Why businesses must take marketing seriously from the outset

It is crucial to take marketing seriously right from the outset of your small business, as Carol Graham argues in this piece.

At times there is a danger that businesses, especially smaller ones with less resources, see marketing and communications as a ‘nice to have’ – a periphery option that they can afford to negate when budgets are tight. The reality of this assumption is very far removed from the truth; it is crucial to take marketing seriously from the start.

Since joining the family business in 1996, I have seen Graham’s The Family Dairy develop from a local organisation delivering milk to shops in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Fife, to winning our first supermarket contract in 1999 and blossoming into a top dairy and food brand.

My aim since becoming marketing director in 2006 has always been to try and make Graham’s the consumer dairy brand of choice, no easy ask in a very competitive market in a country with a vibrant rural economy. We all play our part – cows included – but a central component of this has been finding new and innovative ways to stand out.

Results of a study conducted by SMG Insight and YouGov at the end of 2016 is a good example, at a market-wide level, of the importance of business communications.

A representative sample of nearly 1000 Scots were surveyed, and more than any other discipline, marketing was seen as an important driving factor to business success (38 per cent). More important than sales (34 per cent), higher than accounting (18 per cent), HR (13 per cent), and law (12 per cent), which speaks volumes.

Keeping in front of the herd

Marketing is ever changing, so staying one step ahead of your competition is crucial. In our case, milk is at the very heart of our offering, but many consumers see this as a commodity repeat purchase, therefore a challenge we face is setting our product apart from the rest and keeping it exciting.

Creating an economy of scope, offering similar but differentiated products, has been key to our business and has allowed us to connect with consumers in different ways. With new product development often based on customer demand, we’ve worked hard to communicate bespoke and targeted messaging around these products to the right audience. Throughout all this, and an important lesson for any business, no matter how big or small, has been staying true to our values. As a family business, our brand values of farming, family, provenance, heritage and high quality products are at the bedrock of everything we do.

Advice to young businesses

From the outset, businesses must strive to understand their audiences. Bringing your brand story to life in a creative, authentic and engaging way is crucial to building that all-important relationship with consumers, which ultimately leads to customer loyalty and as a result, sales.

It is an area that can flex depending on what budget is available, so once you are clear about your audience, brand positioning and story, you can scale up or down your activity depending on your budget – and still make an impact in the right places.

Graham’s is a genuine family business with a wonderful story to tell, and it’s one that we’ve worked hard to bring to life. I would encourage businesses looking to expand their marketing to adopt a fully integrated approach using a broad marketing and communications portfolio – branding, advertising, digital channels and PR.

In doing so, most recently, we have seen brand awareness increase by 43 per cent and website user sessions go up by 101 per cent, which has helped us gain significant new listings with new products.

Don’t get too focused on one particular brand or area – it’s a big world out there so make sure you’re keeping track of what other brands are doing (both well and… not so well) and learn from them. Always network with new people – inspiration can come in unusual shapes and forms, and from people you might never have had the chance to speak with if you didn’t get yourself out there.

Bright and bold ideas

The marketing world is full of a vibrant mix of wonderful people, from creatives, researchers and planners to film-makers and digital geniuses – don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in, and keep putting those ideas out there because one of them will be a winner.

Scotland and UK as a whole is a competitive place to be operating. This is healthy and ensures that marketers are constantly challenged with creating the very best, the most innovative and the most impactful pieces of work – that most importantly deliver results. It is great that we have such an active and involved Marketing Society to recognise, celebrate and nurture this talent.

The past 20 years I’ve spent working here has been a hugely exciting time for Graham’s The Family Dairy and, as marketing director, I’m thrilled that we’ve established ourselves firmly in the hearts and minds of consumers and the trade as ‘The Family Dairy’. Winning last year’s Marketing Star of the Year award was one of my proudest achievements and is an absolute highlight of my career – I felt it was as much for my family and my team, as it was for me.

Carol Graham is marketing director of Graham’s The Family Dairy.

Further reading on the need to take marketing seriously

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of SmallBusiness.co.uk from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

Related Topics

Marketing strategy

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