By Matthew Cushen
We invest in businesses with the potential to build a ‘loved brand’. It doesn’t matter whether B2B or consumer, the ingredients for building a loved brand are similar: some kind of innovation that solves a need; a market within which there is room for the innovation to establish itself; getting the target audience to try the solution; then the consumer getting into a habit of continued use.
Most start-up businesses fixate on the innovation element – what is their product, service or experience. A good pitch will also bring to life the insight that got them there, to really help the investor to see the need and product/market fit. Some will do a good job of articulating the proposition and give confidence in the ability to engage the target consumer.
Where we are consistently disappointed is how seldom we see a joined-up marketing plan. A founder will often say that a large proportion of the hoped for investment will be spent on ‘marketing’ but without a plan that describes how. By the end of our distillation process, this is what Worth Capital hopes to have seen to give us confidence in a marketing plan.
In essence, the story behind the brand you are hoping to establish – about your product or service, maybe about you and certainly about why people should care. A clear brand proposition will contain some form of:
For consumer businesses there is often a temptation to make customer segments all about demographics, e.g. ‘young Mums aged 25 to 34’. In our experience, and more so as traditional stereotypes break down, attitudes and behaviours are often more useful, e.g. ‘young at heart liberal minded women’. These lead you more directly to how and where you would target communications. It might help to create a pen portrait of your audience and mapping a day in their lives to tap into their mindset, attitudes and behaviours. It may also help you identify when are the best times to communicate with them throughout their day.
The target customer should link back to the product or service – how has it been designed to serve this market, or what purchase behaviours are there to illustrate the target consumer.
If the brand proposition should get everyone excited, the communication plan is about getting word out. This is always more difficult than anyone expects. Keep in mind that very (very) rarely does anyone act on the first time they see a brand, it usually takes multiple and repeated interventions to influence consumer behaviour.
A decent communications plan will have lots of different activities and for each one:
Taking a step back and looking at this plan, and keeping it live through plenty of learning of what is working and not working, will lead to a clear sense of priorities and potential timings. So the plan becomes a schedule of activities that shows a considered level of communication across different customer groups. This can then be maintained as a rolling plan against which the success or failure of experiments and campaigns can be planned and monitored.
Lastly we look for the investment needed in the communications plan to be in some way related to the projected marketing spend in the financial forecasts. So ideally there will be a spreadsheet element to the marketing plan that adds up the projected spend and expected impact over the course of the next, say, 12 months. Of course if the content of the communication plan would cost much more than the marketing spend forecasted then something is amiss. But more usually the content of the plan is much less than the projected spend on marketing, which suggests someone is making it up as they go along.
Then one point to note across all three components. No-one will expect a plan to be slavishly followed. The first plan is a starting point. It should be a solid foundation, but from which each component can be amended and finessed as more is learnt about the business, the brand, the customers and which communications channels are working well or not.