Marketing is essential for any successful business and the most important first step is to understand your audience and really know your customer; what problem can you solve for them and how best to reach them. In this article we’ll look at practical steps to help your small business define and understand its customers and so create a marketing plan and strategy.
Marketing is a discipline and field all of its own and is sometimes called an art or a science or, confusingly, both! The heyday of marketing and advertising was in the 1970s and 1980s where television was really the main and only medium, produced examples of what some might call a high art form. Now, in an online age, marketing is far more of a science with tracking software, metrics and analytics all designed to provide businesses with information about their customers and their behaviours.
Whether you view marketing as a science, the mantra of ‘know your customer’ is the key to any successful marketing strategy. And with plenty of software tools available, often for free, there really is no excuse not to know as much as possible about your customer’s preferences, their browsing and buying habits and their experience with your business.
What is a marketing strategy?
A marketing strategy is the glue that brings together all the different components and tools available to marketeers. It makes sense of the information gathered and puts it to good use. A marketing strategy knows where it is going and why it is doing certain things. Without a marketing strategy, isolated exercises will prove of little commercial value.
How do you formulate a marketing strategy?
The trigger point to a marketing strategy is, what business objective are you trying to achieve for your client? Here are some typical maladies and problems which marketing executives will often encounter.
- We want to identify potential customers
- We want to tell potential customers about our products
- We want more sales
- We want repeat business, customers buy with us and then go elsewhere
- We are losing customers as customer retention is poor
- We need more traffic to our website
The key to all of these objectives is to firstly analyse what is happening at the moment. This includes the state of the current market, your competitors and your own capabilities. If your product is poor or has bad reviews, then marketing is not going to help fix this and so you should first make sure what you offer your customers is needed, good quality, and works effectively.
A marketing strategy will evaluate the company’s resources, its goals and objectives in order to create a plan with the sole outcome of increasing sales and profitability, though the measure of the stages to reach this outcome might include metrics such as website visitor traffic or number of telephone enquiries. Crucial to this is understanding your target market, their needs and wants and how they purchase.
Marketing software is a generic term for tools that help you connect with your target audience to help you communicate effectively with them. A less obvious but equally important feature is that these tools will often automate cumbersome processes and tasks so leading to increased efficiency and productivity. Some examples include:
- Informing potential customers of new products or special offers
- Reminding potential customers that they should consider your brand when making a buying decision
- Follow up emails to existing customers to ascertain satisfaction with both service and product
- Frequent targeting of current customers with special offers and loyalty discounts
The philosophy of marketing
With software and tech solutions at every turn, it is easy to overlook some of the core principles of a good marketing strategy which may not have anything at all to do with the latest technology. Here are some of the best marketing tips collated from the industry’s leading gurus.
Know your audience
Research potential customers and your competitors – they might be doing things better than you! Watching what other people do and how they do it is always very informative.
Identifying and understanding your audience is absolutely key before you start to do any marketing of your product or services: you need to know who are you talking to, how to talk to them, where to talk to them and what to tell the potential customers.
To help you understand your audience of potential customers, following these steps will give you a good starting point:
How do you define your audience?
Does the audience live in a particular area, have a specific job title, do a particular task, or have a specific interest?
What does your potential customer have a problem with that you can solve? For example, is it carrying out a task or finding information?
What does your potential customer read? Do they visit specific websites or have a preference for a particular format. For example, do they mostly use Facebook, or do they read a particular magazine, or visit a particular shop?
What tone and style of communication does your potential customer prefer? For example, do they prefer video or written communication, is it business or games?
All of these elements will help you build up what’s called a persona of your potential audience. As a simple example, if you sell wedding dresses, then your persona would clearly identify the types of website your potential customer visits, their preferred tone and style and demographic. It’ll help you talk authentically to, in this case, brides to be about making their wedding a success.
Acquire a voice
This is particularly important in a very competitive marketplace otherwise your client’s products will just get lost in the crowd. Adopt a tone of voice that sets you apart – funny or quirky – or create a brand mascot or point of identity that people can get behind
Keep brand focus to a single niche at the start, it’s easier to identify customers and collaborators this way. This is about not running before you can walk but acing it and setting up your client to become an expert in that particular craft.
Too much early diversification dilutes brand identity and doesn’t help customers understand the client’s position in the market. Do one thing well and develop identity, credibility and loyalty
Treat your customers well
Your business needs to love its customers: to make an extra effort for unhappy or dissatisfied customers and love their happy customers like they are a best friend. There isn’t a person on the planet who hasn’t been on the receiving end of appalling customer service and we all remember it!
Customers must always be happy regardless of what it takes, ‘the customer is always right’ is a truth which still applies in the 21st century. Don’t take happy customers for granted but they are the foundation for a beautiful and enduring relationship, make the most of them, they are the building blocks of a successful business.
Happy customers become loyal customers who become regular customers. It’s always far easier to sell to a convert than to cultivate or persuade a totally new prospect.
Remember the emotional connection
All good marketeers know that eliciting an emotional response from a customer will encourage sales.
That could be the dog bed that keeps their canine best friend warm and toasty, or the limited edition watch that will soon be sold out – buy now or lose out. Product descriptions are also a much-undervalued resource in this area particularly for products which provide a service or solve a problem.
The use of images is key also, from the look on the model’s face to a view posed with an animal in it – those images always get more clicks – to research on the use of colour to influence customer reaction. Customers who make an emotional connection with a company will build an enduring relationship. Broader demographic study of the target audience can really help, find out what is important to these people
Personalise the experience
It’s easy to do this and it makes a big impact. Address people by their first name when they log into their account or place an order. Suggest other products customers might like based on their browsing history. Relevancy is key to keeping credibility with customers so blanket bombing suggestions and products will just switch people off and these are people your client really doesn’t want to let go of
Gift guides are always popular during the holiday season, but it is also possible to group together products at other times of year to appeal to different customers.
Work ahead of time and think bridal, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Black Friday and Valentine’s Day. Product focus should be determined well ahead of the date on the calendar. Pick a niche within the customer audience and focus just on them
Get a decent writer to produce client content which appears on other blogs with a backlink to their business. Get the client to share niche knowledge which elevates their status as an expert player in the field. Guest blogs should be on relevant and complementary sites, often a point overlooked in the marketing frenzy. Choose a business with a similar audience but which sells different products
Re-use customer generated content
What customer doesn’t want to share an image on socials – add customer pictures to the client’s website and repost them on social media. Customer images add authenticity and story to products and are worth a thousand reviews
Focus on the content
There is so much poorly written content on the web, it’s just a wall of words that add no value. Content should be relevant and on point and refreshed regularly. Content includes blogs, videos and images, remember a well-chosen picture speaks a hundred words
The debate about the classification of marketing as either a science or an art will continue for years to come but what is not up for discussion, is the indisputable truth that marketing is key to any successful business and is ignored at a company’s peril.
Successful marketing is like an orchestra with many different component parts, none of which on their own really make a hit but together, can create a beautiful harmony which is greater than the sum of the individual parts. Get composing!
One of the best ways to start is to understand your audience, write down who they are, what are their characteristics, what they like, which websites they visit and the problems that your business can solve.
Now start to connect with your audience of potential customers with the suggestions in this article, from emails to blogs, comments to images on social media – but make sure you bring in a connection with your audience and why it’s important for them.
You’ll start to engage with your audience and help them become happy customers and grow your business.