Zee2A's Marketing Edge Blog

April 28, 2009

Have You Reached Critical Mass?

Have You Reached Critical Mass?

Back in February we looked at two fundamental marketing errors to be avoided by start-up businesses. You may want to refresh your memory briefly; in which case click here to read the article again.

Start-up businesses are at an unenviable junction of product offering and target market: They are offering an unknown/untried product to a market which knows little of nothing about them or their product. As an aside, many franchise operators make the promise that as their franchisee you can leapfrog this stage of business growth, but be very careful: a lot of franchises are untried in a broader market, so you should do very careful market research before signing on the dotted line. In any case, a franchise is someone else’s business, not yours: You can get rich operating a franchise but you’ll never ‘own’ it the way you do your own business.

But I digress: let’s look at what happens as you operate your start-up business. Over time (if you remain in business) your product gets refined and enhanced, while your market (that group of businesses or individuals from which your most successful clients will be drawn) gets to know you better and better, because you keep showing up and doing the right kind and volume of marketing. This may seem to be taking too long, and it is rare for a start-up business to have really achieved this within eighteen months (some take far longer).

But you will reach what some refer to as a ‘tipping point’ (I prefer the term used of nuclear reactions: reaching ‘critical mass’) at which you will suddenly go from struggling to make yourself known and understood to your target market to being recognised instantly and seen as a ‘core product’ in your chosen market. This may seem to happen overnight and with little change from the previous day, but be assured that it only happens if you have been working hard at marketing to your key audiences over an extended period of time.

You’ll recognise this change: selling may not get easier, but instead of having to explain who you are and why you should be shortlisted, you will be asked to explain how you justify your price against the market leader, or (ironically) why you should be chosen against the ‘new guy’ who is hungry for the work! You are no longer selling an untested product into a new market; you are now one of the yardsticks in your market – others are evaluated against you!

Core Business – The Second Phase of Growth

When your business reaches this phase of growth (the junction of a tried and tested product offering and an established market) you really should get out the dusty bottle of French Red you’ve been saving for a special day and pour yourself a glass. It’s a huge milestone – so many start-ups have fallen by the wayside without ever reaching this point, for any one of a hundred different reasons. You’ve made it. And you deserve to celebrate.

But don’t lose sight of the fact that there’s lots more work to do; and many marketing mistakes yet to be avoided. Let’s look at a few which are relevant to this second phase of business growth:

Continued/Intensified Indiscriminate Marketing

Just so we’re clear: Your business is now established in a market. I might have mentioned earlier that this doesn’t make selling easier, but I lied. It does make the selling easier – not only do you have to work less to get through the door of qualified prospects, but you even occasionally get invited in, because your business is now one of the ‘usual suspects’ –those recognised scions of the industry who have to be evaluated as part of a buying decision. Here is where all of the carefully targeted marketing that you did in the start-up phase (and wondered whether you were spending too much for the results you were getting) start to pay off.

So why would you now start panicking about the market being too small and go off trying to win business outside your core market? And yet that is all too common – the belief that your core market is saturated and results are starting to drop off.

I have worked with clients who focused on singularly small markets – one client could recite by heart the forty-four public-sector organisations that formed his target market. But after fifteen years and some amazing growth, he still markets with pinpoint accuracy into that market, and the business still wins contracts. In a future article we will touch on the phase of growth which allows for an expansion of your marketing efforts, but understand for now that unless you know for sure that your market is saturated (or approaching that point) any marketing done outside your core market is a mistake. Keep the shotgun locked away, and rely on your hunting rifle.

Giving Up Hunting

Once your business reaches this phase you’re going to be as busy as a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest. Because you’re selling more, you’ll need to deliver more – and your time will come under huge pressure.

What happens to marketing? One of a few things: either you just don’t get around to it anymore, or you bring in your spouse’s cousin’s lad to help out. No offence – he’s probably a wonderful boy – but the sort of marketing skill your business needs he is not.

What’s the result? Remember that what your marketing has bought you is what marketers call ‘mindshare’ – conscious or close-to-conscious recall of your business in the minds of key prospects. As your marketing efforts tail off or lose their effectiveness that recall will fade, and your business will fall back under the critical mass threshold again. Virtually every entrepreneur I have ever met has explained how difficult they found it to break through a particular revenue barrier at some point in the evolution of their business – and every time the reason was this phenomenon.

Work hard at keeping up the marketing momentum – and consider carefully whether now is the time to beef up, rather than dilute, the marketing expertise available to your business. Staying above the critical mass threshold ensures that your business will never again have to contend with the start-up phase.

©David Deakin and Zee2A Limited 2009. Would you like to reprint this article? You may do so as long as you include the copyright notice and the following paragraph: David Deakin, CEO of Zee2A, is a marketing mentor who works with Professional services Executives yearning to take their business to the next level. Through one-on-one and group mentoring programmes he helps them to create sustainable marketing strategies that attract more clients at profitable rates. To learn more, sign up for his e-zine, or make an enquiry please visit www.zee2a.com.

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