Implementing Small Business Marketing can be Confusing and Overwhelming
As customer expectations intensify Small Business Owners and Entrepreneurs face a growing workload in establishing and positioning their business to an increasingly scrutinizing audience. In many cases the toughest challenge is brought about in defining and implementing their marketing requirements; with decisions to be made on branding and image, product and packaging, collaterals and channels, notwithstanding campaigns that raise business profile, attract prospects and ultimately customers. The high number of elements and the ever pervasive nature of these decisions can lead to confusion and overwhelm, hence the reason many are opting to work with specialist consultants to help them implement specific areas of their marketing. Which begs the question?
If one company develops your branding another your web site and design, a separate digital company manages your content, then another your social media and lead generation campaigns, or you tend to dabble yourself; is it possible to deliver a consistent targeted message and professional image to your target market?
A Coordinated and Sequential Approach is Required
The answer to the above is a conditional Yes. To succeed, preliminary research, planning and coordinated approach is required. Appointing different entities haphazardly to work on separate components of your marketing, without first developing your core branding strategy and establishing your goals, is not only expensive, it can result in fragmented message and cause damage to your brand. Marketing is made up of correlated components that combine into one whole, hence a methodical and sequential approach is required.
As a business owner it is important to first invest time to familiarize yourself with the fundamental elements and set the core marketing foundation, either individually or with assistance from a marketing strategist, it is then easier to add the supporting elements in a consistent and sequential order, as outlined in the diagram below.
1. Document your vision and your goals
Prior to hiring a professional, spend a little time to consider the structure and what you want to achieve in your business, sketch your vision and your goals, consider your products, the value they deliver to your key target customers, and what you want to be known for. Clarity around what you want to achieve and for whom will help build the framework with a structure and the best approach, it will also help you choose the best skilled professional for each project.
Your vision is what makes you unique, as it combines all your knowledge, experience and understanding; document and guide your consultants, as no one can recreate your passion without your help.
2. Understand your product and your target customers
It is important to outline who your customers are, the key problems you solve and their likely reasons for buying your product or solution, know how you want to be perceived by them and how you stand out from your competitors. Develop customer persona(s) and product value propositions, either yourself or with the help from a marketing professional, backed by relevant key messages.
Having a framework to follow and a persona to focus on will help when deciding on branding, content development and marketing campaigns.
3. Frame your Marketing Plan
Sketch a plan of how you would like to structure your marketing and timeline, outlining; product values, target, customers, branding, communications, campaigns & frequency, possible social media platforms and your budget. Having a framework of your plan will provide the clarity on what you want to achieve and help you to confidently brief your suppliers to ensure projects are delivered to plan quickly and accurately saving you time and money. If you do not have the time or expertise to do all of this yourself, an experienced strategic marketing consultant can take your vision and configure the marketing strategy and document it into a plan for your business. Taking this approach will deliver considerable savings in time and money, keeping you focused on your business while your consultant delivers on the key requirements quickly and in an orderly approach. They can also project manage the implementation on your behalf by preparing agency briefs, finding and appointing the right suppliers, negotiating a fair price, reviewing whether deliverables are aligned to requirements, and so on. This is not a full time job and the amount of hours required could be anywhere from 5 to 20 per month depending on the size and complexity of your business;
4. Develop Consistent Brand, Image and Messaging
Once you understand your product and your customers and have a plan in place, you are ready to implement your branding. In a world where many decisions are made online, and in an instant, it is important to keep your prospects attention and quickly gain trust. To achieve this you need a uniform look and feel and consistent branding across online and offline channels. Many small businesses owners go to a designer and ask them to develop a logo, then consider that their branding is done. But branding is so much more than that, it is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be; it encompasses your website, logo, advertisements, building signage, marketing content and collateral it incorporates visual, words and perception, as the below diagram outlines.
Your brand is your promise to your customer. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from that of your competitors.
How Branding Guidelines helped a software company; I once worked with a software company with a large sales team, all of whom had different business card designs with inconsistent color and unique interpretations of their logo, their online presence was also inconsistent where their website did not align with their brand and many different descriptions and header templates used on social media sites. I developed a set of “brand guidelines” for the company defining the PMS colors to be used and created a range of template designs for business cards, web, social media, email signatures, sales and promotional collateral, corporate uniforms and stationery. The guidelines are now used whenever they appoint an agency and although the agencies vary their branding remains consistent. Having guidelines to follow helps their staff and suppliers manage consistency and maintain a professional image.
5. Implement your channels and content; web, social media etc.
Your channels and collaterals include your business website, social media, brochures and collaterals, shop front, signage etc., which are the tools that help spread the word about your products and your business and the vehicles your customers use to connect and buy. Relating your messages to your key audience in a consistent manner will attract more customers and build trust. This part of the implementation may require you to use many different suppliers, hence it is critical to choose them carefully, develop well-considered briefs and monitor projects closely to achieve consistency.
Who is in charge of your website design? – When working on designing your website, I suggest you first sketch out an idea of how your pages may look which will then help you to clearly brief your designer and web developer. There is more to Social Media than Facebook; – Successful social media marketing takes time and management which requires consistent publishing, updating and responding to customers and prospects. Hence it is important to choose the right mediums for your business by first understanding your customers, their habits and where they spend most of their time and then select the right areas to invest your time. You may hear that other businesses are going on Facebook, but after research you may discover that LinkedIn is the better strategy for your business.
6. Customer attraction strategy
Customer attraction is a complex science that requires time, patience and persistence while trying different strategies. The key is to be found online through relevant content, optimized keywords and good call to actions, to first attract visitors to your site, then build and nurture relationships, engendering trust and ultimately converting prospects to customers. Customer attraction is behind all the work we have done in steps 1 to 5, we are in business to sell and make a profit and to achieve that we need to attract customers. Many businesses try to shortcut, by skipping many of the steps, but developing your plan, branding and channels with your customer in mind can be likened to first building the foundations of a good home, they deliver results quickly and save you money on repair costs and renovations.
7. Customer retention campaigns
Retaining customers is one of the key strategies to growing profits, however many businesses are so focused on attracting the new, that they tend to let go of the customer once they buy. Implementing customer retention strategies that are focused on continuing a positive customer experience with regular offers and rewards will engender customer satisfaction and loyalty. A lot of time, money and effort is spent on getting your customer, so once you have them, do all you can to keep them through consistent communication and engagement. Many may try to cut costs by doing the marketing themselves, but hiring the right professional can help to deliver the best return for your marketing dollars. For example it may seem logical to appoint a professional writer to develop your content and advertising copy, but unless your writer understands all the elements of marketing and how your target customers absorb the content your money could be wasted, instead a professional branding and marketing consultant may offer a much better return on investment. Sometimes we get too close to our business, that we need a fresh perspective to create focused and targeted campaigns that maximize results. It is also crucial to develop your marketing in a structured and orderly process and maintain consistency, through good project briefs and hiring the right professional at the right time to help implement your marketing.