By Alicia Puritt
Askari Solutions Inc. has been consistently growing since it started in December 2012. While I handle the admin side of Askari, recently I have also expanded to take on the role of Marketing Lead which has resulted in some challenges. In trying to determine a strategy forward, I recently applied one of the lessons I took from my time at Algonquin College doing my post-grad in Business Marketing. If I set up a case analysis of Askari Solutions to look at the different factors challenging the company, I could analytically determine the right fit for a solution.
Case Analysis of Askari
As a company, Askari needed to take three very distinct and individually successful brands (the partners) and make a single successful corporate brand. Based on my studies, and as a millennial, I know the value of different social media platforms. I was going to introduce social media as one of my core unifying tenets, but I knew that convincing my bosses was going to take a big effort. Askari has strengths that I knew could be used to our advantage. There were also weaknesses that we needed to address and around which we needed to be vigilant. Finally, we also had some external opportunities and potential threats to consider. For success down the road, I completed a detailed situational analysis before advising we move in a particular direction. Moving forward on a social mediacampaign as well as pushing for promotional material was going to take time and needed to be backed up with enough fact-based evidence to start the process. I figured once an objective base was established, my anecdotal- and experience-based evidence would be enough to tip the scales in my favour as to specific suggestions. It turned out that trying to account for different unforeseen possibilities from the partners was significantly more complicated. They each have years of experience with what has and has not worked in the past. My added challenge was to demonstrate why a particular solution would work for Askari, even if they had experienced otherwise individually.
Costs of Marketing
What was needed? We created organizational objectives for this situation. We wanted to reach our existing customers and our prospective clients and engage with them. You can’t be a thought leader if you’re not sharing your knowledge and there are so many different social platforms for sharing. We definitely wanted to see substantial growth from efforts related to our company branded promotional material within six months. Beyond that short-term goal, we need to see substantial growth from social media expansion and communications efforts in order to justify their continued use. These efforts are expensive though, no question about it. My imperative was clear: put forward a plan that would meet the needs of the partners, the company as a whole, and be sufficiently productive plus sustainable in the long term.
Marketing Options and Implications
I saw three distinct options: Option One: Focus on staying local: stay within our current market, penetrate further into our current client pool, and use the partners’ personal contacts and personal brands to push the company forward. This option would undoubtedly be the lowest in risk and cost but it would equally not see a lot of growth or innovation. Any promotional material would be wasted, in a sense, because the client pool doesn’t recognize the Askari brand, knowing only the individual partner. However, staying with the status quo would also mean no worries about doing something wrong. In my mind, for this option, I could only hear the saying, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Option Two: Expand slowly on the different social media platforms (after careful analysis of what would likely work for the company) and add corporate swag. The cost would be mid-range because we would be doing the work ourselves. By staying in-house, security risks to information would be low and we could slowly expand in our industry, learning as we went and capitalizing on opportunities as they popped up. Promotional materials would be selected based on internal preferences and experiences. The risk of doing something wrong is valid, because the in-house team is Judy and me. We make a good team, but we do not have years of implementation experience in marketing. We would be researching constantly to stay ahead of the curve and we would need to tap into all our connections for reality checks, experienced-based tips, and support. Promotional material would be decided upon based on criteria outlined above and purchased on an as needed basis allowing for controlled implementation. But this option was going to include failure. Don’t get me wrong, I love winning just as much as the next competitive individual, and I try really hard to avoid failing! I took some comfort from the reality that (a) the environment was/is supportive, and (b) I typically learn more from something that doesn’t go perfectly because I am forced to look at the bigger picture in order to overcome or avoid those hurdles in the future. Option Three: Hire a marketing firm dedicated to creating campaigns for different small businesses. This option would take the risk external and would put the marketing efforts into a completely separate firm’s hands. It would be very expensive, it would be harder to ensure information security, and it might be more difficult to sync our industry values and information with a company that would need to learn about us. The advantage of a solution like this is marketing companies have worked on multiple campaigns. We would choose a firm which specialized in small corporations whose commodity was skills and thought rather than products. Also, a marketing firm would likely source promotional material at a better cost. The response to a concentrated campaign like this would likely be greater because it would be conducted by a team of people who know how to use which platforms most effectively. They would be marketing leaders who understand the current trends and would apply their full experience to Askari. The biggest disadvantage I could see was cost. I know what great work marketing firms do and I know that their combined expertise comes with a hefty price tag for a reason – when you find the right team, they’re going to be worth their weight in gold.
The way forward
The partners decided to go with the sustainable, maintainable, learning-while-we-go Option Two. In choosing Option Two, the first thing to do was make some moderate content and style changes to the Askari website, including adding a bi-weekly blog, Beneath the Baobab. The first major social push was to get Askari onto Twitter. Then we created a LinkedIn account, and put Askari onto Facebook, YouTube, and Google+. And now, three months in? We are continuing to expand the website (weekly blogposts and new content tabs) and still following our basic plan. We measure and check analytics regularly, and very carefully introduce changes/modifications. We review the core challenge and examine the contributing factors to that challenge regularly. We knew that this plan had to be implemented quickly and efficiently and we needed to collect and track data immediately. We did that and continue to do that, making adjustments as needed. We are learning a lot and there are always opportunities to improve. Theoretically, I knew that working on a corporate social media strategy was going to be different from keeping on top of my personal accounts, but all the same, I realized I was going to have to implement this strategy. I was able to pull in some knowledge from having volunteered on campaigns for a couple non-profits, but corporate is different! Using a social media management system like Hootsuite helps. Also, I follow the industry for new ideas and to discover new ways to interpret strategies based on industry leaders. Sometimes the information is contrary to what we have been doing and sometimes it is just a matter of the shelf life of everything we do is much shorter on these efforts. Constant innovation and change means that I have pushed for this solution but in six months, I might be pushing for something completely different because the market, the industry or the tools have changed.
Promat – Branded free giveaways
We know that our initial foray into promotional material involves learning and success. Our first major promat purchase was to brand the Askari logo onto a sporty golf shirt. This was one of those learning opportunities. I chose the colour but when the shirts arrived they were more orangey than the tan shade I had anticipated. The quality is absolutely there, but I learned a valuable lesson to have a wider group provide input on the colour, look and feel of the item. Next, we ordered very cool branded pens. I enjoyed the selection process, trialing the various options with a wider group of people and recording their reactions. The final choice, based on impression, cost-benefit analysis, and so on, appears to be a bigger hit than the shirts. Already on the agenda as our next bit of swag is Askari-branded USBs for clients and prospects.
Marketing and Growth
With each consideration, we look at how this new social aspect or promotional material will expand Askari’s image and brand – not just an individual’s brand. The process for vetting swag means that I am conducting constant research about quality, preferences, and value for money. Similarly, the introduction of Askari on various social platforms is expanding our corporate recognition over individual development. Slowly, the Askari corporate image is becoming more than just a series of individuals with specific strengths. I still want more: I want to see the overarching idea of one brand for this company. For those who know me, this kind of research and result-guided work is my favourite. There is something tangible for ideas I have put forward. I get to witness people enjoying swag and connecting through products and social media – very cool stuff!