Functional business: marketing and networking

Features Posted 03/01/23
Marketing and networking advice from the experts, as well as information on key events across the South East to look forward to in 2023

One of the most important things a company can do is market itself. Not only does marketing raise brand awareness, but it can also boost sales, expand a business and engage customers. And we all want that, right?

There’s no denying it – the pandemic significantly shifted the direction of marketing strategy. To come out the other side, many businesses had to change how they operate and communicate. Now, as we begin to recover from one crisis, we are thrown into another – a potential recession, which is expected to last several years. Whether it’s managed internally or externally through an agency, marketing will play a critical role in supporting and growing your organisation through this challenging period.

Even in these difficult economic times, Mehwish Fiaz, account manager at The Spark Agency, which offers digital marketing support for SMEs, recommends a couple of low-cost marketing strategies that you can adapt to your business to ensure your brand is still visible and reaching prospective customers. “I’d start with setting up a Google My Business page, a free business listing that can feature valuable information about your organisation, such as name, contact details, address, opening hours, descriptions and photographs. On top of this, keep working on your social media marketing. Choose the best platform – Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter or TikTok – for you and your business and then create a marketing strategy for promoting your brand.”

Mehwish also suggests looking at Google’s Smart Campaigns. “This is the perfect starting point for businesses that aren’t wizards in PPC (pay-per-click) marketing,” she says. “Google Smart Campaigns rely primarily on the Google algorithm, which means there is a lot of automation involved in their operation, making them very affordable.” Based in Folkestone, The Spark Agency helps businesses grow their online presence with digital marketing packages, which include SEO, PPC or Paid Social. The team’s most valuable piece of marketing advice to business owners is “know your audience in full transparency”. Mehwish elaborates: “Ensure you know who they are and what they care about, what language will appeal to them and where and when they spend their time online or on social media. Then segment your audiences and your messaging to those audiences. You may need three or four marketing campaigns rather than simply one to reach your target audience and fulfil your goals.”

So, what marketing trends should businesses look out for? Mehwish predicts that 2023 will centre around improved user experience, with AI (artificial intelligence) dramatically transforming how brands communicate with customers and manage their marketing strategies. “Customers expect streamlined services from the moment they enter a website,” she explains. “Chat boxes, live chats and virtual assistants will most likely increase in 2023. “Chatbots can be used to answer all customer questions and increase revenue for a business. Additionally, voice search will be another rising trend. Voice search now accounts for roughly half of all searches, and this growth has also bought in conversational AI. The users use voice chatbots because they can load information faster and have greater personalisation.”

The business landscape is turbulent; companies have macro-economic concerns plus the reality of everyday pressures. During these tough times, to make the most of any marketing budget, businesses need to ensure they are communicating their message correctly. This comes back to setting a marketing strategy and guaranteeing every piece of marketing aligns with it.

Laura Bevan, studio director at Hythe-based digital design and marketing agency Oak Creative, encourages business owners to consider their brand purpose. “Your ‘why’ is your brand purpose,” she explains. “It is the intangible driver of your business and your passion, leading you to your overarching goal. Authentically communicating your purpose with conviction makes you totally unique and resonates with your customers. Once you’ve identified your ‘why’, you can work on activities such as refining your audience and honing your messaging. You can consider every brand touchpoint on your customers’ journey to tune into their needs. Every piece of copy, every image, every interaction needs to be true to your brand.”

Oak Creative prides itself on partnering with ambitious brands. Last year, the team delivered a rebranding project to unite a group of companies into one, set a new direction and begin a culture change. “When a business is going through a merger and acquisition, it can be a time of excitement and uncertainty for all stakeholders,” says Laura. “Adding a rebrand into the mix might seem like yet another change, but very often it is necessary. Rebranding allows you to find out what employees like and dislike about the current brand and culture, and externally, it presents an opportunity to inform customers about the new business operations and set-up – namely, what it means for them and how it will benefit them. Brand values and vision can be redefined to ensure business culture is exactly where you (and everyone else) want it to be.”

Hiring a branding agency like Oak Creative, Laura points out, gives a business access to a range of skill sets and a far wider network. “When businesses are growing or when budgets are tight, there is the temptation to hire one person to do ‘everything’. By appointing an agency, you can be assured of well-considered and professional outputs for maximum impact. Something unique to Oak Creative is that we use peer networking to help our own business and our clients. Collaboration and connection with real people is key! There’s a buzz in knowing we are helping businesses grow and we invest a lot of time getting to know our clients so we can build collaborative partnerships.” 

Although marketing and networking are separate entities in the world of business, they do, very often, go hand in hand. Marketing and branding centres around communicating with your target audience and building confidence in your services. Meanwhile, networking is about building up your target audience, developing strong, long-lasting relationships and spreading the word about your company, brand or service.

Networking is fundamental to business success. It offers an unrivalled opportunity to source new ideas and perspectives, exchange the latest practices, and share grievances and solutions. Networking raises your personal profile; you are no longer a faceless name after the ‘kind regards’ at the bottom of (yet another) email, but a person with whom others can connect with. This, in turn, boosts your business’s profile and amplifies your services or products.

There are many tradeshows, conferences and networking events to discover across Kent, Sussex and Surrey. Among them is Business Vision LIVE. Organised by Revolution Events, it is the largest business event in the South East, and in 2023, will be taking place on 10 May at the Kent Event Centre, just outside of Maidstone.

Completely free to attend, Business Vision LIVE will feature a comprehensive programme full of practical workshops, interactive roundtable discussions and inspirational keynotes – designed to provide attendees with fresh ideas to stay ahead of the curve. You can network with over 2,000 guests and discover more than 150 exhibitors showcasing the latest technologies, pioneering products and stellar services to help your business cut costs and perform at its full potential.

‘Zoom fatigue’ might have become a buzzword in 2021, but for the team at Revolution Events, it has had a real, tangible effect. “Delegates, regardless of whether they’re attending a residential conference or a large exhibition, have come with an appetite for human interaction which has not subsided nearly three years on from the pandemic,” explains Izzy Bryant, senior marketing executive at Revolution Events. “Exhibitors are making the most of attendee enthusiasm with bigger, more interactive stands (think Mario Kart competitions, virtual reality, mini festivals and high-value prizes). It’s an exciting time to be attending, exhibiting and organising networking events!”

So, what is Revolution Events’ top networking tip? Izzy advises: “If you’re going to a networking event, make sure you’re following the event on LinkedIn or a similar social media platform. LinkedIn, she says, offers a fantastic opportunity to network ahead of the event and allows you to see who else might be interested in coming. “Where you can, try and interact and comment on posts too as you never know who might be looking to meet a specialist or expert in their field like you. If you’re coming to Business Vision LIVE, you can download email signatures, social media posts and more to let your network know you’re attending. Don’t be afraid to let events do some of the legwork for you!”

When it comes to networking, there are platforms, events and resources for all different industries. Take Kent Law Society, for instance, which exists to support solicitors, their staff and trainees, as well as law students, by providing members with training, marketing, recruitment, guidance, networking and social interaction. “All 500 members of Kent Law Society belong to this supportive, professional network because they love what they do and want to share best practice, encourage emerging talent, promote the law as a great career choice, and maintain professional standards in every area of specialism,” says Kent Law Society membership and marketing officer Sonia Young. “Getting together – be that one-to-one in a phone chat, in larger groups for training or at any one of a number of events run throughout the year – is simply the best way to engage and keep moving forward.”

Events for Kent Law Society are many and varied. They include everything from golf days and go-karting against other counties’ lawyers such as Surrey and Sussex to organising mock trials with the University of Kent and Canterbury Christ Church University. There are also supper and lunch events for smaller, like-minded groups of members in an area of specialism, often with an inspirational keynote speaker from outside the industry. An event is held to celebrate South Asian Heritage Month in Gravesend, and in December this year, a special one-off event will mark 100 years since Carrie Morrison became the first woman to be admitted as a solicitor. 

Sonia explains that Kent Law Society’s biggest, boldest and best-attended event is the Annual Dinner and Awards, which attracts over three hundred people. TV celebrity and barrister Rob Rinder MBE hosted the 2022 event in May and plans are already underway for the 2023 party, set to take place on Friday 12 May at the Mercure Great Danes Hotel in Hollingbourne. “Everyone gathers pre-dinner for a great catch-up and networking before enjoying a three-course dinner, entertainment from our host and finding out who will triumph in each of the hotly contested awards,” says Sonia. “If you spot a logo that says ‘Winner – Kent Law Society Awards’ on a firm’s website or alongside an individual solicitor’s name, you’ll know they are a robust and professional firm/professional to deal with.”

Surrey Business Expo returns for 2023

On Wednesday 19 April 2023, hundreds of local businesses will be heading to Surrey Sports Park in Guildford for Surrey Business Expo – an opportunity to network, delve into insightful seminars and explore a packed exhibition showcasing a wide range of products and services.

The Expo will be collaborating with Surrey Chambers of Commerce to bring attendees a fantastic business seminar programme utilising the knowledge and expertise of members and the wider business community.  The event is completely free to attend and stands are available from £675.

Creative Pod gets ready for Sussex Business Awards

Crawley-based media agency Creative Pod is a finalist in multiple categories for the upcoming 33rd annual Sussex Business Awards, hosted by Platinum Media Group, which is taking place at The Grand Brighton hotel on 1 December 2022.

Creative Pod, the design and marketing arm of The Creative Group, will be competing for the ‘Creative Industries Award’ and the agency’s CEO Matt Turner is shortlisted for ‘Business Person of the Year’. 

“It is such an honour to be a finalist in any awards, but Sussex Business Awards is particularly special,” says Matt. “There are so many great businesses within the county and for Creative Pod to be nominated for ‘Creative Industries’ and myself for ‘Business Person of the Year’ is humbling. 

“We strive to inspire through the marketing we create for our clients. For us to be a business that has been around for 16 years is no easy feat, but we are proud to be going from strength to strength. Our team is filled with so many skilled people. We wouldn’t be considered for these awards if it wasn’t for them.”

Discover Sussex Business Show

If you’re based in Sussex and the surrounding areas, Sussex Business Show, hosted by Network Express, should be on your radar. For 2023, the trade show event is being held on 28 September at Brighton Dome Corn Exchange.

Attendees and exhibitors can look forward to 100+ expo stands, 20+ corporate sponsors, 800+ attendees and 12+ business speakers. Confirmed keynote speakers include Flo Powell, joint managing director of Midnight Communications; James Dempster, founder and managing director of Fox & Bear; Clare Griffiths, managing director of THRIVE; and Gavin Willis, managing director and CEO of Search Seven.

There will be a wide range of masterclasses to enjoy – from ‘Mental Health Matters’ with CROP’s Yaron Engler to ‘Marketing for Impact’, hosted by Alice Reeves, director and co-founder of The Joyful – plus much more.

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