Marketing turned on its head

High-performance, small and mid-sized companies are the powerhouse of the UK economy. I could bore you with data about the disproportionate contribution of 24,000 mid-sized companies to national economic performance, but these companies are enormously important to the UK.

We live in a fast-changing, real-time, digital, information-saturated, still-in-the-intensive-care-ward economy. From where I sit, a combination of entrepreneurialism and digital technology are redefining the UK and, indeed, global economy.

Our large employers are crumbling under the weight of their operating costs and inflexibility. In a world where looseness and speed are everything, they are no longer fit for purpose.

Okay, this isn’t a properly comparable scenario, but it makes an interesting point. RBS: 150,000 employees to serve 33m customers; Wonga: 400 employees to service three million.

And there are no new giant employers waiting in the wings to replace the mega-corporates and public sector of the past.

We still hang onto data about “full-time jobs” when the economy is moving in a different direction towards micro-entrepreneurship, part-time working, agile working patterns.

Most of the businesspeople I meet don’t want to employ lots more people, but they do want to engage with skilled, highly productive specialists – whether that’s individuals or niche small businesses.

This kind of economy – full of high-performance, internationally focused, mid-sized and small businesses – will put the UK in a much better position to roll with a new world of permanent volatility.

I think that sales and marketing are subject to the same forces as the wider economy.

The old world, in which large organisations bombarded the marketplace with sales messages until they relented, has gone.

The monopoly of the traditional media, too, has been loosened, by social media.

Whatever the size of your operation, it’s possible now to establish a direct relationship with a global audience. Your voice can be just as influential as the deep-pocketed corporates.

But this does bring challenges: your customers can, in the same way, find out about you, your services, your track record. In an instant. And if it’s not good enough, they’ll be away in a flash.

So sales and marketing has become more direct, more transparent, more honest perhaps. It’s my view that businesses have to stand for something bigger than the products they sell. You have to have a voice, a mission, something for your customers to buy into.

This is an edited version of my speech to the Building British Business event on September 20, 2013.

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