In this competitive business landscape, marketing for smaller businesses can be a real struggle, especially in the early stages. Having to ‘get the word out’ on a limited budget can be hard when you must try to understand what the best-value techniques are to attract new customers, raise awareness and your profile, increase sales, and get a real return on your investment.

‘Small’ Business Owner

These days, smaller business owners (by smaller businesses, I am talking about ‘sole trader up to employing 50 people’) find marketing challenging and complicated. I’ve come across so many that take an ad-hoc approach to their marketing, without a thought to any sort of strategy to ensure they are reaching their target market … in fact, some don’t know their target market!

It’s just as important to know ‘what not to do’ as ‘what to do’. Whatever others may say, there’s no magic marketing wand or one size fits all. Every smaller business is different. However, the process of building a strategy and plan, giving the time and resources needed, and sticking to it, are the common secret to marketing success.

Let’s be honest, while you’re all fantastic at what you do, you are maybe not experienced or skilled in marketing. This probably accounts for the following research results. However, if you don’t market your products or services (which might be the best in the world), no one will know about you, and you won’t sell anything and inevitably fail.

Here are some interesting, if not disturbing results from a recent poll.

What the Poll Said …

A recent research study by OnePoll (on behalf of Adzooma) has revealed some shocking findings that lack of marketing knowledge in UK smaller businesses is hindering their performance and growth.

Nearly half of UK small business owners have said they don’t know how to best market their business!

Here are some other astounding findings relating to online activity from the research:

  • 42% have no idea how to create an online profile
  • A whopping 60% haven’t even considered using social media to promote their business
  • 39% don’t even have a website
  • 30% say they seek business advice from friends and family, not experienced professionals
  • 30% of business owners have no idea what SEO is or how it works

Alarming isn’t it!  To a marketer, these stats are criminal and mean that those businesses are more likely to fail.

So to help, here’s some simple advice and information, drawn from my 30+ years industry experience. These tips will help you understand marketing a little better and make you think about what marketing actions you need to take to grow your business.

What is marketing?

First let’s understand what marketing is. In research by a national media group, eight out of ten start-ups wrongly describe it as ‘sales’ or ‘advertising’. However, this is less than 15 per cent of what true marketing is really about. According to the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) it is ‘the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably’.

Most small business owners don’t know the true purpose of marketing is to create value or how to do it (segmentation, targeting and positioning supported by market research).

Businesses are so often fixated on saving a few pence here and there, that they’re losing pounds in potential revenue because they’re not investing strategically in marketing. PA Consulting advised: “Marketing contributes three times more value to any business strategy than any other organisational function”.

Marketing done right changes everything. It will increase your sales, amplify your impact, and help create better design.

How much should you spend on marketing?

Based on the large international study, the most successful companies invest 5 to 7 per cent of their turnover in marketing. Without a marketing strategy or plan though, many business owners focus on certain channels (they already know) or reactive tactics.

Instead, they should take a more integrated approach aligned to a strategy that encompasses the marketing mix. They should focus on their target market and apply measurement techniques. That way, they’ll learn what works and what doesn’t.

Have you thought about branding?

Branding is much more than  just a logo. It’s one of the three core elements of a marketing strategy (also known as positioning). All brands have their visual identity and their ‘personality’ or tone of voice. These are built up over time, through consistent brand communications.

Seth Godin (well-known author and entrepreneur) defines a brand as: ‘a set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a buyer’s decision to choose one product or service over another’.

At the heart of branding is value (perceived or real). Value sits in the mind of the consumer; if the consumer doesn’t pay a premium, select your product or service based on preference or spread the word, then no brand value exists, and you must compete on price alone.

You must lay the foundation (marketing strategy with a value proposition that attract profitable target market) or your business may be like a house built on quicksand and ultimately be costly.

Time for Strategy

Now you’ve thought through your branding and set the positioning for your product or service in the market, you need to identify your target market … that is, understand who you are selling to, why they should buy from you and what is the benefit to them?

Your marketing strategy will set your direction and help you understand your ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘where’, ‘how’, and possibly ‘when’ (although that is generally in the plan). It’s a bit like doing a jigsaw, once the bits fit, the better chance you have of success.

Do your market research and ask yourself these important questions:

  • Why should a prospect buy a product/service from you rather than someone else?

Ask customers why they chose you, and the value it added to their business or lifestyle as a result. So, understand the problems you solve for the customer with your expertise.

  • How did your prospects hear about you and what do they type into Google to find you?

You need to know what is working. Plus understand what they are looking for?

  • Which prospects are most likely to buy from you?

Find common characteristics and modify customer data as you build profiles (a ‘picture’) in your customer base. A prospect with a similar profile to an existing customer is eight times more likely to buy from you than a random prospect.

  • What additional products or services can you up/cross-sell (through suppliers or third-party partnerships)?

Build a relationship with your customers through communication (e.g. newsletters) and find out about their lifestyles. It costs five to seven times more to acquire a new customer than keep an existing one.

  • Think about your niche market.

Don’t try to be all things to everyone.

  • Do you know your competitors and how you are better than them?

Finding a positive point of difference between you and your competitor(s) is useful.

The essential Plan

A marketing plan helps you put your marketing strategy into practice. It will include objectives, budgets/costs and possibly deadlines as well as identifying the right marketing methods (the marketing mix) to reach your target market and how to effectively measure each action you take.

A good approach is using SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-defined

The focus should be on gaining new customers and crucially retaining those you have. Keep it short and concise (for all to understand), ensure you’ve done you market research, know and keep to your budgets and set targets and review process … after all, you need to know what’s working.

Not forgetting Creative

What is creative direction? This is an area which is in danger of getting ‘jargony’ … so here goes.

Creative direction is the part of brand development that deals with the ideas around a brand. It’s those things that become a reality in the form of logos, advertising campaigns, marketing materials and more. It can be hard to define because rather than being one thing, it’s a combination of many elements, including:

Art – the brand visuals, how it looks

Design – applying the principles of graphic design to your concept

Strategy – how your concept affects your audience and changes the perception of your brand

As a useful example, a world-famous brand like Coca-Cola has developed the red can and distinctive logo in various versions over the years. Every piece of branding, marketing, and advertising that Coca-Cola uses will fit within that creative direction.

Coca-Cola branding

However, creative direction is not just for big brands like Coke. Whatever you do in your marketing or customer facing materials, it should have an overarching concept for consistency, recall and recognition.

Even smaller businesses will benefit from taking a more strategic, thoughtful approach to their branding. Whether it’s the consistent use of a colour that makes your audience think in a certain way (dark blue is associated with professionalism and trust, for example), or a strapline that you can use across all your marketing materials and website, you can make creative direction work for you.

‘One Size’ Does Not Fit All

Target Market

I’ll say again. You must know your target market. Get that right and you can select the right marketing methods (or media) to reach them successfully. There’s nothing ‘off the shelf’ that’ll work for you. Nor is there one type of marketing that fits all.

So much of marketing can be trial and error but getting the right advice and support in this increasingly specialised discipline can be the difference between success and failure.

You need to understand what marketing is, who your target market is and work out how much you should (or can) spend … this is where experienced help is a godsend.

In addition to that, the plethora of digital and traditional marketing methods available, and complex new tools for analysing and targeting customers, any smaller business owner can feel overwhelmed and feel like they’re in the middle of a ‘marketing maze’ … so there’s no doubt that a seasoned marketing professional can guide you through this without costing you a fortune …  it could save money in the long run.

Make the right marketing choices and you’ll give yourself the best chance of making sure that you don’t end up as one of the 50% of smaller businesses that don’t reach their fifth birthday.

Making the Right Choice

If you decide to get some external advice and support as you don’t have the time, resource, or indeed knowledge to do your marketing, then you need to make the right choice for your business:

  • Don’t choose the cheapest as it may turn out costly in the end as many lack the experience and knowledge to correctly advise you.
  • Definitely not the most expensive for obvious budget reasons.
  • Not someone who has just a niche marketing skill as they may not see the full picture relating to your business.

There are many marketing specialists out there, so, how do you know who to trust? 

Let me give you some useful pointers to guide you to the right decision on who to listen to and who to ignore.

1.       How long have they been around?

Usually someone who has been around for 3-5 years minimum in a consultancy type role, who have a strong marketing background of around 10 years and good level of knowledge and experience.

2.       Do they have a specialism or limited skill set?

Check they have the right and relevant knowledge, experience and ‘support team’ to help you achieve your business objectives.

3.       Check out online reviews

Checkout Google Reviews or similar. Perhaps contact one or two of these or those in testimonials to find out a little about the marketing business(es) you are considering.

4.       Check LinkedIn recommendations or testimonials

If they don’t have any, ask why?

5.       Do they offer a solution before understanding your business and how it works?

Make sure they take time to understand your business, your positioning, your industry and your target audience (if known) before offering a solution as there’s “one size fits all”? Every business is different!

6.       Do they only talk in marketing jargon?

Are they talking in plain English, or are they trying to confuse you with jargon?

7.       Lastly, do you like them?

You have to like them to trust your business marketing with them, don’t you?

So, think carefully and ask questions before you appoint anyone to help you with your marketing. Ask your close business or networking colleagues if they would recommend anyone? Above all, make your own mind up … it’s got to be someone you can work with and be an ‘extension of your business team’.

And Finally …

I sincerely hope that these words help you be more successful at marketing your business whether you choose to outsource or not.

My parting note is don’t jump straight into ad-hoc, low-cost (or no-cost) tactics without getting the basics right first – do your strategy and plan and understand your target market – it’s like building a house … it would fall down without its foundations.

Do you ever feel the need for a friendly, knowledgeable ear for your marketing ideas or someone to guide you through the complicated marketing ‘maze’ when you’re not sure what to do?

APS Marketing Consulting is that ‘friendly, knowledgeable ear’ and your ‘guide’. For an informal friendly FREE Marketing Discovery chat, please book here.