As a small business mentor, I caution that not all small business marketing strategies are the same. (Despite the obvious, I have found that not all small business owners understand this.) Too many entrepreneurs chase too much advice in too many directions, particularly in the marketing arena.
Perhaps too obviously, the marketing strategies that work for a product-based business may not be the strategies for a service-based organization. Likewise, what works for a solo entrepreneur may not work for an enterprise with off-site activity. Most analysts define a “small” business as one with less than 500 employees when most small businesses are well under this target. In addition, the solo entrepreneurs, start-ups, and small office/store-front operations defy easy generalization.
So, let’s establish a foundation from which all marketing strategies and plans can be based:
- Profile your customer. You are not in business to be all things to all people or please everyone. You ARE in the business of appealing to a specific customer for whom you intend to create a custom experience, whether that be product or service. To do this, you need to categorize the customer by age, gender, income, location, habits, needs, growth potential, and so on. This marketing data and needs to be indexed, collected, updated, and protected. Every targeted customer is potentially future business and promises referrals to like customers. Make your customer real. Your marketing strategies depend on your understanding of who your customer is and what your customer needs and wants. Which leads me to…
- Fix the customer’s needs. Nail down what the customer wants. People who buy are looking for solutions. They want to feel satisfied. Details on facts, figures, and ingredients do not interest them. Design appeals to hunger, comfort, success, pride, all sentiments and emotions that differentiate you from other providers. The best word-of-mouth is the claim that someone is “happy with” your business. Build your marketing strategies around a customer “experience.”
- Design consistency into the marketing plan. You bring customers back if you create an experience for them, whether you serve them at a counter or on-line. Design and deliver a value-adding experience. Keep marketing materials consistent in color and quality. Keep language clear and familiar. Make the beginning, middle, and ends of interactions predictable and sound. Don’t let your brand or logo, its language and color fluctuate or float. (Even giants like Coca-Cola have courted disaster with changes in their slogans, logos, and type fonts.) Such rock-hard steadiness makes you a touchstone in customers’ lives, a resource, the “go to.” That’s exactly where you want to be, and this consistency is essential to your marketing strategies.
- Widen your customer’s world. Ease your way into using media and social media for marketing. (Websites are for discussion at another time.) Link your small business to “simple” posts and profiles at LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and the like. Work hard at mapping over your customer profile, values-added, and consistent branding. Get this working with some trustworthy consistency before you expand your on-line marketing options.
Where you go from this foundation depends on many things. Some businesses are perfect for direct mail. Some need handouts. Others build on emails, etc. But, these keys are good starts for any business. Still, engaging an experienced small business marketing strategist can make this hands-free and cost effective for you.
By Steven Schlagel