If you don’t know how to best grow your business you’re not alone. In my work as a Marketing Consultant for small businesses, I see this all the time. Many small business owners have a great business with a lot of potential, they just need to get in front of more people and communicate effectively so they ‘get it’.
Marketing is confusing, even the experts can agree on that. There are so many options to pick from when it comes to how to promote your business and a wide variety of platforms to use to get the word out.
I read a book recently by Ryan Holiday called the Perennial Seller. One of the things he talked about in the book resonated strongly with me and highlighted the importance of marketing for every business, big or small. He talked about how no one cares about your product or service. Even if they know about you they still won’t care. Marketing is about giving them a reason to care.
This is particularly true given that the competition for attention is intense in our brand crazy world. It’s estimated that the average person sees between 3,000 and 20,000 brands each day. From the labels you see when you open the pantry doors to viewing the news online to scrolling through your Facebook feed: brands are everywhere.
One of the problems with marketing is that if you look to different professionals in the industry then they’ll tell you that what you need is the solution they’re offering. It can be hard to separate out their inherent biases to work out what is right for you.
You know how it goes if, let’s say, you have a bad back. If you ask a surgeon what you should do, they’ll probably say surgery. Ask a natural health professional and they’ll say acupuncture. A physio will say exercises are crucial.
It’s the same with marketing. A branding specialist will say that the problem is your brand. A social media guru will tell you that you need to up your social presence. A website creator will tell you the problem is your website and you need a new one!
Given marketing isn’t your area of expertise, how do you navigate this and get the help you need? How do you work out what to focus on and not get sidetracked by the next shiny promise?
In my work with small business owners, I find it helps to break marketing into 5 key areas. I think of them as building blocks. Each one needs to be in place to support and strengthen the others.
Once you understand each of these building blocks you can use them to analyse the weak points in your business and then get the right marketing help to meet those needs. This is a better approach than just reacting to a problem and hoping what you do will fix your growth problem.
A strategy is the fundamental building block that you need to have in place before you focus on anything else. It provides direction and should shape all your other activities.
A strategy needs to answer questions about things like:
Your beliefs, vision, and values are the core operating platform for your business. It’s important because it can define how decisions are made and opportunities assessed. Being really clear about what they are is a powerful combination that will largely remain the same over the long-term.
Yes, it isn’t easy to do because it involves asking deeper questions and the answers aren’t always obvious. It can take a bit of digging to really flesh them out. But the upfront work on this will yield dividends for many years to come. It will ensure that you make better use of your scarce resources and steer your business where you want to go.
A lot of people get caught up in branding as being just about the visual representation of who you are – your logo, your fonts. But it is actually about a lot more than that and those visual elements are the endpoint, the summary if you like. They’re not all there is to branding.
Branding supports & strengthens the direction that you’ve determined in your strategy. For example, your values should be supported through imagery. If one of your values is relationships then you’ll want to have imagery that shows people (preferably you and your staff) interacting and communicating with each other. You don’t want lots of images of people on their own.
Branding is also about what makes you different and needs to answer questions like what is your position in the market? How is your business different from every other business out there?
Branding is what you want to be known for. What do you want people to think of when they recall your company?
You can test out how this works by naming a number of brands and then saying what comes to mind. For example, Ikea. When I think of Ikea, I think of simple lines, not easy to put together. Or Coca-Cola. Sugary drink, traditional. Apple. Sleek, clever solutions.
Obviously, each brand will have different connotations for everyone but there is usually a consensus in there too. What do you want people to associate with your company?
Collateral provides the ballast in your marketing, it gives the strategy and branding stability and character. It refers to how you explain your expertise so this includes material like your website, brochures, testimonials, case studies, any documents that build your credibility.
The other way to think of it is an enduring communication piece that you use to explain your business, your expertise and how you can help your customers achieve what it is they want to get done.
This is an area many businesses skip or just get the basics done. Have a website, done. Next. But it isn’t about just having these materials; they need to be comprehensive enough to work for you when you’re not there to explain it in person.
If your website isn’t engaging and doesn’t speak to a prospect about how you understand their situation and what you can offer to help them then you won’t get to the sale. They’ll be off continuing their search elsewhere, often within seconds of landing on your site.
Awareness is about raising the profile of what you’re doing and is usually where most businesses start. Many skip over the first 3 steps. The problem with doing this is that you have to ask what you’re raising awareness of? Without the other building blocks in place, you’re likely wasting your time and money or not maximising it as well as you could be.
Raising awareness is the fuel that will take you where you want to go. You’re letting people know that you exist and triggering that first engagement.
Different methods and platforms could include email marketing, social media, video, advertising, content marketing, media, partnerships, personal branding, webinars, presentations, direct mail, trade shows and the list goes on.
There are many different options. It doesn’t mean that all of them will be right for you and you don’t need to do lots of them to be successful. It is about selecting the ones that have the best chance of putting you in front of your target market.
Reporting helps understand what is working and what isn’t. It is often overlooked but is crucial because marketing is an iterative process. Being able to see what is happening ties everything together and is your feedback loop. A lot of marketing is about looking for clues and then interpreting them to work out what to do next.
Reporting provides insights that can then be turned into actions. You do something, see what worked and what didn’t, then tweak it to get better results.
The first place to start is with your strategy (where you want to go), then develop your branding (what you want to be known for), explain it all through your collateral and then go out and let people know about it by raising awareness. Underpinning it all is reporting to track and measure what you’ve done so that you can improve as you go along.
Once you know and understand the 5 areas then you can look at your business and see where the weaknesses are. For example, if someone approaches you about advertising online and you’ve identified that the weak area is your website (a key part of your collateral) then it’s a no-brainer to say no to spending money on advertising. Paying for more awareness when one of the basics isn’t right just doesn’t make good business sense and provides a poor experience for your prospects, potentially putting them off dealing with you in the future.
If you have decided that you need a new website, then the first step isn’t to go out and find a web developer to build you one. And that’s because the first question they are going to ask you is ‘what do you want?’ (if they don’t ask, run in the other direction!).
Before you take the step of getting a new site, you need to work out what you’re going to say on the site. How are you going to position your offering in your customer’s minds in terms of helping them to solve a problem? How will you use the website to stand out from your competitors? This is where strategy and branding come in. Yes, it can slow down the process but its much better to do this work upfront and get a better end result than spend time and money on building something that doesn’t do what you want it to.
The key to overcoming confusion when it comes to growing your small business is to work out your strengths and weaknesses in terms of the 5 key building blocks. Only then can you make an informed choice about what to do to better connect with your prospects and customers.
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