competences? What are your weaknesses? How can you leverage your strengths and improve on your weaknesses? It’s not enough to know and believe in your own product: you need to understand how it fits within the industry and among other like products in that industry. You also need to have a clear understanding of your customers’ (existing and/or potential) needs and wants.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a one time exercise—external forces and world events can impact the lay of the land, change the balance of power in these forces and overturn the positions in these frameworks within a matter of weeks! A catastrophic event – think 9/11 and its impact not only on the aviation industry but also the industry’s suppliers, travel, tourism and beyond – can and will result in a need to re-assess your business strategy in short order.  

  1. MARKET STRATEGY │ START WITH THE END IN SIGHT

Once you have a clear understanding of the lay of the land, the business then needs to determine its focus: What is your differential advantage or value proposition as a business? What are your growth objectives? Which products and markets offer the best opportunities to achieve your growth objectives? How will you achieve these objectives? Will it be through market penetration? Product development? Market development? Diversification? How will you position the business and your products to meet these objectives? Which core competences do you need to develop to achieve your targeted growth and create a sustainable competitive advantage? What will the investment be in time, talent and treasure to develop these core competences and what will your return on that investment be? 

  1. MARKETING MIX │ THE ROAD MAP

The Marketing Mix is generally referred to as the 4Ps (or 5Ps depending on the source!) and encompasses decisions surrounding your Products (performance, features, design, presentations, name, etc), Pricing (direct, distributor, geographical, etc), Promotion (PR, marketing collateral, advertising), Place (distribution channels), and People (tasks, sales, support). In other words, you know your market and you know your customers. You now need to ensure that you have the correct products, that they are correctly positioned and that your communications correctly reflect that positioning. Do you have the right distribution channels set up? Do you have effective and efficient processes in place?

A common fallacy to avoid is that marketing is the same as sales, particularly on a B2B level. The two are very different and – while they work hand in hand – they perform different functions. Marketing creates the value, the visibility and the lead; it can also provide the tools to make the sales process more effective, but it is an ongoing process and does not preclude the need for a sales strategy to leverage and capitalize on the value created through the marketing process (check out the posts on Creating & Selling Value and What’s In A Brand?).

 

STRATEGY X EXECUTION = SUCCESS

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it’s not just about the strategy but about implementation and execution of that strategy. Once the lay of the land and the road map have been laid out, specific tactical and action plans, budgets and measurement criteria can be put into place to guide that execution and implementation. One of my favorite quotes is from the entrepreneur Naveen Jain. “A great strategy alone won’t win a game or battle; the win comes from basic blocking and tackling.”