You’ve got a killer idea for your small business. You’ve created a great new product or service, set up operations, raised sufficient money to get out of the gate. But where are the customers? It’s time to pay attention to marketing.
During Small Business Week, I’m devoted to helping you “Make this Your Year to Grow.” Whatever industry you’re in, whatever the price or quality of your offerings, you need well-conceived, and consistently executed, marketing to grow your business.
** Marketing message
Before you begin marketing, first clarify your company’s core message. That’s what you want customers to remember about you. It might even express a bit of your company’s ‘personality.’ My company’s message, for example, is “the leader in real-world, practical, actionable content on small business and entrepreneurship.”
** Marketing vehicles
Many small business owners would love to have a marketing guru tell them exactly which marketing techniques are fool-proof for attracting customers. No such luck.
A genuine marketing guru, Peter Shankman, says effective advertising is all about knowing your specific customers, and tailoring your activities to their desires.
“It’s like asking which is better – an orange or an apple. It depends on what you like,” said Shankman, a globe-trotting marketing and customer service consultant. (www.shankman.com) “The best way to find out about where to advertise is to know your audience – where they are online, what kind of communication they prefer – Twitter, text, email.”
One challenge is that there’s so many marketing vehicles out there – and only a limited amount of money. The main marketing vehicles include:
- Print media: newspapers, magazines
- Broadcast media: radio, TV
- Online: website, SEO and SEM, daily deals, mobile marketing
- Social media marketing: blogs, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest
- Print collateral: business cards, brochures, fliers
- Face-to-Face: networking, trade shows, public relations
- Signage: vehicles, buildings, billboards
- Other: in-store marketing, advertising specialties, product placement
Whichever marketing vehicle you choose, remember, repetition is key. You must be seen repeatedly, with the same message, for your marketing to make an impact.
** Word of mouth marketing and customer service
Ask most long-time small business owners which is their most effective marketing technique, and they’ll say “word of mouth.” (WOM). Nothing beats having satisfied customers tell their friends about you.
But most small business owners over-estimate their WOM efforts. “Eighty percent of small business owners think they’re doing well in customer service and word of mouth marketing, but only eight percent of their customers think the same thing,” said Shankman.
To get satisfied customers to refer customers to you and post positive comments on review sites, you need a marketing plan and a way to keep your name in front of them. Consider developing a loyalty program – even something as simple as a punch card – to keep them coming back.
At the core of word-of-mouth marketing is providing a great experience for your customer. “I try to teach companies that it’s not about spending ten million dollars in advertising,” said Shankman. “Stop chasing the likes (on social media) and start doing things that are like-able.”
** Online marketing
A few years ago, the hottest thing in small business marketing was SEM – search engine marketing. The goal was to get found – either through paid ads or ‘organic’ search – just when a prospect was searching for your type of product or service.
Though the buzz around SEM has subsided, it’s still one of the most effective ways for small companies to get found when a prospect is ready to make a purchase. It’s also easy. Unlike social media marketing, which requires constant updates, you can choose a few key messages and keywords (experimenting for a while to determine which are most effective) and run your ad with little day-to-day involvement.
** Social media marketing
Today, social media marketing is the sexy option for small business marketing. And why not? Social media offers an unprecedented way to reach highly-targeted prospects, in a timely and cost-effective manner.
When Julie and Paul Shankman opened Sam’s Chowder House in Palo Alto, they were able to post pictures and notices of their $1 oyster promotions in the Facebook feeds of people who lived within a few miles of their new restaurant, ate out frequently, and loved oysters. And they could do it with just a few clicks on a keyboard, in just a few minutes.
Social media is the 21st century form of word-of-mouth. When happy customers post comments or pics on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, they spread the word to their friends and do marketing for you.
Impressed by the dinner entrée you just got? Post a pic on your social feeds and get a free dessert. Love your new haircut? Your hairdresser will take your picture – on your phone – so you can immediately share with friends.
Don’t forget LinkedIn, especially if yours is a B2B – business-to-business – company. If you’re targeting a specific industry, get active in LinkedIn groups serving that industry. Post useful information – not spam or sales pitches – frequently to become well known.
** Print collateral
While social media is sexy, and advertising is easy, there’s still tremendous power in printed materials.
Start with your business card. It may be your smallest marketing vehicle, but it’s also your most important. Make sure it includes all necessary contact info, including your social media handles. Add one brief line expressing your core message. Carry your business card with you at ALL times. Order them online at Vista Print www.vistaprint.com, or Overnight Prints, www.overnightprints.com.
Other key print collateral includes brochures, sales sheets, catalogs, rack cards, and flyers.
Stay tuned for advice on mobile marketing, including how to get found on mobile maps and search engines, in tomorrow’s article in this special “Small Business Week with Rhonda Abrams” series.
Small Business Week Do-It-Now Action Items:
- Work on defining or refining your core message. Does it clearly convey what you do and your competitive advantage?
- Evaluate the most effective marketing vehicles for your business. Download my free worksheet, “Marketing Vehicles Comparison Chart.” (www.planningshop.com/solution-center)
- Examine your business card. Does it convey the right feeling for your company? Provide accurate information? Include your social media handles? If not, order a new one.
- Identify a LinkedIn group to join that reaches your target market and participate in a discussion
If you sell a product, or have a physical location, pull out your phone, take a picture of it, post it on Facebook, and boost the post to your target market.
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2015
This article originally ran in USA Today on May 6, 2015