Steve Gershik is a three-time founder of small businesses and an experienced technology marketing executive for over 20 years. He’s BEMO’s new Vice President of Marketing.
Top 5 Small Business Marketing and Branding Techniques for Growing Your Business (that I wish I had known before I started several of them)
It was 4 p.m. on a Friday when I received a prospecting call from a vendor with an offer of some great technology for my business, technology that would be a “game-changer” for me and could “triple my top-line revenue within one quarter.” I had successfully built and sold my first business (an event company) and my new business (a new type of marketing agency) was struggling to make projected revenue for the year.
Call it fatigue or gullibility on my part or perhaps excellent salesmanship on theirs, but I bought that product, which — surprise — did not triple my revenue or get anywhere near those results, but it did manage to sap my marketing budget via the license for the technology and the consulting for the implementation.
I learned the hard way how one wrong marketing decision can have serious consequences for your business. Luckily, since I already learned those lessons, you don't have to!
So what does work? And as a first-time marketing leader (or business leader trying to figure out where to focus your marketing efforts for maximum impact), what should you think about as you build up your marketing muscles? Read on, I'll share my learnings so you can enjoy some smooth sailing.
A marketing plan doesn't have to be some fancy-looking document with lots of market research and long-term vision. Having a written document will help clarify for you and your team how you will market your products and how you'll know you're doing a good job.
A good marketing plan will contain a number of basic elements:
A snapshot of your company’s current situation
How are you finding customers now and how are they finding you? How much does it cost to acquire a customer and what is their economic value to you over their lifetime of buying from your business? How much margin do you make on your products? Is your goal to create a business that runs sustainably off existing cash flow or will you invest other money to grow more aggressively?
These are all questions to grapple with, but your plan will change based on changes to market dynamics or your overall business goals.
A definition of your target audience Are you selling to an audience of stay-at-home Dads who have primary responsibility for raising the children? Millennial women, who are just entering the workforce? Mid-life professionals, who are anxious about paying for college and impending retirement? Are you selling within the USA or globally? The answer to these questions will help you shape and refine your market strategy based on who you sell to and where (for more on this, see Personas, below)
A list of your marketing goals
Without knowing what your goals are in marketing, it's likely that you may wander off track, pursuing the next shiny new marketing object (Tik Tok, anyone?) without focusing on the types of programs that will really drive your unique business.
An example of marketing goals could include:
- Building awareness of your company brand
- Generating a continuous flow of qualified leads
- Establishing thought leadership in your industry
- Reach new audiences or new geographies
Each of your goals will have a set of tactics and initiatives that will flow from them to will help guide and direct your marketing activities over time.
None of this is doable if you don’t have funding, both for people and for expenses (like advertising) to accomplish your goals through your ambitious initiatives. Make sure you are upfront and reasonable with your expectations for both results and of what you can afford to drive your plan outcomes.
Answer the question: Who is your customer and what do they want?
So many marketers develop campaigns that promote things that they themselves wish to see. Or worse, what their bosses and executives at the company would enjoy. Save yourself the money and heartbreak and develop a model of your ideal customer so you can better see your offerings through their eyes and thus tailor your efforts to their wants and needs.
A buyer persona is a detailed description of someone who represents your target audience. This is not a real customer, but a fictional composite of an individual who embodies the characteristics of your best potential customers. You’ll give this customer persona a name, demographic details, interests, and behavioral traits. You’ll understand their goals, pain points, and buying patterns.
The idea is to think about and speak to this model customer as if they were a real person. This allows you to craft marketing messages targeted specifically to them. Your buyer persona will guide everything from product development to your brand voice to the social channels you use.
Make your company website your front door to the world
About 25 years ago, the commercial Internet was born with the popularization of the world wide web. Since then, a website for your business has evolved from a nice-to-have online brochure to a critical business asset. Customers look up everything nowadays (you're a customer for many things. Did you do research first? You betcha!). Your website is as important as your employees and your current customers and its importance is only growing. In fact, over the past two years, the acceleration towards digital forms of marketing has increased exponentially with the sudden rise in remote work and online commerce.
At a minimum, you need a website that clearly articulates the value of what you do, who you do it for, and how to get in touch with you. Leading small businesses use their website to do much of their selling for them before the prospect even becomes known. Consumers do their research and they expect the ease of use of Apple, the utility of Google, the ubiquity of Facebook, and the reliability and responsiveness of Netflix.
Take the time to survey your customers for what they need from your website to ensure long-term company growth and reinforce your brand in the mind of your prospects.
Just as dogs can smell fear. customers can sniff out a fake. More and more consumers are aligning their buying habits with brands that they can trust, respect, and relate to. Creating affinity with customers means being open and transparent (one of our core values at BEMO). Share with them as much as you can to give them confidence that your business is trustworthy and different from other firms and individuals they may do business with.
There a 100 ways to repurpose content (AKA Make less work for yourself by choosing a few)
I look forward to Thanksgiving every year. At my house, the meal is a multi-day affair: on Thanksgiving Thursday, we have the glamourous star of the show: A beautiful turkey with all the fixings. On Friday, we have turkey leftovers, whatever stuffing and cranberry sauce made it past the big day, and whatever pie hasn’t been fully consumed. Saturday is for college football and turkey sandwiches. By Sunday, we’re on to turkey soup. You get the idea.
You can practice this same economy with your marketing content. Develop a big campaign, maybe once a quarter. Let’s say it’s a webinar or a presentation for prospective customers on a topic of interest to them. Once the webinar is done, you can offer the recording on-demand as a way to engage future customers. Get the webinar transcribed and...surprise! You have great content you can reuse on your company website. Publish the audio of the webinar as a podcast. And Sunday? Have some turkey soup. You get the gist!
Read the books that innovative marketers use to drive growth within their companies and industries. Here are some of my dog-eared, excessively highlighted favorites:
Influence by Cialdini – one of the most important business books I’ve read, In Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Professor Robert Cialdini teaches us six principles that can make us more persuasive as businesspeople, parents, spouses, and friends.
Purple Cow by Godin – Seth Godin is a prolific author, keynote speaker, and Podcast host who has written nearly two dozen books on modern marketing. In this short book, he talks about how to be remarkable as a way to attract attention to your company and people.
Made to Stick by Heath and Heath – Chip and Dan Heath explore the nature of urban myths and what makes them so memorable as a model for how we can craft compelling stories to customers that remain in their consciousness long after we tell them.
How to Write a Good Advertisement by Schwab - A compelling ad will grab a reader’s attention, hold it and increase the likelihood they will respond to your offer. This book is short, useful, and informed by a copywriter with nearly half a century of experience practicing his craft.
Superfans by Pat Flynn – Customers are your key to a durable advantage over your competitors. They are difficult to accumulate and impossible to replicate, yet can yield greater numbers of future customers if you treat them well. This book talks about how to find, develop and activate your company’s best customers.
I hope these tips n' tricks have been helpful! As always, feel free to leave a comment or question below. Happy marketing to you!