A New Adventure – Project FB

Marketing Consultant Norman Comfort takes on a new project!

This week I have started work on a new project.  A small of team have developed a proto-type product which is receiving positive feedback from its target consumer and customer.  The challenge is to take this idea, with all its positivity and possibility, and translate that into a commercial, successful business.  My main input will be as a Marketing specialist or consultant, helping to develop the brand, its packaging, the key messages, identifying the main market segments to target, and trying to help gain that all important sales momentum.  Alongside this focus, I will be using my MBA and business experience to give broader leadership to the project.  Along with others in the team we will try and solve the issues which face all new businesses:-

–          How do we fund initial product development?

–          How do we robustly assess the product and how much potential customers really like it?

–          How do we build an infra structure for the business?

–          What resources do we need and what is the most effective way to buy those in a small business which has limited cash reserves?

I will be thinking about what I have learnt from reading books like Good to Great and Built to Last, from my MBA and Marketing Diploma, as well as the team building and project development strategies I learnt through Common Purpose.

More than that I hope that this part of my blog will become an interactive area where as people read and understand the challenges we face, they will interact and become participants in their own right, coming forward with their own experiences and suggestions.

It’s going to be a great journey – a chance to implement some learning’s gained, as well as gain some new insights “on the job”.

For reasons of confidentiality, I shall refer to this project as “Project FB”

Norman Comfort

Marketing Consultant

Making Ideas Happen

Making Ideas HappenLast night I finished reading this great book.   Scott Belsky, founder and CEO of Behance Network, considers the question:  lots of people are good at having ideas, so why do some people seem to manage to translate these into tangible useful things, whilst others seem to never get past that initial creative spark.  Belsky argues that this is not just about a predetermined mind set or skill set, but that instead we all have a tendency not to make ideas happen, some people have just developed a set of useful tools to overcome these tendencies.

Through his book he provides a set of useful and practical tools that are suitable for both individuals and teams.  He gives relevant and practical examples to illustrate his recommendations and conclusions.  Belsky talks first about the importance of organisation, not system design, but a method of identifying and managing the key actions required to keep projects moving forward that individuals are intuitively comfortable with.  He then discussed the importance of a strong support team, and the importance of extending that team far beyond the comfort zone of an individual.  Finally he considers leadership in its own right, and splits this into two distinct areas, leadership of oneself and leadership of a team.  He argues that both need to be considered separately but are interconnected.

The nice thing about this book is that it is written in the same style as Jim Collins’ Good to Great and Built to Last, both in the style of reading and formatting.  Better still many of the core concepts and ideas seem to inter-connect.  If you have a great idea, maybe you should read Good To Great…… if you have a basis for a company but never seem to execute the big idea, maybe you should read Making Ideas Happen…….. if you are like me and still just starting out, I recommend all three!

Learning from other Brands

I have recently been trying to absorb a lot of information about different business models and how they affect the outcome of businesses.

Two books I have enjoyed reading are “The Story of Green and Black’s” and “Innocent, Our Story & Some Things We’ve Learned”.

Innocent SmoothiesBoth books are an interesting read but I think the Green and Black’s book is perhaps less aimed at selling more of their own product or more about the story for the sake of the story.  What is most striking is that neither of these businesses (or many others it seems), concern themselves with the manufacturing or logistics / warehousing aspects of their business.  These are outsourced.  Both businesses put great emphasis on maintaining control of the supply chain by purchasing raw materials directly from source, particularly if there is a marketing or brand story attached to this.

Green And Blacks ChocolateThey then focus on the routes market, trade marketing, sales, and brand building amongst end consumers.  This model offers perhaps greater flexibility and certainly less overheads and things to think about when building the business.  The only counter to that is that the business itself doesn’t actually make anything! Whilst this can be seen as a benefit, and some people would argue it is creating value in the brand, it does also expose the business or brand to a much greater risk of acquisition (because the value of the business is lower) and the threat of direct copy-cat products made by someone else.  Nobody has to ask the question “This looks quite difficult to make, how do they do this?”  This does not appear to have happened with either of the two brands I have mentioned but I still think it is an important consideration.   Businesses with a manufacturing technical competitive advantage as well as a strong brand must hold more value than those that don’t.

Other useful things in the books:-

–          Use PR.  Launching a brand is a story in itself

–          Do competitions.  Winning awards is great for your brand if you shout about it

–          Sample your product.  People need to know how good it is

–          Don’t compromise of what makes your brand unique.  Celebrate it and push it to the limits

–          If you can’t afford a big advertising campaign, unfortunately you will still need to advertise, so find innovative ways of doing it cheaply.

–          Target listings in stores that have high credibility and work hard to make them work

–          Always keep a good handle on your costs both fixed and variable

–          If you are small and competitors are big, think more quickly and execute more quickly than they can, but do so to the same quality standard

–          If things don’t work it doesn’t matter as long as a) you both realise it and know why b) you have some else to try next

–          Your packaging is your most important sales advertisement – get it right and don’t compromise on anything

–          For every £10 of extra cash for marketing that your competitor has, you must have £20 worth of passion and commitment

–          Build links with likeminded people, businesses and brands in different categories.  Make a club and share insights and ideas

–          Never be afraid to ask for help

–          Always always negotiate to get the best deal.

–          Find a good marketing consultant!!!

Just how much does it cost to build a business?

I have just started working with a new client.  They have a great idea for a new food product and quite a lot of background knowledge to support their thinking.  They have some good contacts within the food industry and in other associated areas such as sales and marketing.  The one thing they don’t have is a lot of investment or cash reserves to support the business in its infancy.

Many businesses that launch now seem to do so with some kind of investment package to see them through the initial pre launch and launch phases of the business.  But is this really a prerequisite to building a successful business? If you cannot secure £250,000 – that’s the amount of investment Innocent secured before they launched properly in the UK – can a business grow by simply selling a small number of units and reinvesting those returns into more produced units, which in term builds a bigger sales base?

marketing plan for growthI can see the attraction and security that a large pot of upfront capital can provide.  The ability to hire staff with the confidence that you can pay their salary, the ability to go to a customer with a properly costed marketing support programme which is granted in exchange for a listing, are just two examples.  However, surely there is a benefit of growing incrementally and at a slower pace.  The business is perhaps likely to be more in tune with its customers, listening and learning from every single one.  The business is perhaps much better at negotiating hard for the best price on materials.  Of even more value is the fact that the business will in time have a longer track record of business and custom which means it cannot be treated as a ‘fashion’ or ‘fad’ brand.  Finally businesses that start from scratch are more incentivised to have robust profitable business models and per pound spent perhaps a better asset value to costs incurred ratio.

Clearly there are benefits to working with either model.  I am looking forward to getting stuck in with this new team and this new business.  It won’t be easy starting from scratch, and we will often wish we had a little more cash, of that I am sure.  But on the other hand, if we are creative in how we do things and think innovatively about how to execute our ideas, I think we could have a great story on our hands!!  So Watch This Space!!!