Entrepreneurs go into business for many reasons. You want to change the world, solve a burning need, help a community, or simply realise a dream. Whatever your personal motivations are, business is your chosen tool. Vision alone cannot sustain a business though – profits do.
And the way to earn profits is to sell your products and services for more than it costs to produce them. That’s finance 101, so where does marketing come into play?
Marketing has two primary aims: It ensures you are offering your consumers something they really want, and it gets your message out there so that customers know what you’re offering, who you are, and where to find you.
It’s not rocket science, and it doesn’t need to cost you an arm and a leg to achieve. In fact, a great marketing strategy isn’t only cost-effective, but simple to follow as well.
Here are three steps to creating a killer marketing strategy.
1. Create a product or service customers will clamour for
Are you offering your customers something that they really want?
Marketing research can tell companies whether they are meeting their customers’ needs and expectations. With research, SME owners can learn whether they need to change their packaging, tweak delivery methods, or even offer additional services.
A good market research plan indicates where and who your customers are. It will also tell you when they are most likely to purchase your goods or services.
Use the results of research to create a business and marketing plan or measure the success of your current plan. That’s why it’s important to ask the right questions to the right people. Poor research can steer a business in the wrong direction. Here are some research basics to get you started, and some mistakes to avoid.
Types of market research
The goal is to gather data from analysis of current sales and the effectiveness of current practices. Primary research also takes competitors’ plans into account.
Collecting primary research can include:
- Interviews (either by telephone or face-to-face)
- Surveys (online or by mail)
- Questionnaires (online or by mail)
- Focus groups gathering a sampling of potential clients or customers and getting their direct feedback.
- Why would you purchase this product or service?
- What do you like or dislike about current products or services on the market?
- What areas would you suggest for improvement?
- What is the appropriate price for the product or service?
The goal is to analyse data that has already been published. With secondary data, you can identify competitors, establish benchmarks and identify target segments. Your segments are the people of a predetermined age group who fall into your targeted demographic – people who live a certain lifestyle and exhibit particular behavioural patterns.
No SME can remain competitive without understanding its customers, its products and services, and its market. There are two categories of data collection: Quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative methods employ mathematical analysis and require a large sample size.
The results shed light on statistically significant differences. Find quantitative results in your web analytics (available in Google’s suite of tools). This can help you determine where your leads are coming from, how long visitors are staying on your site and from which page they are exiting.
Qualitative methods help you develop your quantitative methods. They can help define problems and reveal customers’ opinions, values and beliefs.
2. Bring your brand to life
Simple steps to effective marketing.
Marketing isn’t sales. You aren’t pitching your product. What you are doing is letting your customers know what you do in such a way that they not only respond to your brand, but want your brand to be a part of their life. This starts with step one – you need to produce something that they really do need in their lives. Once that’s done though, they need to know you exist. Enter our four simple steps to effective marketing. (See checklist)
Marketing is all about deconstructing your business and vision for everyone else. It’s not about dumbing things down (your customers don’t ever want to feel like they’re being talked down to). What it is about is taking the complex and making it easily understood, while tapping into the core values of your customers. What do they really care about? How does your business fill that need?
An often-used example is Harley-Davidson, which doesn’t focus on the complicated technical aspects of its products. Sure, many of its consumers are petrol heads, but many more want to feel the freedom of the open road, while showing they are able to afford that freedom in style. Harley-Davidson markets a lifestyle – not a machine.
Keeping it simple
Products and services (especially digital ones) can be complex. Your job as a marketer is, in part, to make the seemingly impenetrable easily understood, to lose the corporate ‘Frankenspeak’ and convey your business’s value in human, accessible terms.
Businesses that develop buyer personas for their products or services exemplify the ‘keep it simple’ mantra. A buyer persona is a representation of the type of consumer you believe will be interested in what your company is selling.
The idea is to address customers’ wants and needs directly – speaking to their specific pain points from their specific points of view.
More broadly, it can be handy to envision intended prospects as people who demand clarity and simplicity. This will help you to market effectively.
Let’s take Steve as a great local example. While we can all agree that FNB’s Steve ads that flooded the airwaves throughout 2012 were more than a little annoying, the campaign was also very effective. Steve’s prospects touched on our pain points, we have a clear understanding of FNB’s offering, and we associate with the bank as one that speaks our language – not banking lingo.
3. Keep the momentum going
Instead of jumping from trend to trend follow these six steps for marketing that really works.
Feeling bombarded by all the theories on the so-called newest, latest and hottest trends in marketing? You’re not alone. Jumping from trend to trend in pursuit of the latest idea is the last thing a smart entrepreneur should do in this economic climate – particularly when we’re not out of the woods yet.
Now’s the time to keep a level head and chart a course that’s guided by what really works. Take a look at this list of six tried-and-true steps you can take for a successful marketing programme in today’s marketplace.
1. Put finding prospects first
How do your best prospects find what they’re shopping for? Chances are they begin by using a search tool. Having a strong presence in the online search engines or directories is a must, and you can also purchase links in the resource sections of third-party websites your prospects frequent.
Traditional search tools, including the printed Yellow Pages, industrial directories and newspapers have moved online as well and offer increasingly affordable solutions. Magazines with ‘shopper’ sections also represent smart search corridor options for advertisers.
2. Don’t drop out of sight
It’s always a huge mistake to stop communicating with customers: Out of sight = out of mind. So while the recession may have shrunk your marketing budget, it’s essential to find a good mix of tactics you can sustain over the long haul to reach out to clients with sufficient frequency.
Develop a database of prospects and customers, then retain and up-sell them through ongoing communication via email and direct mail. And coordinate this effort with acquisition tactics to bring in new prospects.
3. Separate from the pack
Economic hard times have changed the way people shop. Today’s big motivators include low prices and savings. Free shipping continues to be a strong incentive for example. Green practices or aligning with a charitable cause can also help positively differentiate your business from its competition.
After all, you can’t always differentiate based on what you sell; but how you sell, who you are and what you do can make all the difference to prospects.
4. Invest in relationships
In uncertain times, consumers want to buy from companies they trust and believe in. That makes one-to-one customer relationships essential. Wherever possible, increase in-person selling, networking in business and professional groups, and online social networking.
Use experiential marketing, such as events that bring you into direct contact with customers in small groups, to foster positive client relationships with your company, products or brand. Create several great letters that can be customised to follow up each interpersonal contact – and send handwritten thank you notes.
5. Get people talking
Recommendations and positive word-of-mouth are extremely important today. Cautious shoppers want to know they’re making safe and smart decisions. A public relations campaign that includes savvy article placements or product reviews can give your sales a lift.
For example, a well-placed article that runs on a respected website can quickly be spread friend-to-friend across the web. Another strategy for building word-of-mouth is to create an advisory group of influential clients who are the first to receive your new products, info and special offers. If they like what they see, they’ll pass the word along.
6. Expand your website
Customers are shopping on more websites and viewing more pages in less time than ever before, so your site has to immediately grab and hold them with information they want. Highlight special pricing, offers and incentives at the top of your homepage.
Include background information about your company, its principals, media coverage and charitable giving. And create a space for customers to share their experiences through a message board, or post their stories and testimonials somewhere visible for a website that works hard to help you close sales.