How to make a marketing strategy that works

Sep 22, 2019

Understanding the purpose behind marketing can be tough when you’re not seeing the return on investment. Niamh O' Connor breaks down what you can do to make your marketing strategy work for your business.

There’s no topic that incites views from everyone around the board table quite like marketing. Everyone has a view on it! And therein lies the problem when it comes to marketing spend decisions. The critical question being asked at the decision-making tables is: “What’s the purpose of marketing?”

The ultimate purpose of marketing is to generate more profitable fee income/revenue so clients will choose your business and refer you to others, and buy more from you, faster, and at higher prices. It’s critical that all investment decisions are made with this core qualification question in mind.

The commercial objectives 


Firms have an exciting opportunity to set clear commercial objectives when it comes to marketing. Is your objective to acquire new clients in a new or existing market, cross-selling or client retention?

‘Brand awareness’ and ‘we always sponsor it’ do not qualify as commercial objectives! Is your overall brand positioning clear? Does it clearly and effectively communicate how you are different from competitors? Do you have a visual identity that brings your brand to life in a consistent and impactful way that attracts and engages clients? Getting clarity on these areas is key to embedding an effective brand infrastructure that helps drive growth.

The campaign

Once your core brand assets are in place, who are you talking to and what are you saying? Identify your key customer segments: who exactly are your customers? What are their job titles? What challenges and opportunities do they face and, in this context, what do they value? What content or activities will you use to engage them in the year ahead? How are you mobilising your team to discuss and share this content with your clients? Despite the pressure to deliver immediate results, leading marketers typically allocate 60% of their budgets to long-term (>6 months) marketing campaigns. These campaigns are more effective at increasing marketing share, revenue and profit.

The channels

Press releases, events, thought-leadership, sponsorships, website and social media make up the typical activity-mix for professional services firms. The best marketing professionals don’t typically spend more on marketing; their focus is on optimising channel-mix based on where their clients are engaging.

To ensure you maximise marketing activity, it is also useful to look the cost of funding it. For example, if your profit margin is typically 20% and your event costs €20,000 to run, you need to generate €100,000 in fee income to fund it. When it comes to professional service firms, most of the time and effort is typically spent running activities rather than on maximising outcomes. The big opportunity here is to switch the focus to the amount of new contacts and clients you want to get from your event. How can you engage them before, during and after the event to maximise relationship-building opportunities?

The measurement

According to the latest Deloitte Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) survey, just 35% of US B2B companies can quantitatively prove the impact of marketing actions on financial outcomes. Most focus on easy-to-measure ‘vanity’ metrics (e.g. impressions, likes, shares, etc.) instead of critical indicators linked to firm value and cash flow. The lack of financially valid and agreed metrics for evaluating brand and marketing is a big underlying reason why 78% of CMOs have historically suffered from a credibility gap with CEOs, boards and CFOs.

Niamh O' Connor is the Senior Account Director at The Pudding, a commercial and creative brand company.