Small business owners are entrepreneurs. They know their own business and they’re usually very good at it. Unfortunately, most of them take a very hit-and-miss approach to marketing. They tend to view it as a necessary (or sometimes unnecessary) evil, rather than a core function of their business. And they generally lack the experience and the expertise required to market their business in a smart, effective manner.
Below are the key principles we subscribe to. It’s our list of “10 things every business owner should know about marketing”.
A company’s brand is a promise to its customers. It tells them what you stand for, what you believe in and what they can expect from you. Everything that you do as a business – every activity and every customer touch point – either strengthens or weakens your brand. Companies with strong brands are able to take advantage of emerging opportunities, quickly recover from market downturns and weather periods of slow sales, while companies with weak brands often suffer. Building and maintaining a strong brand is arguably one of the most important things a business owner can do.
Too many business owners approach marketing like a project. They’ll identify a need to boost sales, come up with an idea and execute it. Then, when sales don’t immediately spike, they blame the marketing. But marketing isn’t something you check off on a to-do list. It needs to be an ongoing, integral part of your business. Once you view marketing as a critical business function, you’ll assign the time, effort and resources needed to make it work for you.
Today, people look for information about a business by searching the internet. Period. Full stop. Is your website fully optimized for search engines? Try it yourself. Go to Google or Bing and type in a word or phrase that a customer would likely use to find your business. Does your website come up on the first page, preferably in the top 3 results? If not, you’re not properly optimized for search, and you’re likely losing potential customers.
But being search engine friendly isn’t enough. You need to be mobile friendly too. More and more people are relying on their smart phones and mobile devices for things they used to do on their desktops and laptops. They browse, search and shop. If your website isn’t mobile-friendly it makes the user experience more difficult, and you’re likely missing opportunities. What’s more, if your website isn’t mobile friendly it negatively affects your rankings in Google searches. What’s the answer? Two words: get mobile.
This is the corollary to principle #2. Many small business owners look at marketing as an expense, much like they would for office supplies, rent or utilities. Just because it shows up on an income statement this way doesn’t mean that it should be viewed as such. (In fact, many corporations have line items for brand equity on their balance sheet). Marketing needs to be viewed as an investment in your business. If you subscribe to our first principle – that your brand is your most important asset – then you need to be securing and building on that asset. Smart marketing is about ensuring that all activities, programs and messaging are strategically planned, well-aligned and properly executed, so that each successive campaign builds your brand and drives profitable business. And that’s a good investment.
All smart marketing begins with a thorough understanding of the market in which you compete, your competition, and most importantly, your target customers. Often, this is a good time for some marketing research. Gathering and analysing secondary research can provide valuable market data, information on trends and competitive intelligence. A survey of potential customers within your target demographic can reveal valuable insights to help shape marketing messages and programs. However you approach it, load up on information before embarking on building the plan.
Going from quarter to quarter or even month to month without knowing what you plan to spend on marketing results in knee-jerk decisions and reactionary spending. Smart marketing is based on an annual marketing plan with an activity calendar and a budget. You can base the budget on the previous year’s spend (with adjustments up or down depending on the particular circumstances), or on a percentage of projected sales (perhaps based on an industry average). Or you can do a bottom up build by costing out your planned marketing activities. The method you choose doesn’t really matter – the important thing is that you establish a budget.
Most small business owners are excited about their product or service. They’ll usually take every opportunity to tell anyone they can all about it. When it comes to marketing, however, it isn’t about you – it’s about your customer. Put yourself in your customers shoes and ask yourself “why should I care?” What’s in it for your customer? Why should they be interested in your product or service? What problem or need do they have that you can satisfy? Smart marketing is all about developing marketing plans and messages that present a solution to a customer need in a compelling and engaging manner, and doing it on a regular, consistent basis.
Marketing isn’t a project (principle #2), it isn’t an expense (principle #5), and it isn’t a short-term proposition. If you aren’t prepared to take a long-term approach to your marketing investment, you should put the dollars back in your pocket and not spend anything at all on marketing. Building a strong brand and brand loyalty takes time. But like all good investments, the payoff is worth it.
Most small business owners wouldn’t represent themselves in court, file their own business taxes or repair their own computer. Yet many of them feel quite comfortable doing their own marketing. And far too often it’s far too obvious. Smart marketing starts with engaging marketing professionals with the experience and the expertise to do the job right. It might cost a little more up front, but it sets the right course for long term results.
If you subscribe to this list of principles or you’d like to know more, you’re ready to move to smarter, more effective marketing.
Give us a shout – we’ll take you there.