How do you market a choo choo train?
The simple answer is it depends what train you are driving…
We start every new client project by seeking to understand the client’s long term aims and objectives as the approach to marketing a business varies significantly depending on the answer. Is the plan for an exit? Is it to hand the company on to the kids/junior management team? Or is it a lifestyle business?
Ultimately businesses are like trains and, in my opinion, fall into one of 3 categories.
High Speed 1 – The Exit Strategy Train
HS1 is a train with a job to do. It needs to get from A to B in the fastest possible time. It will stop – but maybe only once or twice and some people may choose to step off and some may choose to join but most people are on board for the duration. It may stop half way and pick up some other carriages or even divest itself of a carriage or two as it gets into the correct shape for its final destination. Once at its final destination the train stops and, after a quick clean down, a new team gets on board and takes the train off to its next destination.
The business has a plan which culminates in a point exactly x years down the track. At that point, the business may acquire, sell or merge and some shareholders may stay on board for a while or it may be a case of ‘all change’.
In terms of marketing these businesses the focus is on what that final destination train looks like, where and how it creates revenue and who the clients are. Everything up to that point is focused on that goal. The marketing must also identify and attract the new owners, ensuring that HS1 is on their radar around 2 years before the planned exit.
Commuter Services – The Reliable Train
These trains are slower than HS1 and there are a lot more of them. They keep the nation moving and we could not survive without them. They do the same thing every day, back and forth across the same route. The rolling stock is reassembled every so often, may run a different route for a few days and from time-to-time some new stock is purchased or old stock is sold to another operator.
These businesses are likely to be inter-generational hand-me-downs or have a rotating board and are simply good at what they do. They are solid businesses that grow year on year but don’t have any plans to sell. They may acquire or be acquired or open and close divisions over time but this is not their raison d’être.
The core of the marketing effort here is establishment and retention. The focus is on building a strong, sticky client base, creating good awareness of the business in its target markets or geographical location and developing a consistent offering and message.
The Orient Express – The Lifestyle Train
These trains are going nowhere fast but they enable the occupants to enjoy some luxury with little effort on their part. People pay to ride on them and they do have their place in society but these are ultimately about serving the needs of the enthusiasts.
They will get there, wherever ‘there’ is, sometime, somehow but there is no rush; only a need to keep a degree of consistency of speed. It is likely these trains will pass a lot of golf courses and stop at a lot of holiday destinations along the way and you can dine in style every night!
Most lifestyle businesses rely on referrals and relationships and so if any proactive marketing does take place, it is largely focused around these aspects. PR may play a part in raising the profile of the business owner, but rarely is there great budget for extensive marketing campaigns as a pound spent elsewhere is one less in the piggy bank.
So, which train are you on?
Of course once you have decided which train most resembles your ambitions/strategy, you need to get on with laying the tracks (marketing) and picking the right engine (sales) to get you there. But if you think like a train and plan your strategy out in a linear format, it will help you to understand where your final destination is and what the train looks like when it pulls into that station. Everything you do up to that point can then be properly focused on that goal.