Many sharks have to keep moving forward to keep water flowing over their gills, otherwise they drown (an ironic twist if ever there was one). That's why fishermen sometimes drag them by the tail to kill them. A bit cruel, but no doubt infinitely safer than the guys I once encountered with a large shark hanging off their boat who, when I asked how they killed it, produced a sawn-off shotgun (a group of guys, beer, a shark, rolling seas and a shotgun - what could possibly go wrong). Anyway, I digress again.
I'm not going to bore you today by telling you what you already know (at least I hope not). We all know you have to change to stay ahead of the game, and that you can't keep doing what you've always done and expect a different result. That stuff is business 101. It's true, but also fairly useless information if you don't have the tactical answers to the question "How do I innovate?". If we're going to avoid doing the same thing as last year, what is that we're actually going to do differently? What actions are we going to implement? How are we going to avoid doing too many things and doing them poorly? Where should we put our limited resources? These are all very good questions. They're also questions that many businesses don't ask, or ask but never find an answer to.
If we're to be shark-like and keep moving forward, through the mud, competition, red tape and other irrepressible forces that continually try to push us back, how do we actually do that? And how do we change without jeopardising what we already have?
I won't ask any more questions, as I think we're all well acquainted with the problems, which is why I hate posts that just reiterate the obvious. At this point in the post I probably should give you the answers - but here's the problem - the answers are different for every business. But thankfully some of the questions we should be asking to dig deeper and find those questions aren't. So here's a few conversation starters for you. They're in order, and you should ask them at least every year (every 6 months would be better). It's not a comprehensive list, and it's obviously all about marketing (as that's my thing):
1. What's working? Do more of this.
2. What's not? Do less of this.
3. What are we doing to protect our existing customers? Are we doing anything?
4. What are we doing to stay in constant dialogue with our existing customers? Is it enough/meaningful?
5. What do our most profitable prospects look like?
6. What is the message that is most likely to encourage them to engage with us?
7. Which media channels and marketing initiatives will give us the best chance of delivering that message into the hands of those prospects?
The thing I find intriguing is the way so many companies start at question #7, either before asking the other questions (or sometimes without asking the other questions at all). That's a recipe for disaster, and frankly is completely back to front. How can you make informed decisions on which media channels to choose, and how much to spend with each, if you have no idea who you want to talk to or what you want to tell them?
The other critical understanding is that all good marketing is a process of discovery. It's not a key that unlocks a door once and for all, delivering you a bounty of riches. That's not the way it works, especially in today's environment where the ground is constantly shifting under our feet.
So be prepared to fail. Discovering the secret sauce that delivers prospects to your business is tough. Colonel Sanders had to go through 1009 'No's' before someone agreed to buy his chicken recipe (apparently) and it's been reported Edison produced over 1000 lightbulbs that didn't work before he made one that did. So don't get disheartened. I hope it doesn't take you as long as Edison and Sanders, but keep experimenting. Keep moving forward. Let that water flow over your gills and hunt. Don't expect it'll be easy - what in business is? Marketing is no exception.
I will say this though, when you experiment, make sure you do it intelligently. Think about the prospect and the message first - then how to deliver that message for maximum impact. Writing cheques for media and marketing initiatives without a plan and message may not constitute standing still or going backwards, but it certainly serves to have you swimming in circles, and that's really not much better.