I say marketing, you think advertising. I then crack open another textbook from my past and tell you of the “four Ps of marketing:” product, price, place and promotion. All four are essential to the strength of your marketing plan, and each should be tailored to be the best fit for your company. Regardless of the “marketing mix” (I am rapidly regressing to my student self, please bear with me), it is important that the returns – in the form of increased sales and a higher profile – justify the cost of your marketing exercises.
Your marketing process has already begun. After all, what is market research if not identifying the areas where your efforts are best targeted? You can supplement the research you have already done by continuing to talk to the kind of people you are going to be selling to, to identify what they want from your kind of business. You could also attend trade shows and exhibitions, not as an exhibitor, but as a means of spying on a wide variety of possible competitors in one go.
Your market research will have helped you identify which market segment is best for your business, but you also need to decide whether to push for high-end consumers or go for mass appeal. The product or service you are offering will partly make this decision for you. Once you have established your unique selling point (USP), you need to establish who you’re selling to, what they want, what they are willing to pay. This in turn will lead you a decision about what kind of marketing to carry out.
It may seem moot, but your marketing is not about you. Instead, it should be a reflection of the hopes and aspirations of the people you are selling to. As such, it makes sense to use the same media that they use in order to get your message across. Don’t be distracted by people who tell you that there’s some marketing trick or secret that you’re missing out on (Twitter spammers, I’m looking at you). Work out what works best for your business and stick to the plan. You need a clear marketing strategy if your marketing message is going to be coherent.
You marketing strategy will not only show your current position, but will also give you pointers on how to get to where you want your business to be in the future. Set targets such as leads generated or sales made, then plan your marketing activities to push towards those goals. Always keep your target market segment in mind, as they are the ones you’re depending on to reach those targets. Regardless of who you’re selling to, the revenue generated from your marketing activites should cover the costs of carrying out the activities in the first place.
You need to monitor the response to your marketing efforts, so that you know how successful they are. Make a note of the response from new and potential customers, always ask them where they heard about your business, and if necessary, amend your marketing strategy to reflect where your best leads are coming from. Keep the overall image of your business in mind, and be aware what a big marketing push for one product or service will have on any others that you offer. Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, so make all of those with new customers as positive as possible.
Direct marketing usually takes the form of mailshots or telemarketing calls to consumers. Despite junk mail ennui, it still has a fairly good response rate and is fairly flexible. Consumers can be broken down into particular geographic regions, income levels, areas of interest and a variety of other factors. Be wary about this type of marketing, however, as it may fall foul of regulations and data protection laws in some territories. Another factor to consider is the cost of buying a list of consumers to target, which can be prohibitively expensive for a new business. Far better would be to use your market research to start building a database of potential customers. Once your business is established, direct marketing becomes much easier as you can use your database to build a list of consumers to target. Inducements such as discounts for referrals, loyalty schemes or sales offers will likely get a better response than plain marketing copy.
Exhibitions and Conventions
These are actually rather good at generating leads, even if you’re not actually selling any products at the time. All you need is a small pitch, some examples of what you’re selling, and a quick and easy way for customers to leave their contact details for more information at a later date. The pitfall is offering a product or service that is also being sold by a rival business, so it is always a good idea to check lists of previous exhibitors before deciding whether to sign up. Alternatively, rather than the bigger events, try targeting smaller, more local exhibitions that your bigger rivals may not bother with.
Advertising and PR help to get consumers’ attention, but the market is crowded, and people are far more aware of advertising than they used to be. This is why it is essential to stick to the ABCs of promoting your business: accuracy, brevity and clarity. Jargon and corporatespeak impress nobody, and exaggeration willl only lead to disappointment (and possible lost sales). Whether you decide to do it yourself or get an agency in, you need to capture the interest of the consumer. Not everyone is a born salesman, so if you aren’t 100% confident in your ability to put together an effective advertising campaign, an agency might be your best bet.
Advertising agencies can charge high fees, but on the plus side, they are also usually able to negotiate discounts with media outlets where they have contacts. The trick to keeping the costs down in is to go through the possible campaign with them in excruitiating detail before signing anything. You need to know exactly what they are offering and if there is any after-sales support, in terms of guaging consumer reaction and chasing down any leads. Once you have an idea of the overall cost and what is on offer, you can decide if the advertising campaign will be worth the cost. Once again, it pays to shop around. Bear in mind the cost to your business for each additional sale. If the cost is too high, it’s back to the marketing drawing board to work out where the problem lies in your marketing mix.
If you go for the hybrid of an advertising and PR campaign, exercise just as much caution with PR agencies as with the Mad Men. Again, PR people are good for their media contacts, but you need to trust that there is no conflict of interest before you sign up to a particular firm. Do they have any of your bigger rivals on their books? Are they actually campaigning on behalf of something that would adversely affect your business strategy. They too can be hugely expensive, and their effectiveness difficult to guage, but they can be an important factor if something goes horribly wrong.
Too many busineses don’t appear to have any damage limitation or crisis management strategy, and when something goes awry, reputations that have taken years to build can be destroyed in an instant. Ridiculously, it is not actually that difficult to come up with a decent plan. Imagine the worst possible scenario that could befall your business, and address each issue in turn on a practical level. Communicate the problem with those affected, inform them of the problem and the steps you are taking to remedy the situation. Show them how you will prevent the problem recurring and be ready to deal with any media enquiries. The wrong sort of publicity could sink your business, while the right response could actually enhance your reputation. This is as much about marketing and your company’s image as other marketing activity, though hopefully you won’t ever have to run your business under such difficult circumstances.
Finally, don’t neglect your internet presence. It may seem silly, but there are still small businesses that don’t take advantage of a permanent web presence where they can present the public face of their company in far more detail than a print ad. These days it is cheap, quick and easy to set up a website, and provided that you keep it up to date, there is no reason to go mad on gizmos and widgets for it. To keep everything looking professional, make sure that you actually provide a physical contact address. This is especially the case if you plan on selling through your website, which is something I will cover in a later post in the series.
[Image by KM & G-Morris]