For beginners, marketing can seem like a daunting process to get started in. Therefore, this blog is completely focused on trying to provide useful and actionable information to you as you go about promoting your business. Today, I wanted to write up a marketing basics post that should hopefully help you get started if you are completely new to field.
Then, after reading this guide, you can learn more by reading the other posts linked throughout this article that examine different areas in more detail.
Let's get started.
First of all, it's helpful to understand that marketing isn't a 'black art' and it's really not that complicated
Like anything, I think that part of the problem that most small business owners have with promotional activity is the fact that it seems like a bit of a 'black art' that only a select few can understand.
The truth is that this simply isn't the case. If you have the creative ability to turn your business idea into reality, you can do the same with your marketing strategy. You can certainly get a good grasp of marketing basics - there is no doubt about that.
Although we could rhyme off dozens of acronyms, industry-specific terms and other buzz words, all this really does is complicate things at this stage.
Let's start by having a look at a few simple - but crucial - concepts instead. After that, we will look at the meat and bones of putting together an actual marketing plan.
Super important - the fundamental process
As it most basic (and perhaps most useful), marketing is simply the process of following these fundamental steps:
- Understanding exactly who would benefit from your product or service - your target market
- Understanding what makes you different from your competitors and how you can make your target market understand that too - your USP
- Figuring out the best way of reaching your target market with your USP and product/service - your marketing plan
Part of the reason promoting your business seems so complicated is the fact that there are so many ways of going about reaching your target market - therefore the third point above can seem like a minefield. However you don't have to do absolutely everything - just do your research and stick with the methods that get you in front of your target audience in the best way possible.
Remember that, at least to start with, you are marketing yourself as much as your business
Something I think a lot of small business owners get wrong to begin with is that they go about marketing their company as if it's already a large, super-successful entity of it's own.
While there could be some benefit in doing so, I think it's important to understand that at least to start with you should be promoting yourself just as much as your brand. I say this because it won't take people long to figure out that your business is new and they will want to know about you - the founder - anyway.
After all, it's not the business that will be meeting deadlines and delivering key services, it's you. Have a think about the following couple of points:
- Potential customers will need to trust that you can deliver what you say you will - this is especially true when it comes to a new business with little track record
- Also, from a sales point of view, it's much more likely that you will win a contract if the client feels like they are connecting with a person, rather than a business
Your message should be clear, easy to understand and easy to amplify
In the point above, I mentioned that you should understand how you and your business are different to your competitors - and that you should also make sure that your target audience understand this too.
This can't be stressed enough - if you can't separate yourself from the pack, then you're already off to a bad start in terms of winning market share. Lot's of small business owners spend lots of time, effort and budget trying to game the search engines - if even half of this resource was spend on developing a clear USP the reward would be significantly better.
Also, nowadays I think it's a good idea to think about how your message could be spread online through various social networks and relevant sites/blogs. For example, you could build a hashtag campaign that would hopefully result in people using it online, or you could have a compelling infographic designed that would be shared throughout the web.
These are just simple ideas - the main point is that you want to encourage your message to be amplified through the web; things like hashtags and infographics can make this easier.
For more detailed advice on developing your USP, please see this post.
The power of word of mouth and reviews shouldn't be underestimated
As you are getting started, there is nothing that can help you more than a handful of positive reviews and general word of mouth. They are two different things, although they both stem from the same thing - leaving your customers feeling happy and satisfied with your product or service.
Then, they are more likely to write a good review and/or tell their friends/network about you.
It does seem like a bit of a Catch 22 situation - surely you need customers first before you can benefit from good reviews and word of mouth? That's definitely the case.
However, because good reviews are so powerful, I'd say that it's even worth providing your service to a few clients on a complimentary basis (or at a reduced rate) so that you can then approach your market with some quality recommendations and start the word of mouth process of quickly.
Start with figuring out your ideal customer and then focus on reaching them - and only them
I think that this is one of the most important parts of your process to get right.
Again, I touched on this in the first point above. I mention this because I think that it's also a key area that a lot of small business owners go wrong in. It seems natural to want to advertise your business to the whole world and to try and be everything to everyone.
However, this really is a bad move when it comes to marketing.
It's much better to spend a bit of time thinking about who would benefit most from your product or service. I mean really thinking about it, so you end up knowing the exact segment that you need to target. At least to start with, the smaller the segment the better - it's much better to properly target a small, relevant audience than it is to poorly target a large, irrelevant one.
When you have this figured out, you should focus your entire marketing resource on them. After you see some good ROI, you can look at expanding your focus if needed.
This post on how to develop a buyer persona should be useful at this stage.
The real world matters just as much as the digital world
I say this because in this day and age digital marketing is given a place of prime importance in most corners. However, the 'real world' still matters - you'll want to make sure that your local community knows all about you as well as the wider web. Here are a few ways you can do this:
- Local business networking meeting
- Running stories (or advertorials) with local newspapers and magazines
- Working in partnership with complementary - but non-competing - local businesses so you can reach their customer base too
- A Google Places/Maps listing as well as a few similar variations - Bing, Hotfrog, Freeindex, for example
- Social media - this depends on your business, although a LinkedIn profile is probably a good place to start. - You can add Twitter, Facebook and Google+ etc as you go along
- Remember that you are marketing yourself just as much as your business - people are doing business with you really, not your business
- Remember that you need to clearly define your USP and make it easy for your target market to understand it - it's important that you separate yourself from the pack early on
- Reviews and word of mouth can really help early on - doing some work on a complimentary or reduced rate basis is worth it to get these in place
- Make sure you understand exactly who your target market is and how you can reach them - anything else is simply a waste of resource to begin with
- Finally, try and give both the real world and digital world an equal amount of attention - at least to start with, the real world is where you are likely to win your first set of customers
Preparing your marketing strategy
Marketing strategy is, for some people, the really boring stuff - lots of time consuming analysis and forecasting that is probably not even worth it. Unfortunately, as time-consuming as it might be, I'd say that it's a very important area to have covered.
"After all, you want to make sure that your ladder is up against the right wall - that your time, money and resources are being spent in the correct areas."
Thankfully, it's not even really that difficult to do. All you have to do is to spend some time focusing on a few areas that will actually - in the end - make your route-to-market plan a lot more successful.
To my mind anyway, here are the areas that you should concentrate on for a successful strategy - quite simply, they'll deliver the best bang for your buck.
There are essentially 7 areas to cover, although we'll cover these in 6 sections further down:
- Assessing your current situation, both positive and negative
- Setting objectives
- Identifying your target audience
- Developing a buyer persona, or personas
- Working out a route to market
- Working out how much your plan will cost (budget)
- Estimating ROI (return on investment)
Don't get me wrong - there are many other ways in which you can 'strategize'. However, for most small business owners and startups, I think that focusing on the above will provide a huge amount of benefit for the least amount of stress.
First, assess your current situation
The very first thing you should do is have an honest, objective look at your current situation. You'll want to be as detailed as possible here, paying attention to the following areas:
- What are your current strengths and weaknesses, in terms of factors that you can directly control?
- What factors out-with your control can impact your strategy, both positively and negatively?
I've written a more detailed guide that will help you work this out - you can get to that here.
Then, start setting objectives
After assessing your current situation, it's a good idea to then set goals/objectives. They should be precise and detailed, as well as being realistic and relevant. I find that the best way to set most goals is to use the SMART Framework - it really helps to focus your mind and achieve ideal goals.
You can read more about how to incorporate SMART objectives into your strategy here.
Then, identify your target market
Now, you'll want to identify your target audience. The benefits of properly thinking about this are huge. For one, it will make your promotional campaigns much more targeted and relevant, which should have the knock on effect of reducing waste and delivering am optimal ROI.
I've written a more detailed post on properly identifying your target audience, which you can find here.
Then, develop a buyer persona
After identifying your target sector, I'd say it's a good idea to them have a think about actual person you want to reach. For example, if your ideal target audience was 'Company Directors of SME's in Croydon', or 'Females between 35 and 44 in London', then your buyer persona would go much further and detail specific traits of the actual person.
It sounds difficult, although it's really not. You can read more about how you can do this here.
Next, work out a route to market
Now, you should move on to work out the best way to reach this market and persona. You'll find that after you have worked through the last two points that you'll have a good understanding of the best ways to reach them. For example, if your research highlights the fact that your 'persona' is an avid YouTube user, then it makes sense that you'll use video ads in your plan.
You can read more about this in the post linked above, and on the full marketing guide here.
Finally, budget and estimate ROI
Although this sounds really boring, it's really not. It's fun to start working out the most cost effective way of reaching your intended audience - it's even more fun to work out how much you should make in return for a great promotional campaign.
As far as digital campaigns go, I've prepared a handy ROI calculator that should go some way to helping you work out possible return on investment. You can get to that here.
That's really it - as far as a basic promotional strategy goes, that's all you'd really need to start with. You really don't have to over complicate this at all, you're just trying to make sure you have a handle on the following:
- Where you are now
- Where you want to be
- Who your target market is
- How you're going to reach them
- How much it will cost you to do so
- How much you'll make in return
Following the steps outlined in this post ensures that you get a good handle on the areas above and that you'll achieve the best returns possible from your efforts. You should also end up with a highly targeted campaign, one that delivers as much benefit to your future customers as it does to you. If you'd like to read more on general route-to-market strategy, you should head over to the Theory/Strategy section of this blog.
- SMART Planning - learn how to create smart goals
- SWOT/PEST Analysis - learn how to analysis your current situation and competition
- USP Creation - learn how to define your USP
- Marketing Strategy Guide - learn how to develop a complete strategy
- AIDCA - learn about the 'flow' of advertising
By Alan MacDougall
Got a nagging marketing question? Ask me here.
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Revenue Builder is a small business marketing strategy advice blog, written to help small business owners and startups maximise sales revenue.